Federico Viticci

7545 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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Space Age Review

Space Age is an adventure game from Big Bucket, the indie dev studio by Matt Comi and Neven Mrgan, who previously brought us the exquisite (and addictive) The Incident in 2010.

Space Age – first teased over two years ago – joins Monument Valley in my list of best iOS games of 2014, and it is the kind of game that I believe anyone with an iOS device should play. Space Age looks great, sounds fantastic, and is filled with witty dialog that powers an intriguing story of space exploration and distant memories.

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Google Updates YouTube for iOS with New Music Section

Following the announcement of YouTube Music Key earlier today, Google updated its official YouTube app for iOS with a new Music tab in preparation for the service's beta rollout next week.

The new tab, available at the top of the main interface, doesn't bring Music Key functionalities, but instead showcases a selection of music based on popularity and your watching history on YouTube. In this section, YouTube is offering mixes (non-stop playlists based on songs or artists, like radio stations), recommended videos, a history section for music videos you've played before, plus trending and popular videos.

The selections in the new Music area of YouTube are solid when it comes to personal history and recommendations, but they feel a little impersonal as they lack any sort of editorial pick or curated content. The Music tab is very much user-centric at this point: music videos are either recommended based on your history and likes on YouTube or they're already part of your subscriptions and playlists. The execution is nice thanks to large previews, a clean interface, and the ability to quickly start playing a mix or a playlist, but, right now, YouTube's Music tab is obviously not meant to replace the home page of services like Beats Music or Spotify.

You can get the updated YouTube app with the new Music section on the App Store.


Twitter: “Several Updates” Coming for Direct Messages

In a blog post published today, Twitter announced that native videos and more timeline experiments will come to the service. That's great – especially if they're planning more Cards features.

Towards the end, the company also mentions direct messages:

And we haven’t forgotten about Direct Messages. We have several updates coming that will make it easy to take a public conversation private. The first of these was announced today and will begin rolling out next week: the ability to share and discuss Tweets natively and privately via Direct Messages. Stay tuned!

“We haven't forgotten” sounds like a curious statement from a company that, for some reason, decided to disallow sharing URLs in direct messages last year and never bothered to fix them. It sounds like Twitter will bring back the ability to discuss individual tweets in DMs, but, frankly, it makes no sense that people who follow each other shouldn't be able to exchange any URL privately.

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Google Announces YouTube Music Key

Widely rumored for the past several months, Google today announced YouTube Music Key, a premium service that, starting at $7.99/month, will offer ad-free videos, the ability to keep listening to videos as music in the background, offline downloads, and access to Google Play Music (the new name for Google Play Music All Access).

From the YouTube blog:

Thanks to your music videos, remixes, covers, and more, you’ve made YouTube the biggest music service on the planet. To turn YouTube into your perfect music service, we’re launching YouTube Music Key as a beta with our biggest music fans first, and then we’ll bring YouTube Music Key to the whole world together. So, if you see an invite in your app or email, try it out for six months for free.

YouTube Music Key follows a plan to revamp YouTube's entire music strategy with a new dedicated section:

Starting today, you’ll see a new home just for music on your YouTube app for Android, iOS and on YouTube.com that shows your favorite music videos, recommended music playlists based on what you’re into and playlists of trending music across YouTube. You can find a playlist to perfectly fit your mood, whether that’s a morning motivators playlist or Boyce Avenue YouTube Mix. Check out the newest songs from channels you subscribe to, like FKA twigs or Childish Gambino. Or quickly find the songs you’ve played over and over and over again.

The YouTube Music Key beta will start rolling out next week, and it appears that current Google Music All Access subscribers will get access to it immediately.

I'm interested in Google's plans with YouTube because the service has what other music streaming services have always lacked: a huge catalogue of videos from artists that go beyond albums and singles. As someone who regularly watches concert videos and demo recordings on YouTube, I'm curious to see how an ad-free experience with web and iOS access could improve content that I can't get anywhere else.

