Federico Viticci

7982 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 Releases iTunes U 3.0

Apple has launched a major update to iTunes U for iOS today, bringing features to simplify homework management for students and grading for teachers. Dawn Chmielewski, writing for Re/code:

With this latest version of Apple’s educational software, students will be able to turn in homework from their tablets; these documents will carry a timestamp recording when the student submits term papers, book reports and other work. An integrated grade book will alert teachers when a student’s work is complete and ready for review, or if it’s time to send a reminder.

Interestingly, Apple's updated iTunes U webpage shows a PDF markup feature similar to the one coming in iOS 9. And, “students can hand-in their homework from any Apple creativity app and dozens of third-party apps” – this seems to be based on an extension that communicates with the iTunes U app.

Last, a few notes from Fraser Speirs:

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The New York Times Profiles Zane Lowe, Details Artist Shows on Beats 1

In a profile published today, The New York Times' Ben Sisario has shared some interesting details ahead of the debut of Beats 1 on Apple Music next week, with a focus on Zane Lowe.

Compared with the mild-mannered corporate executives who usually represent Apple in public, Mr. Lowe is a new kind of animal for the company. A motormouth both on and off the air, he is an irrepressible advocate for the music he chooses to promote. And like that of the legendary BBC announcer John Peel before him, his endorsement carries major weight: Among the artists Mr. Lowe got behind early are Adele, Ed Sheeran and the Arctic Monkeys.

Interestingly, artists and other celebrities will have their own shows on Beats 1, including Dr. Dre and Elton John:

“Zane is a genuine enthusiast; this is not a fake thing,” said Mr. John, whose Beats 1 show, “Elton John’s Rocket Hour,” will be an eclectic mix of old songs and new. “He’s a fan, and he’s a fan who’s got the opportunity to make his position in the world work for other people. He genuinely loves music, and that’s my kind of guy.”

And:

To keep Beats 1 sounding fresh around the world, the station will alternate one- and two-hour programming blocks by established broadcasters with those by musicians and celebrities, who will host and plan the shows themselves. Among the names on board: the teen actor Jaden Smith, the alternative singer St. Vincent, Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age and the British electronic duo Disclosure.

Between Lowe, Adenuga's eclectic career, and original shows from a variety of artists, it sure sounds like Apple is willing to experiment with Beats 1.

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Slack Keeps Gaining Momentum

Slack announced some pretty impressive numbers yesterday: 1.1 million daily active users after 16 months, 300,000 paid users, and $25 million in recurring annual revenue. And they don't plan to slow growth any time soon. John Paul Titlow, writing for FastCompany:

Slack has hired April Underwood, an alumnus of Google and Twitter, as its new head of Platform. In that role, Underwood will oversee Slack's API, integrations, and developer relations.

To date, Slack has worked with about 100 partners to build third-party services directly into Slack's suite of mobile and desktop apps. Teams using Slack have collectively activated 900,000 of those integrations. With Underwood's arrival, the company aims to dramatically increase those numbers, making Slack more of a one-stop-shop for work and productivity.

Slack already announced plans for voice/video calling and screen sharing earlier this year.

I was at a party last week, talking with some friends who are definitely not into tech news as much as I am. At one point, I received a notification on my Apple Watch, pulled up the screen, and a friend of a friend looked at it, saw the Slack icon, and said "Oh, you use Slack too? I love Slack". We spent the next 10 minutes talking about Slack and why we use it. He works in an IT department for a large company here in Rome, and, like others, he started using Slack with his co-workers, then proposed the service to their managers, and eventually started using Slack for professional and personal communications all day long. But keep this in mind – I was approached by someone I didn't know, while drinking at a party in Rome, to talk about our mutual love for Slack and the Slackbot.

I feel like that sums up many people's relationship with Slack. It starts as a simple chat tool, but thanks to its design and flexibility, you can make it your own very quickly. This makes the service dependable and personal – and products that people feel a close connection with generate the best evangelists in return. Even at parties in Rome.

(We use Slack for Relay FM and MacStories, and I plan to use it for future projects as well.)

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Shazam Update Adds Apple Music Support

I'm excited to start using Apple Music next week, but I was concerned that one of my favorite ways to discover songs I hear around me – Shazam – wouldn't be ready to support Apple Music at launch. Thankfully, an update released today adds an Apple Music button that, like other streaming integrations before, will let you listen to tagged songs on the new service.

