Federico Viticci

8072 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 on his two podcasts – Connected and Virtual.


Apple Announces September 9 Media Event

As first reported by Jim Dalrymple at The Loop, Apple has announced a media event for September 9 in San Francisco:

Apple on Thursday sent out invitations for a special event to be held on September 9, 2015. The event will be held at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco at 10:00 am.

In the event invitation (pictured above), Apple is using the "Hey Siri, give us a hint" tagline with an Apple logo recreated using the refreshed Siri interface of Apple Watch and iOS 9.

According to recent speculation, Apple is widely expected to introduce updated iPhones and a new Apple TV at its September event. The next generation iPhone, unofficially referred to as the iPhone 6s, is rumored to offer an improved camera, a stronger aluminum body, and faster performance across the board. A new Apple TV is also expected to be unveiled at the event, featuring a major redesign, an updated remote, and a refreshed software interface to go alongside an SDK for developers to build Apple TV apps.

At the event, Apple will also likely announce the official release of iOS 9, currently in testing with developers and the general public through a public beta. A Golden Master seed of iOS 9 is expected to be released soon after the event, with a public launch within 10 days in mid-September.

Workflow 1.3 Brings Powerful Widget, Sync, Health Actions, and More

Since its debut on the App Store last year, Workflow has established a new paradigm for automation on iOS.

By deeply integrating with iOS apps, device hardware and sensors, an array of web services, and advanced actions for scripting and control flows, Workflow has shown how automation – for many an area of computing that evokes thoughts of old desktop apps and arcane scripting languages – can be reimagined for the iPhone and iPad while being fun and powerful. Workflow is one of the reasons behind my decision to go all-in with the iPad as my primary computer, and the Apple Design Award it won in June is testament to the amazing work by the app's young and prolific team.

Workflow 1.3, launching today on the App Store, is another major step forward for the app, bringing a powerful Today widget, sync between devices, new Health actions, and more.

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Dispatch 3.0 Brings iPad App, Improvements to Actions and Snippets

Dispatch has long been one of the most powerful email clients for iPhone. Originally released by Clean Shaven Apps in 2013, Dispatch took a unique approach at managing email by relying on integrations with third-party apps, online services, and text snippets. In a pre-extensibility world, Dispatch was the only email client for iOS that could work alongside your todo or calendar app of choice, turning messages into actionable items that could talk to other apps on your device.

As more and more "modern" email clients started using proprietary server-side features for smart processing and limited external integrations, Dispatch augmented email on iPhone with the power of third-party apps. Even after iOS 8 and extensions, the team at Clean Shaven Apps didn't lose its focus: in addition to custom integrations, Dispatch was quickly updated to support the native share sheet so you'd have the best of both worlds.

Dispatch for iPhone had app integrations, advanced reply options, and little touches that made it a superior option for power users who wanted more than Apple Mail. With one major caveat: Dispatch didn't have an iPad app.

This is changing today with version 3.0 of Dispatch, released on the App Store as a Universal update that adds a proper iPad counterpart designed to take advantage of the bigger screen for even faster email management and triaging.

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YouTube Gaming Officially Launches

YouTube Gaming, the company's dedicated platform for all things videogames, has officially launched today. From the YouTube blog:

YouTube Gaming is your go-to destination for anything and everything gaming because it automatically pulls in all gaming-related videos and live streams from YouTube.

Viewers get personalized gaming recommendations based on the games and channels they collect. With over 25,000 game pages and even more gaming channels, it’s never been easier to connect with your gaming community.

We’ve also made it easier to create a live stream — check out the beta version of our new way to go live at youtube.com/stream today.

I took the app for a spin this evening on my iPad, and it's well done. There's a lot going on in the front page – live streams, reviews, channels, game pages, but the YouTube team has done a good job at figuring out ways to automatically categorize content. When watching a game review, for instance, a link to that game's page is available in the video description; tap it, and on the game page you can find more videos of different types such as Let's Plays, reviews, popular videos, past live streams, and more. It's a busy interface, but there's also a lot to watch and go through.

YouTube Gaming is going to be compared to Twitch a lot, and for good reason. The big advantage of YouTube Gaming is its direct integration with a vast archive of YouTube videos and video creators that produce new content just for YouTube every day (this includes trailers, reviews, how-tos, and lots more non-live stream content). The decision to create game pages with automatic categorization of videos seems like a smart one to me, and the entire app feels lively and fun (try to search for games, for example).

I wouldn't be surprised if this becomes effectively the default way of finding gaming content on YouTube in the future, with the main YouTube app as a fallback for everything else. You can download the iOS app (US and UK only for now) here.


Adobe’s Project Rigel

Stephen Shankland, writing for CNET on Adobe's plans for Project Rigel, a new photo editing app for iOS:

Photoshop is so well known that the product name is synonymous with photo editing. But the software itself is a success only on personal computers, not smartphones or tablets.

Photoshop's maker, Adobe Systems, hopes that will change in October at its Max conference for developers and creative professionals when it introduces a new Photoshop app for editing photos on Apple's iPhones and iPads. The free software, called only Project Rigel for now, is designed to bring a more accessible interface to what can be a dauntingly complex program on PCs.

Probably a smarter move than the old Photoshop Touch app to focus on photo editing for iPhone and iPad with advanced tools. The app will be free and act as a “bait” for the subscription-based desktop Photoshop. It'll be interesting to compare this to existing apps such as Pixelmator and Snapseed.