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Flashlight Extends OS X Yosemite’s Spotlight with Plugins

Developed by Nate Parrott, Flashlight is an interesting tweak for Spotlight that aims to extend Yosemite’s search utility and app launcher with plugins. Available for free on GitHub and based on a plugin system written in Python, Flashlight extends the capabilities of Spotlight with features such as Google and Wolfram Alpha search, weather forecasts, Terminal integration, and support for online search on various websites.

In spite of a major redesign for OS X Yosemite, Spotlight didn’t get the more advanced functionalities that have become a staple of third-party apps such as Alfred and LaunchBar; Spotlight can return selected Bing results, but, for instance, it can’t fire up traditional Google searches in Safari or provide results directly in the Spotlight UI. Compare that with the useful and time-saving workflows created by the Alfred community, and it’s easy to understand why the average OS X power user may prefer the versatility of a Spotlight replacement.

Flashlight is an official Spotlight API and a “horrendous hack” according to its developer, but it proves a point. I installed Flashlight on my system running the latest Yosemite developer seed, and Flashlight displayed a small popup window with the ability to enable plugins. I activated Google, weather, and Wolfram Alpha, then I invoked Spotlight and typed “g MacStories Tweetbot” – that’s a shortcode for Google queries in Spotlight through Flashlight. Google search results were displayed in a mini-web view inside Spotlight, and I could either type Enter to open the Google search results page in Safari, or click the results in Spotlight.

I got similar results with weather and Wolfram Alpha integration, although also I stumbled across bugs as Parrott cautioned in the release notes. Weather correctly fetched my location, but Wolfram Alpha didn’t accept the (theoretically supported) “wa” command and some queries just didn’t work. And, obviously, being this a rough hack that’s not officially supported by Apple, memory consumption of the Flashlight plugin occasionally went through the roof with hundreds of MBs reported in Activity Monitor.

Flashlight may be an unfinished and hacky workaround, but it offers a glimpse of what an extendable Spotlight for Yosemite could be. While I don’t think that Apple will ever allow users to write their own plugins for Spotlight, Flashlight may grow into a relatively stable and popular utility – and if things don’t work out, there will always be Alfred and LaunchBar.




iOS 8, Email, and Extensions

One of my biggest frustrations with iOS 8 so far is the lack of extension support in Apple's Mail app. As I wrote in iOS 8 Changed How I Work on My iPhone and iPad:

I'm disappointed to see a lack of extension support in Apple's own apps, and particurlarly in Mail. It just makes sense, in my opinion, to be able to turn messages into tasks or archived documents, but Apple hasn't integrated extensions with Mail yet.

My feelings haven't changed since September and, in fact, Mail's non-existent sharing capabilities have been exacerbated by my move towards a more iPad-centric workflow after upgrading to an iPad Air 2. I've been working from my iPad Air 2 on a daily basis for the past two weeks, and the friction in Apple's Mail app has led me to use other email clients simply because they came up with their own implementation of action and share extensions for email messages.

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Automatic: Your Smart Driving Assistant on Your Smart Phone [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. Automatic retails at $99.95 with no subscription fees.

MacStories readers can go to automatic.com/macstories to get $20 off and buy Automatic at just $79.95. For more information, check out Automatic's website.

Our thanks to Automatic for sponsoring MacStories this week.


Integrating iThoughtsX with Marked 2

Brett Terpstra writes about the new integration of Marked 2 with iThoughtsX:

iThoughtsX is currently my favorite mind mapping tool on OS X. Marked 2 is, obviously, my favorite way to preview Markdown. Now they work together. You can simply drag an iThoughtsX map file to Marked, and it will start previewing an outline of your map as you work. Every time you save your map in iThoughts, you’ll see the changes in the resulting Markdown document, previewed in whatever theme you’re working with.

As you can see in the video above, the integration is seamless: every change you make in a mind map is reflected in the Markdown preview of Marked.

Both iThoughts and Marked are excellent pieces of software. I miss the ubiquitous preview capabilities of Marked on iOS, but, fortunately, iThoughts developer Craig Scott worked out a pretty sweet integration with Editorial.

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