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.

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Apple’s App Search API Validation Tool

I haven't seen this linked before – and I certainly didn't see it when I first wrote about iOS 9 search – but Apple has a new validation tool to test websites for App Search, coming with iOS 9 in Spotlight.

Apple writes:

Test your webpage for iOS 9 Search APIs. Enter a URL and Applebot will crawl your webpage and show how you can optimize for best results.

As I wrote, iOS 9 won't be limited to searching for local app content:

To enhance web crawling with structured data and, again, give developers control of indexed content, Apple has announced support for various types of web markup. Developers who own websites with content related to an app will be able to use Smart App Banners to describe deep links to an app (more on this in a bit) as well as open standards such as schema.org and Open Graph.

Apple calls these “rich results”: by reading metadata based on existing standards, Apple's web crawler can have a better understanding of key information called out on a webpage and do more than simply parsing a title and a link. With support for schema.org, for instance, Applebot will be able to recognize tagged prices, ratings, and currencies for individual listings on Airbnb, while the Open Graph image tag could be used as the image thumbnail in iOS search results. An app like Songkick could implement structured data to tag concert dates and prices in their related website, and popular concerts could show up for users with rich descriptions in the iOS 9 search page.

The validation tool does indeed analyze information that will be used to power iOS 9 search results – such as thumbnails, descriptions, and deep links to apps. You can try it out here.

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Focus: Your Productivity Timer [Sponsor]

Focus is a time manager that helps you beat procrastination and work more efficiently. Available on iOS, OS X, and Apple Watch, Focus lets you work in intervals and reminds you to take breaks regularly (based on the Pomodoro Technique).

Taking breaks regularly enables you to be more concentrated, more thoughtful, and ultimately more productive. With its simple and lightweight way to organize and manage your tasks, Focus lets you set and achieve daily goals to keep you motivated; because its task management features are unobtrusive by design, you'll spend your time working on a task instead of fiddling too much with the app.

Focus is designed to work seemlessly together across all platforms and devices. You can switch devices by using Handoff and with iCloud, so everything stays in sync. On iOS, you can see your current progress with a Today widget, and use interactive notifications to start, stops and extend your work. On the Mac, a beautiful and clear design feels natural on OS X Yosemite (including dark mode), and a menu bar item lets you see your current progress at a glance (it even works with a closed Focus app window).

Focus is available for iOS and OS X. For more information, visit focusapp.io.

Our thanks to Focus for sponsoring MacStories this week.


Google Photos Will Now Show You Photos and Videos From the Past

Sean O'Kane at The Verge:

The Google Photos app will now serve up cards in the “assistant view” that urge you to “rediscover this day,” and they can include photos, photo collages, or videos. The cards will tell you where you were and who you were with on that day, and the app also sticks a little graphic over everything that tells you which year it was from — another little bit that is extremely similar to Timehop.

The first rule of modern photo management services is that, sooner or later, they're going to bring back a feature from Everpix. I used to love this in the defunct service; it makes sense for the Assistant view of Google Photos. It's surprising to me that Apple still hasn't added something like this to Photos (you can search for “one year ago”, but it's not as precise or visible).

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Recovering Deleted Files and Data from iCloud

Dan Moren, writing for Six Colors on Apple's new iCloud feature to restore deleted files and data:

A few weeks back, I noted that recovering lost files from iCloud required a trip to the web interface. At the time, the only data available for recovery were files stored in iCloud, but in the intervening weeks, Apple’s added new capabilities and reorganized the layout in the process.

Rather than Apple squirreling away data recovery options under “Advanced > Data & Security”, you now scroll down to an Advanced section, which contains direct links to file recovery and adds the option to restore both contacts and calendar/reminder data. Clicking any of those links will open the restore data dialog box with the correct tab pre-selected.

On both MacStories and Connected, I've often noted how the lack of visible file versions and ability to restore deleted files has pushed me away from iCloud to embrace the safety of Dropbox. I'm still going to need Dropbox for the foreseeable future (and there's still no comparison with what iCloud is offering when it comes to recovering deleted files and viewing versions), but this is a start by Apple and I like how it applies to iCloud data as well – not just files. More of this, please.

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Automatic: Your Smart Driving Assistant on Your Smartphone [Sponsor]

There’s a mountain of data inside your car waiting to be unleashed, and all you have to do is plug in a quick little connector and download a mobile application.

Automatic is a smart driving assistant that plugs into your car's data port and lets you connect your smartphone (either iPhone or Android) with your car. By  talking to your car’s onboard computer and using your smartphone’s GPS and data plan to upgrade your car's capabilities, Automatic will allow you to easily diagnose your engine light, never forget where you parked your car, and save hundreds of dollars on gas.

