Federico Viticci

7603 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.


Connected: On Principle, I Shunned These Ideas

This week, Federico, Myke and what’s left of Stephen discuss some Evernote follow-up, recent App Store drama and what’s going on with Twitter clients.

On this week's Connected, we discuss recent App Store rejections (Transmit's iCloud Drive feature has been reinstated) and the conclusion of my Twitter article. Get the episode here.

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iCloud Drive Sharing Restored in Transmit

Earlier this week, Panic was forced to remove Transmit's ability to send files to iCloud Drive following a request by Apple. Fortunately, Apple has reversed their decision (as it happened for the PCalc widget) and a new version of Transmit has been released on the App Store.

As I argued last night on Connected, there could be an issue within Apple that leads to confusion with apps that can be promoted and rejected at the same time. We don't, however, know the extent of this probable issue, and I don't think speculating about internal conflicts is worth much (as with most things Apple, speculation isn't useful).

We can (and should continue to) point out unfair and unreasonable rejections, especially for apps that aren't made by popular companies such as Panic. Hopefully this latest string of questionable rejections and reversals will allow Apple to improve their internal App Review processes and make sure these cases become less frequent in the future.


HockeyApp Acquired by Microsoft

With a blog post, mobile development testing and feedback service HockeyApp has announced they've been acquired by Microsoft.

From the HockeyApp blog:

Microsoft has been a HockeyApp customer with many apps since the early days back in 2011, so they were already familiar with the stability and quality of our service. Creating the best developer experience is key to both Microsoft and HockeyApp, this includes delivering industry leading tools for the major mobile platforms: iOS, Android and Windows. We saw the potential of the added abilities and resources of Microsoft to make our platform even better. It may sound cliché, but it really does feel like a match made in heaven.

We want to be very clear about the most important thing: we remain dedicated to our mission of making the best mobile app development feedback and testing distribution platform in the world. Your HockeyApp apps and accounts will continue to work and the team has not stopped working on advancing the platform. Throughout the next few months, we’ll reveal more about our plans with Microsoft.

In a separate blog post, Microsoft has also shared details of what to expect from the near future of HockeyApp:

In the coming months, we will introduce new iOS and Android SDKs for Application Insights based on the features of HockeyApp. Application Insights offers a 360-degree view of application usage, availability, and performance across both client and server/cloud application components. Integrating HockeyApp crash reports with Application Insights usage analytics will extend device support for Application Insights across all major mobile platforms and make application analytics an ambient part of the application development cycle with support for all tiers of a modern “mobile first, cloud first” solution.

It's not surprising to see HockeyApp becoming part of Microsoft following TestFlight and Crashlytics joining Apple and Twitter, respectively. Mobile development testing has become essential to the app economy, and big companies want to control that part of the stack.

As a user, I always preferred HockeyApp to the original TestFlight. HockeyApp was fast, its Timeline view was excellent (see all beta builds from newest to oldest), and it was always more reliable than the old TestFlight. The new TestFlight, though, is much easier and integrated than third-party beta testing services: developers can add up to 1000 external testers using Apple IDs rather than device UDIDs. That alone has been a massively welcome change: I only need to give my email address to developers, and then I can download an app without going crazy with certificates and UDIDs.

Most of the betas I try for MacStories have switched to the new TestFlight. It's just too convenient and integrated. I do think, however, that there's still room for services like HockeyApp, which offers developers more insights, cross-platform support, and the ability to avoid Apple's often problematic web services. It'll be interesting to see where Microsoft takes HockeyApp.


