Posts in stories

On Negative App Store Reviews During Betas of iOS and OS X

Earlier this week, Apple released the first public betas of iOS 9 and OS X El Capitan, and, knowing that would be the case, I cautioned MacStories readers against leaving negative reviews on the App Store for third-party apps that developers can't update with new features and fixes yet.

It's worth pointing out that, at this stage, third-party apps from the App Store can't be updated to take advantage of the new features in iOS 9 and OS X 10.11, which could limit the potential benefit of trying a public beta for some users. On iPad, for instance, only Apple's pre-installed apps can use the new multitasking features in iOS 9. For this reason, users interested in installing the public betas should also keep in mind that developers can't submit apps and updates with iOS 9 and El Capitan features to the App Store – therefore, it'd be best not to leave negative reviews for features missing in apps that can't be updated to take advantage of them yet.

Unfortunately, since yesterday I've already seen tweets from the developers of two excellent iOS apps – Screens and Day One – post screenshots of negative reviews they've received by users who are unsurprisingly running into problems when using their apps on the iOS 9 beta.

What's even more unfortunate is that this happens annually for every single iOS and OS X developer seed, but I fear the problem will be exacerbated this year by the availability of public betas anyone can try. Therefore, this bears repeating.

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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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Inside iOS 9 Search: Apple’s Plan for More Connected Apps

At WWDC 2015, Apple announced app search, a new feature of iOS 9 that will help users find content inside apps. Beyond the user-facing aspects of a new search page on iOS and proactive suggestions from Siri, however, lies a commitment to fundamentally rethink iOS' relationship with apps and the web, with deep implications for the future.

With iOS 9, Apple wants to reimagine how information from apps is exposed to users. For a long time, iOS apps have largely been treated as data silos – utilities that kept gaining design improvements and powerful functionalities as iOS grew, but ultimately unable to bring their data outside the confines of their sandbox. Following in the footsteps of iOS 8's adoption of extensions, Apple's plan to further open up iOS is deceptively simple: just let users search for what they need.

Behind the scenes, the reality of iOS 9 search is going to be a little more complex than that.

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iOS 9: Our Complete Overview and First Impressions

Apple announced iOS 9, the next major version of its mobile operating system, at WWDC 2015 this week, with a focus on iPad productivity, enhancements to built-in apps, better intelligence, and improvements to performance and security.

Part an iterative update aimed at refining missteps and missing features of iOS 8 and part a new beginning for Siri and iPad users, iOS 9 isn't the "Snow Leopard release" that some tech pundits were asking for. iOS 9 is building upon the foundation of iOS 8 with dozens of new features – many of which could profoundly impact the way we interact with our apps and devices every day.

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Why I Switched My Favorite Twitter, RSS, and Podcast Apps for Three Weeks

For at least five years there have been three slots on my iPhone Home screen dedicated to apps for Twitter, RSS, and podcasts. For as long as I can remember, they have been taken up by Tweetbot, Reeder and Castro. Three weeks ago I got rid of all three, and replaced them with Twitteriffic, Unread, and Pocket Casts. I had come to the awkward realisation that although I frequently tried new apps (and occasionally reviewed them), I didn't do the same thing when it came to Twitter, RSS, and podcast apps – at all. I had become too comfortable with the same apps.

So for three weeks I've been solely using those apps, and this "experiment" has lead to a few interesting revelations to me. Perhaps the most obvious one was that I discovered certain features I really liked, but had no idea I liked, until they were missing in the app I switched to (and vice versa). I won't spoil the results, but suffice to say I have resolved to try new apps (whatever their purpose) more frequently, even if I'm really happy with the app I'm currently using.

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The Accessibility of Apple Watch Bands

Last summer, I wrote an article for iMore in which I stress the importance of looking at hardware in accessibility terms. I wrote, in part:

Assessing the kinesthetic, tactile value of using an iPhone or iPad is just as important as assessing the software it runs. Speaking from personal experience, not only am I visually impaired but I also suffer from a mild form of cerebral palsy. What this means is, for me, the strength in my hands and fingers are substantially less than that of a fully-abled person. Hence, it takes much more effort to hold things — in this case, my iOS devices — as well as do things on my devices, like typing. Because of this, my approach to buying a new iPhone or iPad depends not only on 64-bit systems-on-a-chip and improved cameras, but also how the device feels in my hands: the weight, width, thinness, etc.

