Federico Viticci

7763 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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Instapaper 6.2 Adds Speed Reading, Textshots

Nice Instapaper update released today: the app's extension has been sped up (again), Instant Sync has been added (it uses silent notifications on iOS to fetch new articles in the background), and you can now get through your read-later list with speed reading. I've never been a fan of speed reading, but I like how Betaworks integrated it as a feature inside Instapaper. The extension is much faster in the new version, and it seems to be on par with the speed of Pocket's share extension.

Along the lines of integration, Instapaper 6.2 also lets you generate textshots for Twitter directly from the app. There are some excellent touches in how Instapaper handled textshots: they're generated via software (so you won't end up with images cluttering the Camera Roll) and they preserve the current font and theme selection.

A textshot generated by Instapaper and perfectly previewed inline on Twitter.

A textshot generated by Instapaper and perfectly previewed inline on Twitter.

Furthermore, Instapaper also attempts to guess the best aspect ratio to avoid truncation on Twitter. All this, I think, makes it one of the finest implementations of textshots to date. Bonus points for making it easy to tweet a text selection with the Share button of the copy & paste menu.

Betaworks keeps doing good work on Instapaper. Version 6.2 is available now on the App Store.

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Twitter Launches Periscope

Periscope, Twitter's latest acquisition, has launched today on the App Store. For those who haven't been following the news, Periscope is a company that Twitter bought before the rise in popularity of Meerkat, a live streaming app. Periscope also lets you live stream video from your iPhone, but, according to early reviews, it's cleaner, faster, and obviously more integrated with Twitter's social graph – which was unceremoniously cut off from Meerkat.

Mat Honan has a good story on Periscope:

Fire up the app, launch the camera, and the app tweets out a message (if you want it to) that you have gone live. Simultaneously, a notification fires off — with that little look-at-me whistle — to everyone following you on Periscope. As they join in, they can comment on what you’re doing. And because it has super-low lag time — or latency, to use the term of art — people watching can comment on your actions more or less as they happen. It means that people watching the video can change the course of what’s happening. They can chime in with questions or comments, and all the while tap-tap-tap on the screen to send a stream of hearts to the broadcaster. Don’t want comments? Fine, you can turn them off. If you choose, you can let the video live on Persicope’s servers afterwards, where it will stay for 24 hours before disappearing forever. Or you can choose to let your video be purely ephemeral, living only in the moment and then gone forever. It is delightfully fun.

Joanna Stern's article, however, really hit close to home for me:

Maybe I should be thankful. Periscope’s biggest promise lies in those times when life is far from boring. Whether it be a breaking news situation or a friend’s traumatic experience, there are times when peeking in and watching a live story unfold makes the most sense. While it’s bound to be abused, this new way of communicating could bring us closer than any photo or recorded video could.

I experienced that this week. My friend Drew Olanoff, who has been suffering from Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, just had a stem-cell transplant. He’s been using Periscope to stream (or “‘scope”) from his hospital room, updating his friends and followers on his progress. Every day, he shows the board that lists his blood stats and flips the camera around—by tapping on the screen—so we can see how he looks.

Like Joanna, I don't know if my life is exciting enough to warrant a daily dose of live streams. But then again, before Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, most of us didn't think we'd be inclined to share so much about our daily lives either. Reading how Drew is using Periscope reminds me of when I was stuck there doing a stem cell transplant, and how I wished I could update all my friends and readers at once in a simple, natural way. Sure, I could send selfies to different iMessage threads and I could tweet text and pictures, but the idea of a real-time live stream is much more powerful. And Periscope is pretty cool: I came across some questionable streams in the Home tab, but the app is fast, polished, and, indeed, a window into the world of others.

Live streaming isn't new. But this new take on the category – fast, integrated, mobile – comes at an interesting time. Periscope is free on the App Store.

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Facebook Messenger’s “Optimized” Approach and App Discovery

Over at Fast Company, Sarah Kessler has a good summary of Facebook's Messenger announcements from today's F8 developer conference:

Facebook wants to turn its Messenger app into more than just a messaging app. At its F8 conference in San Francisco Wednesday, the company announced details on its much-rumored plans to integrate Messenger with purchases made on other sites, and to allow third-party developers to build apps that work within it.

Messenger users will soon be able to select from a list of services inside of the app. At launch, most of these apps help users create new content, like singing telegram app Ditty, GIF app Giphy, and voice app FlipLip Voice Changer. There’s also a fun special effects app available from J.J. Abrams and an ESPN app that provides users with sports GIFs. Facebook says 40 apps will be available today or in the days to come.

I was curious about Facebook's plans for Messenger Platform, and the addition of an API immediately caught my interest. I tweeted:

After reading more about how Messenger Platform works with third-party apps, though, I realized that my tweets from earlier today don't exactly apply to what Facebook is doing.

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Filters for iPhone

Fun, polished new app by Mike Rundle: Filters is a photo editor for iPhone that includes over 800 effects, filters, textures, and overlays. Normally, I wouldn't be interested in this type of app and I would say that 800 options are too much, but I like how Rundle structured navigation inside the app and how you can freely experiment, compare edits with the original photo, and save favorite filters for quick access.

I've spent a few minutes playing with the app today, and while I won't use all of the filters it offers, I enjoyed looking at options (there are some great ones) and the little touches in the UI (Rundle is the designer and developer of the app, and this integration shows). Benjamin Mayo has a good review over at 9to5Mac.

Also: Filters is $0.99, with no In-App Purchases or other social gimmicks. Recommended.