Twitter Clients in 2014: An Exploration of Tweetbot, Twitterrific, and Twitter for iOS

Twitter clients used to be a UI design playground. The growing popularity of Twitter, an open API, and the rapid takeoff of the App Store contributed to the creation of a defining genre of mobile software in 2009 and 2010: the Twitter client for iPhone. In the golden days of third-party Twitter apps, a good new client would come out at least every month, with several developers pitching their own ideas for what was meant to be a mobile-first communication network.

iPhone apps and the Twitter API were a perfect match five years ago. Twitter made sense as a social network in your pocket; Apple’s iPhone OS and newly launched App Store made that a reality. As a user, there was little friction in trying multiple Twitter clients: because Twitter data was always “in the cloud”, changing clients was like choosing a different outfit each day. The core Twitter experience would always be the same; the design and preferences around it would differ from client to client.

That was a time of astonishing innovation in mobile app design. Twitterrific, the first native Twitter client for iPhone, effectively invented key aspects of modern Twitter interaction and terminology; Tweetie, perhaps the most popular Twitter client of its time, pioneered touch interaction paradigms such as pull to refresh. And then there were Weet, Osfoora, Birdfeed, Twittelator, Echofon, Tweetings, TweetList, and dozens of other apps that helped refine and redefine the idea of what Twitter on an iPhone could be.

Good Twitter clients weren’t easy to create, but the challenge they packed was intriguing and flexible. As a Twitter developer, you needed to design an app that would primarily display textual information (this was before Twitter photos), handle hyperlinks, manage interactions between users, account for different network conditions, possibly integrate with third-party sharing services years before iOS 8, and, most of all, be fast, responsive, and easy to use. The constraints of Twitter clients in 2009/2010 freed many from the struggle of coming up with an original app idea.

If you’re using an iOS app[1] today, there’s a good chance some of its features or design ideas first appeared in a Twitter client five years ago.

We know how the story moved forward. In April 2010, Twitter realized that they needed an official iOS presence on the App Store, so they bought Loren Brichter’s Tweetie, relaunched it as Twitter for iPhone, and Brichter released the (unsurprisingly genius) Twitter for iPad.[2] For a while, it looked like Tweetie would live on, but then Twitter started adding questionable features to it, and it became clear that the third-party Twitter client would be persona non grata on the App Store.

Over the years, there have been countless examples of Twitter prioritizing their own app and a closed ecosystem approach over third-party developers and improvements to the API. From the infamous quadrant and token limits to the display guidelines and constant reticence about bringing new features to the API, Twitter has been nebulous in providing an official stance on third-party clients after the Tweetie acquisition, but the subtext of their announcements has always been fairly clear to everyone in the third-party scene. Twitter wanted people to use their official app, not a third-party client.

Before the Twitter acquisition in 2010, I was using a bunch of third-party clients but I had eventually elected Tweetie as my preferred one. After Brichter’s app turned into Twitter for iPhone, I stuck to it for a while, but then I was allured by Tapbots’ promise of a Twitter client for power users. As I wrote in my original review, Tweetbot had everything I was looking for, and that was before Tapbots would bring fantastic new features that made it even more versatile.

I loved Tweetbot in a way that I didn’t love any other app for iOS. I have extremely vivid and personal memories of getting the first beta builds of Tweetbot for iPhone and iPad, and, until Editorial came around, Tweetbot was the app I spent most of my days in. From 2011 until earlier this year, I used Tweetbot every working hour of every day. Tweetbot was Twitter for me.

That’s not to say that I stopped checking in on the state of other Twitter clients for iOS, but I certainly became less curious because I had found the one. I’ve primarily continued to keep an eye on Twitterrific, but I largely ignored the third-party space for two years. Last year, the launch of iOS 7 motivated me to look for new Twitter clients again and I stumbled across new versions of TweetLogix, Echofon, and Tweet7, but my affection for Tweetbot and the fact that the majority of my Internet friends were using Tapbots’ app convinced me that I didn’t have to look for anything else.

I like to think that I’m naturally curious, but, for my Twitter client of choice, I had become complacent and fixated on the belief that the official Twitter app could never offer anything valuable again. Earlier this year, an idea started poking me in the back of my mind: if the rest of the world is using the Twitter app for iOS, shouldn’t I give it another chance?