What applies to iPhones and iPads also applies to Apple Watch. In the context of the Watch, the hardware that is most crucial, accessibility-wise, are the bands. To folks like me who suffer from motor delays, the ability to successfully get the Apple Watch on and off is as key to a positive user experience as the quality of the software it runs.

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No Ecosystem Is an Island: Google, Microsoft, Facebook & Adobe’s iOS Apps

Apple doesn't make a single Android or Windows Phone app, and makes barely anything for Windows. But Apple's reluctance to develop on other platforms hasn't stopped Google and Microsoft from bringing their own apps across to iOS. That shouldn't be any surprise at all, given the different business strategies the three take. But what might be surprising is the extent to which Google and Microsoft have committed to bringing apps to iPhone and iPad users.

You are no doubt aware of the big apps from Microsoft (Word, Outlook and Minecraft) and Google (Gmail, Maps, Calendar), but the reality is that these two companies alone have over 150 apps available on the iOS App Store today. For good measure, I've also taken a look at the iOS development efforts from Adobe and Facebook, which are also significant.

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iOS 9 Wishes

I concluded last year's assessment of iOS 8 on a positive note:

The scope of iOS 8's changes will truly make sense as developers keep building brand new experiences over the coming months. iOS has begun to open up, and there's no stopping at this point.

For some Apple observers, it'd be easy – and justifiable – to argue that Apple is "done" with improving iOS given the software's maturity and sprawling app ecosystem. With long-awaited technologies such as action extensions, widgets, custom keyboards, folders for iCloud, and external document providers finding their way to iPhones and iPads, iOS has seemingly reached a zenith of functionality, an ideal state with no low-hanging fruit left to lust for.

Except that iOS 8 wasn't a culmination aimed at ending on a high note. As I wrote last September, the changes introduced with iOS 8 laid the foundation for a more flexible, customizable, and ultimately more powerful mobile OS that would pave the road for the next several years of iOS updates.

There's always going to be new low-hanging fruit in iOS. And 2015 is no exception.

iOS 8 changed how I work on my iPhone and iPad. For years, I had been entertaining the idea of going all-in with iOS, but I was never able to take the leap. I couldn't manage to leave my MacBook behind and let my workflow rely on iOS apps. My lifestyle dictates being able to write, communicate with others, and manage MacStories from anywhere, free from the constraints of a MacBook. Thanks to iOS 8 and the improved hardware of the iPad Air 2, I chose the iPad as my primary computer – and instead of being cautiously concerned about the trade-offs of iOS, I just felt relieved.

The iPad, for me, is a product of intangibles. How its portable nature blurs the line between desktop computers and mobile. How a vibrant developer community strives to craft apps that make us do better work and record memories and enjoy moments and be productive and entertained. The iPad, for me, is a screen that connects me with people and helps me with my life's work anywhere I am. Transformative and empowering, with the iPad Air 2 being its best incarnation to date. Not for everyone, still improvable, but absolutely necessary for me. And, I believe, for others.

Liberating. The iPad is a computer that lets me work and communicate at my own pace, no matter where I am.

Beyond the conceptual implications of using a portable 10-inch screen as a computer every day1, extensions and widgets had the strongest practical effect on me. The ability to push select pieces of information to widgets and the objectification of apps through extensions have allowed me to augment the apps I use with functionalities taken from other apps. I can automate Safari with the Workflow extension; I can copy multiple bits of text in a row and trust that a clipboard manager will hold them all for me. For someone who works on iOS, version 8.0 was a massive change with far-reaching potential for the future.

As with every year, I've been pondering where I'd like to see iOS go next. Software is never done, but iOS 8 made a compelling argument for the maturity of the platform – if anything, from a feature checklist perspective. That's not how I look at it, though: I suspect that the next major version of iOS – likely to be called iOS 9 – will use the visual and technical foundation of iOS 7 and iOS 8 to unlock new levels of integration and communication between apps, iCloud, gestures, and voice input.2

While it's possible that Apple will bring some of the design expertise and taste acquired when finalizing the Watch UI back to iOS, that won't be the focus of this article. Instead, like every year since 2012, I'll elaborate on the software additions and corrections I would like to see on iOS, from the perspective of someone who works from an iPad and even came to appreciate the iPhone 6 Plus.

For context, you can check out my old wishes for iOS 6, iOS 7, and iOS 8 to reflect on my motivations and what Apple ended up announcing at past WWDCs.

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