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Fantastical 2 for Mac Review: Reinvented

Fantastical for Mac, originally released in 2011, redefined calendar apps for OS X and my idea of a modern calendar client.

Developed by Michael Simmons and Kent Sutherland – together known as Flexibits – Fantastical pioneered features and design choices that, with time, have become a staple of other calendar apps and OS X utilities: natural language input is now expected in popular todo apps and services; the OS X menu bar has grown into a popular destination for desktop utilities; integration with multiple calendar services in a single app is now a de facto standard.

Fantastical was a powerful calendar assistant. Four years later, Flexibits wants Fantastical 2 for Mac – their latest creation years in the making – to be the only calendar app you'll ever need. While the original Fantastical was a companion to the full Apple iCal experience, Fantastical 2 reinvents itself as a full-blown calendar client that retains the most important aspects of the app's debut and adds a whole new calendar interface to the mix. And in the process, it exudes the finesse and attention to detail that Simmons and Sutherland are known for.

In 2011, Fantastical raised the bar for modern calendar interaction. Fantastical 2 builds on that solid foundation, bringing design changes and new functionalities that will define the evolution of the Fantastical family.

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Instagram Launches Layout

Fun new app by Instagram, designed to create photo collages. From the company's blog:

Today we’re announcing Layout from Instagram, a new app that lets you easily combine multiple photos into a single image. It’s fun, it’s simple and it gives you a new way to flex your creativity.

After Hyperlapse, Instagram continues to build dedicated utilities without cluttering the main Instagram experience (which has already gotten more complex over the years). I'd argue that photo collages are more mainstream than slow-motion videos, and Layout seems to lack the impressive technical feats of Hyperlapse. It's polished, intuitive, and I like how it simplifies controls for resizing and mirroring, but it doesn't showcase any breakthrough technology. It doesn't need to, though, considering the popularity of slightly more complicated collage apps such as Diptic.

Nathan Ingraham writes at The Verge:

Layout is a determinedly simple app — choose your pictures, choose your layout, and make a few quick adjustments. That's all it does, and its designers are happy to admit it. Even as Instagram's flagship app has gotten more flexible, adding more granular editing tools to the filters it first became known for, the company wants to keep advanced techniques like Hyperlapse and collages in their own apps.

Curious to see if this will take off (my friends will be a fascinating testing ground).

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A New Way to Display

Smart take by Craig Hockenberry on the rumor that Apple may be using an OLED display in the Watch:

I’ve always felt that the flattening of Apple’s user interface that began in iOS 7 was as much a strategic move as an aesthetic one. Our first reaction was to realize that an unadorned interface makes it easier to focus on content.

But with this new display technology, it’s clear that interfaces with fewer pixels have another advantage. A richly detailed button from iOS 6 would need more of that precious juice strapped to our wrists. Never underestimate the long-term benefits of simplification.

Another possible argument that would explain Apple's long-term vision for the iOS 7 redesign.

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Twitter Teams Up with Foursquare for Location Tagging

Earlier today, Twitter announced that Foursquare will soon power location tagging across the company's suite of apps. In a video shared today, Twitter showed how location data by Foursquare will be embedded into Twitter for iPhone to allow users to tag specific places instead of using Twitter's previous (coordinate-based) location database.

This is an interesting move for a couple of reasons. First off, Twitter has chosen to rely on a third-party for a precise database of places instead of building its own from scratch – and they cleverly picked Foursquare, which has amassed an impressive collection of 65 million places in six years. I'm curious to see if Twitter will use this newfound power to enhance ads and offers on the service (imagine Foursquare-powered deals available in a Twitter card).

Second, Twitter needs to improve their local discovery features. With a richer collection of places, Twitter could unlock previously unseen contextual, local features that wouldn't be possible with simple coordinates (think venues like concerts and museums or spots like a cafe in Rome).

Foursquare's Dennis Crowley writes:

In addition to building the world’s most accurate place database, we’ve learned how to see buildings the way our phones see them — as shapes and sensor readings on the ground rather than boxes viewed from space. We’ve built software that can understand when people move through, stop within, and then move on from these shapes — whether the shapes are places, neighborhoods or cities. And we’ve built search and recommendation algorithms that get smarter as they learn about the shapes you choose to spend time in and the shapes you simply pass through. You’ll hear us talk about these things as “stop detection,” “snap-to-place,” “the Pilgrim engine” — they’re the pieces that make us confident that no matter where you’re standing in the world — whether it’s your own neighborhood or a far-away city you’re visiting for the first time — we can raise your awareness of the best experiences nearby and help you find places you’ll love.

Smart move from Twitter, and long overdue.

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Igloo: An Intranet You’ll Actually Like [Sponsor]

Why invest in the latest, sleekest devices if you are going to use them to stare at an intranet website that looks like it was built in the 90’s?

Not only can Igloo be customized to look exactly like your brand, but with its responsive design, it’s automatically optimized for almost any device you’re using, including the latest iPhone 6 or 6 Plus. And just like your favourite Apple devices, Igloo helps you do your best work.

Share files, coordinate calendars, provide status updates and manage projects. Igloo’s not just for your traditional intranet stuff like HR policies and expense forms. It also lets you work better together with your teams. And it keeps getting better.

Our latest upgrade, Viking, gives you more control over how you interact with documents, gather feedback and make changes. We’ve even added the ability to track who has read critical information (like read receipts in your email, but less annoying) to keep everyone on the same page.

Not convinced yet? We understand love doesn’t happen overnight. If you sign up now, we will let you try our platform for free for as long as you want.

Our thanks to Igloo for sponsoring MacStories this week.