This realization came from a simple occasion: I was having dinner out with some friends, and I noticed that they were using the Twitter app for iPhone to read news and follow their favorite celebrities. Tweetbot was Twitter for me and I was certain that I could never switch to another app, but they seemed to be just fine with the official app and its lack of streaming, mute filters, quick actions, and all those other great details Tweetbot had. “They’re not power users”, I thought, and that settled it.

Still. For someone who likes to think he’s curious and writes about apps for a living, my unwillingness to at least try the app from the service I use every day was remarkable in its shortsightedness. Twitter had changed since 2011, and it wasn’t meant for power users. The rest of the world was using Twitter through the official apps and I thought that I knew better than anyone else. So, a fun experiment began:

I started using the official Twitter client as my main Twitter app on my iPhone and iPad.

For the past six months, I’ve been reevaluating my entire Twitter experience based on the apps I use to read tweets and interact with people. The idea made a lot more sense once I stepped out of my preconceptions: I wanted to understand what 2014 Twitter was like and if that meant sacrificing my nerd cred and use a Muggle’s Twitter app, so be it. But at the same time, I’ve gone back and forth between Twitter and third-party clients, primarily out of habit, but also because they still offer powerful features and design details that I appreciate.

I didn’t want to focus on the history of Twitter clients, my thoughts on Twitter’s policies, or every single Twitter app currently available for iOS 8. I also couldn’t compare every single feature or design decision for every possible scenario a Twitter client could be used in.

Instead, I attempted to address my curiosity from a utilitarian standpoint. Given the three most popular Twitter apps for iOS (Twitter, Tweetbot, and Twitterrific), I wanted to slowly evaluate their features for my use case. To do this, I assembled a list of features I need a Twitter client to be capable of handling and I started taking notes every time I switched between clients. I’ve been doing this since early June.

I’ve spent weeks comparing features and changing apps to understand the kind of experience they want to promote. But implementation details and design differences aside, I also kept wondering the same question: was the real Twitter different from the third-party clients I used for three years?

What’s 2014 Twitter like on iOS?

Read more

ICONIC: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation [Sponsor]

I’d like to tell you about a very cool coffee table book – it’s a book about Apple.

Back in 2009, a guy named Jonathan Zufi collected and photographed pretty much every single product Apple has ever made since 1976 and produced this stunning coffee table book. It’s called ICONIC: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation.

If there was ever a perfect gift for the Apple fan – or history buff – this is it. 350 beautifully designed pages and hundreds of fantastic photos of basically every product Apple has ever made – every desktop, laptop, iOS device, printer, and even the old gaming devices, it’s all in here and I guarantee you’ll see some products that you didn’t even know Apple made. There’s an amazing chapter about prototypes and there’s also a chapter on packaging – all the boxes that came with all this amazing technology.

I personally own a copy of the original ICONIC book, and it’s indeed stunning. The book feels great, photographs are professional and well laid out – I had no idea some Apple products existed, but ICONIC provided a great visual intro.

ICONIC includes a foreword by Steve Wozniak and hundreds of amazing quotes from other Apple pundits – it’s really something.

The book comes in a few different versions including a version in a book case that looks like an old Apple floppy drive, and a new ‘UItimate Edition’ that ships in a white clamshell with an embedded glowing standby light that pulses just like the old sleep indicators on the MacBook Pros. It’s really worth seeing so visit iconicbook.com and take a look.

You can order the Classic Edition at Amazon, but if you decide you want the Classic Plus, Special, or Ultimate Editions then enter the code macstories when you check out for a 10% discount.

My thanks to ICONIC for sponsoring MacStories this week.

Virtual: Raichu’s Kind of a Bully

This week Federico and Myke discuss music influenced by video games, revisit the Wii U as a viable platform, celebrate 20 years of PlayStation, give their first impressions of the new Pokemon games and bemoan what EA have done to Peggle.

Make sure to listen to the second Crying album I mentioned, and go check out USgamer's retrospective on the original PlayStation. You can get the episode here.

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