I've been preparing for the launch of Apple Music – I deleted Spotify from my iPhone and re-subscribed to Beats Music last night so I can report on the transition – because I've been waiting for an Apple music streaming service for a long time, and I want to understand what they've built as quickly as possible. The fact that third-party utilities like Shazam and Musixmatch should already work with the updated Music app makes the transition even better.

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UCSF’s LGBT Health Study Powered by ResearchKit

Stephanie M. Lee, writing for BuzzFeed on an upcoming study by the University of California built with ResearchKit:

Now, a team of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco is gearing up for what may prove to be the largest national study of LGBT health ever — and it’s using the iPhone to do it.

Dubbed the PRIDE Study, the effort will use an iPhone app based on Apple’s new ResearchKit software framework to assess the special health needs of the LGBT population. UCSF researchers plan to survey people about a broad range of health risk factors that may include HIV/AIDS, smoking, cancer, obesity, and depression. And they hope that the PRIDE Study app and the iPhone’s vast user base will deepen medical research into transgender and bisexual individuals — both relatively understudied populations compared to lesbians and gay men.

“The main question there is, what is the relationship between being LGBTQ — or more broadly a sexual or gender minority person — and mental and physical health?” Mitchell Lunn, co-director of The PRIDE Study and a clinical research fellow at UCSF, told BuzzFeed News. The app is debuting in June, LGBT Pride Month, just days before San Francisco’s annual Pride parade and ahead of an expected Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage.

Great initiative. Hopefully we'll continue to see more of these studies at a global scale.

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Apple’s Swift Course on GitHub

Cool finding by John Weatherford from a few days ago:

Apple has apparently, via some sort of collaboration with a university professor, published last week — during WWDC — a really solid-looking learn-to-code curriculum for Swift that is kind of on iTunes U but that is really on GitHub.

The GitHub page is available here. Between this and dropping the requirement for a paid developer membership to test apps on a device, it looks like Apple really wants as many people as possible to start using Swift.

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Reconsidering Apple’s Default Apps

Seth Clifford's post on reconsidering Apple's default apps on iOS and OS X comes at an interesting time, as I'm also in the (now annual) process of reevaluating which apps I use during the developer beta of iOS.

Something’s changed though–well, two things–in the past few years. I’ve lost my taste for fiddling a little bit, and the default apps Apple ships with its devices have gotten, well, better. Better than other things I could use? Not in all cases. But better… enough. I’ve been increasingly focused on reducing friction in my life, and having a simpler computing experience that works together with its component parts–as much as any multi-device connected computing experience can work without hair-pulling these days.

I go through this stage every year: Apple releases a new beta of iOS, and, for review purposes, I need to know what's changed in their apps. This usually means that, for a few months, I go back to Mail, Podcasts, Reminders, Calendar, and other apps that gradually get replaced by third-party alternatives as developers release updates for their apps in the Fall. Some of Apple's apps have stuck with me over the years, like Safari (which I believe is Apple's best app on iOS); others eventually disappear from my Home screen as they don't offer the kind of powerful features I think I need.

But as I argued on Connected last night, I wonder if this year will be different. Apple is bringing new exclusive functionality to their apps, such as the ability for Siri to create reminders for anything that's on the screen (with deep links) and start audio playback depending on your habits, or handy links to create calendar events and update contact cards based on information found in Mail. In the past two weeks, I've made an effort to use Apple apps as much as possible, and, while minor, these subtle enhancements do add up. I like that iOS 9 can offer shortcuts gathered from conversations in email, and Reminder's ability to create todos for any app content is convenient and clever.

Apple's apps have always gotten better with each iOS release, but I wonder if this year's additions – most of them featured under the Intelligence banner – will make me reconsider third-party apps I thought I'd never change again. It'll be interesting to check back once iOS 9 ships.

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iOS 9 and Safari View Controller: The Future of Web Views

For a long time, iOS apps have been able to open links as web views. When you tap a link in a Twitter client, an RSS reader, or a bookmark utility, it usually opens in a mini browser that doesn't leave the app, providing you with the convenience of not having to switch between Safari and the app. For years, in spite of some security concerns, this worked well and became the de-facto standard among third-party iOS apps.

With iOS 9, Apple wants this to change – and they're bringing the power of Safari to any app that wants to take advantage of it.

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Connected: I’m Afraid of Snakes

This week Federico and Myke are joined by David Smith to talk about how WWDC felt for developers, the effect of a public beta for iOS, Reminders on iOS 9, and Taylor Swift.

On this week's Connected, we take a look at WWDC from a developer's perspective and I explain why I'm intrigued by the new Reminders features on iOS 9. You can listen here.

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