Automatic learns your driving habits and gives you suggestions through subtle audio cues to drive smarter and stop wasting gas. Thanks to a map view available on your phone, Automatic can display a trip timeline after every driving session, showing you how you're doing with a Drive Score; the app can even track local gas prices and tell you how much you're spending.

In case of engine problems, Automatic can decipher what the "check engine" light means and show you a description of the issue with a possible solution. And thanks to a feature called Crash Alert, Automatic can detect many types of serious crashes and automatically alert local authorities as well as your loved ones when you can't.

Automatic is currently available in the US for iPhone and Android devices, with a 45-day return policy and free shipping in 2 business days.

MacStories readers can go to automatic.com/macstories to get $20 off and buy Automatic at just $79.99. For more information, check out Automatic's website.

Our thanks to Automatic for sponsoring MacStories this week.



Zane Lowe Talks Beats 1’s First Weeks

Good interview with Apple's Zane Lowe on Billboard. Sounds like he's in a charge of a lot of aspects of Beats 1, with Trent Reznor providing overall vision and strategy, and artists having pretty much carte blanche for their own shows.

Beats 1 is supposed to be formatless, but there do seem to be parameters to what’s played. How would you define the Beats 1 sound?

The personality of the station is developing over time. We started with a selection of records. That came down to four or five of us going, “What’s popping?” Then you ask around about the artist, do a bit of due diligence. After the first week, it was really exciting to hear how it all fit together, but also at times it was jarring. For instance, we would come out of big shows by Q-Tip or Disclosure, and the first song was really slow – you’re immediately losing the impact you’ve gained from the previous song. So we made some changes. We also noticed in the first week people listened for really long amounts of time, which meant songs got tired quickly, so we revised our rotations. And we’re working on a replay service and we want to get full on-demand ready.

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The Rise of (i)Phone Reading

Jennifer Maloney, writing for The Wall Street Journal last week on the rise of phone reading has some interesting stats regarding the iPhone 6:

Since the release of the bigger, sharper iPhone 6 and 6 Plus last September, Apple has seen an increase in the number of people downloading books onto iPhones through its iBooks app. Some 45% of iBooks purchases are now downloaded onto iPhones, an Apple spokeswoman said. Before that, only 28% were downloaded onto phones, with most of the remainder downloaded onto iPads and a small percentage onto computers.

This increase isn't limited to Apple's iBooks app:

Amazon has also noted the development. Among all new customers using Kindles or the Kindle app, phone readers are by far the fastest-growing segment, an Amazon spokeswoman said, declining to disclose figures. Among those who use the Kindle app, more people now read books on the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus than on any other Apple device, even the popular iPad Mini, she said.

Note how Apple said “downloaded onto iPhones” and not “entirely read on iPhones” – but still, it makes sense for people to read books (and I would assume, web articles) more continuously and ubiquitously on an iPhone than an iPad, especially thanks to the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.

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Google App for iOS Gets Support for Smarter “OK Google” Questions

Clever update to the Google app for iOS released today: because Google can't replicate the system-wide Now on Tap overlay on iOS, they have enabled a similar experience for webpages displayed inside the app. Now, when you're looking at a webpage that contains information you want to look up, you can say “OK Google” and ask a contextual question that Google will likely know the answer for.

I just took it for a spin, and I was able to get a smart answer for a webpage that mentioned Liam Gallagher (“when was he born”, I asked) and another for Everybody's Gone to the Rapture (“when is the release date” was my question). This, of course, isn't as flexible as Now on Tap's deep integration with Android apps and the OS, but it can be handy to save a bit of time when browsing in the Google app.

The technical achievements of Google's Now and smart answer technologies continue to impress me, although I wonder about their practicality for most people in everyday usage.

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Quartz Analyzes a Month of Beats 1 Tracks

Fascinating findings by Quartz after collecting a month worth of songs played on Beats 1:

To get a sense of the station’s tastes and habits, we analyzed data on more than 12,000 songs played on Beats 1 from early July to early August. The song data was collected by Callum Jones, a programmer at Nitrous, who has open-sourced his tool over on GitHub. Jones also has a Twitter bot that automatically tweets whatever song is playing.

And:

Beats 1 has something that is rare in the world of digital music: scarcity. Listeners can’t choose a song and play it over and over. (They can do that elsewhere on Apple Music.) But curation doesn’t mean songs aren’t repeated. We counted 12,445 tracks but only 3,371 unique songs, meaning each track was played an average of 3.7 times. Eighteen of the 20 songs in the table above were played over 50 times.

“Edgy enough” seems like a fitting description. I'm an avid listener of recent releases, but I discovered a lot of new stuff with Beats 1 so far.

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