Facebook Starts Testing New ‘M’ Personal Assistant in Messenger

Facebook has begun testing M, a new personal assistant built into the Messenger app that can look up information and perform actions on the user's behalf. Wired writes:

It won’t take long for Messenger’s users to realize M can accomplish much more than your standard digital helper, suspects David Marcus, vice president of messaging products at Facebook. “It can perform tasks that none of the others can,” Marcus says. That’s because, in addition to using artificial intelligence to complete its tasks, M is powered by actual people.

The people supervising M in the initial rollout are called 'M trainers' inside Facebook, and the company is hoping to expand the team to thousands of people eventually.

Here's Facebook's David Marcus on what M is:

Today we're beginning to test a new service called M. M is a personal digital assistant inside of Messenger that completes tasks and finds information on your behalf. It's powered by artificial intelligence that's trained and supervised by people.

Unlike other AI-based services in the market, M can actually complete tasks on your behalf. It can purchase items, get gifts delivered to your loved ones, book restaurants, travel arrangements, appointments and way more.

This is early in the journey to build M into an at-scale service. But it's an exciting step towards enabling people on Messenger to get things done across a variety of things, so they can get more time to focus on what's important in their lives.

As Wired notes, M won't use data gathered from Facebook accounts, at least not initially:

For now, M doesn’t pull from the social data Facebook collects to complete tasks. So, if you request a gift for your spouse, the service will make suggestions based only on your answers to questions it asks you and previous conversations you and M have had. Marcus says that may change “at some point, with proper user consent.” The service is free, and will be available to all Facebook Messenger users eventually.

Interesting that Facebook is using a conversational UI for an assistant baked into its popular Messenger app. I'll be curious to see how it scales.

See also: this idea by Matt Galligan from earlier this year.


NewsBlur Adds RSS Feeds for Folders

Speaking of useful web services and Slack, here's something I'm now using to make my own news-gathering filters available to others via Slack. NewsBlur, my RSS service of choice (I'll write about it eventually, I promise), has launched support for RSS feeds of entire folders:

These folders keep track of sites you add and remove from them. They also allow you to filter out stories you don’t want to read or even choose to only show the stories you have in focus.

All of your feed subscriptions in the folder, including subfolders, are merged into a single river of news in RSS format. Technically we use Atom 1.0 format for NewsBlur’s many RSS feeds, but I’m not choosing a side here.

This wouldn't normally be exciting for most RSS people like me, except that NewsBlur lets you train the service to promote stories you like and hide others you don't want to see, and now you can output a stream of important stories-only via RSS.

For us, this means that the filters I've been building for news I care about can be useful to others so that a) they don't have to subscribe to dozens of blogs themselves and cull their headlines over time and b) they can receive highlights with rich previews in a Slack channel. Great implementation by NewsBlur, and a perfect fit for how we're using Slack.


Slack as a Shared Notification Layer

I'm looking forward to Nuzzel notifications here.

I'm looking forward to Nuzzel notifications here.

Here's an interesting announcement from the Slack team earlier today:

You’ll soon find a button on many of your favorite apps and sites that says “Add to Slack”. Clicking the button will take you to an authentication page where you’ll pick which Slack team you’d like to integrate with the service, and which channel (or your own @slackbot) the service will report to (provided your Team admin/owners allow team members to add integrations).

Once configured, any web apps or services that send you notifications or emails can start automatically reporting those to Slack. Many apps and services will also give you the ability to share things into Slack without leaving their app; handy!

(Emphasis mine.)

We use Slack at MacStories, and we pay for the fantastic service it offers. Something I've recently started testing is using Slack as a shared notification layer for multiple users: rather than being alerted of important news or updates myself and then having to communicate them manually to others, I can let the notification go to Slack directly so everyone can know instantly and take action more quickly. I've been doing this with integrations such as RSS, Zapier, IFTTT, and the recently launched email in both regular Slack channels as well as a dedicated #aggregator channel where bots only report notifications and links.

With today's announcement, Slack is making it easier for developers to build support for Slack notifications even if their apps have nothing to do with Slack as a chat service. This is where Slack radically differs from everything I've tried before: it's not just a chat room with a bunch of integrations – it's a whole layer of services, commands, file management, search, and collaboration that is primarily advertised as a communication tool.

It makes sense, then, to properly support rich notifications as extensions for Slack: because users are spending hours in Slack anyway, services like Nuzzel can support native device push notifications (individual) and Slack notifications (shared), allowing multiple people to receive the same notification and coordinate accordingly (inside Slack, of course).

I've set up Nuzzel integration today (on the website), and, if my understanding is correct, I can expect my Twitter alerts powered by Nuzzel (and years of carefully curating my following list) to be available to other team members through Slack notifications. I have a feeling this is going to be a pretty great addition to our Slack setup, and I fully expect more web services to start supporting Slack notifications as a feature soon.

iMore’s Apple Music Guide

The iMore team has been doing a fantastic job at covering Apple Music and how the service works on various platforms and devices. Last week, they released an eBook version that collects of all their articles in one handy guide, expertly put together by Serenity Caldwell, Rene Ritchie, and the rest of the team.

I was on vacation when the iBooks version came out, but I still downloaded it and read it on my iPhone to see if there was anything I had missed in Apple Music and Beats 1. I discovered a lot of details I hadn't paid attention to before, and I like how screenshots throughout the book always have informative callouts and descriptions. Fantastic resource (150+ pages) for anyone interested in or trying Apple Music, and just $4.99 on the iBooks Store. Recommended.