Posts in stories

Why Force Touch Matters for Accessibility

Aside from keeping our iPhones in our pocket more, I think the Apple Watch is compelling for another reason: communication. The ways in which Apple is allowing people to communicate via Apple Watch – taps, doodles, and, yes, even heartbeats – is a clever, discreet new paradigm that epitomizes the company’s mantra that the Watch is the most intimate and personal device they’ve ever created. I, for one, am very much looking forward to trying these features.

What’s even more compelling, though, in my view, is the engine that’s powering the delivery of said communication – namely, the Taptic Engine. Beyond its use for notifications and communication on the Watch, Apple has implemented its Taptic Engine in one other form: trackpads. Apple has put the tech into the new MacBook and the refreshed 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro. I had an opportunity to play with the Force Touch trackpad (about 30 minutes) at my favorite Apple Store here in San Francisco, and came away very, very impressed.

I find Apple’s embrace of haptic feedback fascinating and exciting, because the use of haptic technology has some very real benefits in terms of accessibility.

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Thoughts on Apple’s March 9th Event

I finally had time to sit down and write on my iPad after 72 hours spent traveling between continents, meeting friends I've long known only through Twitter and their blogs, visiting San Francisco, and trying American pasta. And also going to my first Apple event.

After nearly six years spent publishing MacStories and covering Apple media events from the comfort of my bedroom through live streams and Twitter, getting the opportunity to enjoy an event in person surrounded by people whom I've remotely known for a long time is truly something special. I needed time to process the information and discussions from the keynote, and I'm still catching up on the announcements from an outside perspective. As usual, Apple has only shared a portion of their announcements on stage, saving the details and fine print for its website, various FAQ sections, and a new version of iOS.

Thankfully, the MacStories team has done an excellent job in covering the news from Apple's March 9th event and providing in-depth overviews. I'll focus on my personal thoughts and considerations after attending the event and trying Apple's new MacBook and upcoming Apple Watch.

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Apple’s Keynote Videos: More Frequent and More Cinematic

Whilst watching yesterday's keynote, it struck me how Apple has been increasing the use of artistic and cinematic videos to reveal and explain products during their keynotes. Sure, videos have been used in the past, but in recent keynotes it has been taken to the next level. It's particularly striking if you try and compare the original iPhone keynote announcement (essentially just Steve Jobs with a static slide deck) and September's Watch announcement (two highly produced videos, interspersed with more details from Tim Cook).

There are undoubtedly a wide variety of reasons that could explain why Apple is increasing the use of such videos. Perhaps it is because almost no-one can match the on-stage charisma and presence that Steve Jobs conveyed, perhaps it's just fun making these videos, maybe they think the videos make the keynote stronger, perhaps they want to create video content to include on their website, or maybe it's just true that a picture is worth a 1,000 words.

But whatever the reasoning (and I suspect it's a mix of all of the above), I really enjoyed the videos from yesterday's keynote and it's hard to say that about many promotional product videos. In fact it's kind of crazy to remind yourself that these are just product videos, because some of them are truly beautiful and intricate pieces of art. That's particularly true of the Apple Watch videos which focus on refinement process of the core material from the three collections: alumnium (Apple Watch Sport), stainless steel (Apple Watch) and gold (Apple Watch Edition).

I've embedded all the videos from yesterdays keynote below, along with some GIFs of a few of my favorite 'scenes'.

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A Week in the Life of Indie Developers

We’re always trying to think of new and interesting stories to publish on MacStories, and often times they’re articles that are a complete experiment that we honestly don’t know how they’ll turn out – this is one of those articles.

Earlier this year I published an article that was essentially just a list of indie iOS/Mac developers and we got a great reaction to it (and we promise an update is coming). Inspired by the developers featured in that article, I asked a handful of them to write a journal of what they do in a week of development, and for some crazy reason, they agreed to contribute. Those generous developers are (in no particular order) Oisin and Padraig from Supertop, David Smith, Philip Simpson from Shifty Jelly, Greg Pierce from Agile Tortoise, and Junjie from Clean Shaven Apps.

I asked each of the developers to keep track of the work they did in the week of Sunday 22 February to Saturday 28 February. But I wasn’t specific in the format, other than to say I wanted something along the lines of a journal crossed with a time sheet. That was partly because I really didn’t know what would work well, but also because I wanted to be flexible and let the developers just write what they thought was appropriate. I had no idea what to expect, and was a bit nervous that the whole thing might fall apart because I hadn’t been specific enough about what I was looking for.

Fortunately, the result is fascinating, I found myself not only entertained but educated as I read through each of their journals. You’ll find that each journal is quite vastly different, not just in their writing style but also how they work as an indie developer. I know it’s a long read (certainly longer than I had anticipated), but stick with it – there are some great surprises throughout.

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Life After Cancer: How the iPhone Helped Me Achieve a Healthier Lifestyle

I've been struggling to get back in shape after chemo.

Since being diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma (Stage IV) in late 2011, my life changed. Beyond the psychological and emotional consequences of how cancer affected me, my family, and my relationships, it is undeniable and abundantly clear that cancer took its toll on me from a physical perspective.

Last year, I decided to regain control of my body, my life habits, and my health. I started tracking everything I could about my activities, my exercise routine, the food I ate, and the time I spent working with my iPad instead of walking, sleeping, or enjoying time with my family. Since then, I've made a decision to not let cancer and its consequences define me any longer.

I want to be healthier, I want to eat better, and I want to take the second chance I was given and make the most of it. What started as an experiment has become a new daily commitment to improve my lifestyle and focus.

And it wouldn't be possible without my iPhone.

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Making Music on iOS: Guitar Amps, Effects Apps & Hardware

BIAS custom amps

BIAS custom amps

Back in the 1980s I played guitar. Yes, I’m that old. I learned from books and by playing along with CDs, and I jacked my Charvel guitar (awesome) into a Session guitar amp (terrible), and I never really got any better.

Now, 30-odd years later, I’m at it again. And like most things, except mobile phones, everything is better than it was in the 80s. Mid-range and even low-end guitars are better-made and cheaper. Amps are cheap and no longer terrible. And we have iOS devices and apps which can replace whole suitcases full of effects pedals.

That’s what we’re looking at today – iPad (and iPhone) guitar amp simulations, along with virtual effects pedals. And along the way, we’ll look at hardware to connect up your guitar to the iPad, and at some speaker options so you can actually hear yourself play.

Spoiler alert – the guitar world has taken a big turn towards the awesome.

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The App Store, Pinterest, and App Curation

Last night, Apple and Pinterest announced a new collaboration that will see Apple curating app picks on the service, which has gained new special app pins with Install buttons. I can’t help but wanting to know more whenever the App Store and curation are involved; plus, I’ve been keeping an eye on Pinterest, and I find this new partnership fascinating.

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Reasons for Web Automation

I've been thinking a lot about web automation and whether I should keep investing time and money into IFTTT and Zapier when I can't seem to find problems that need to be fixed. For years, I fiddled with web automation, recipes, and connecting services together, but I've never really relied on web automation and I feel like I experimented with it because I liked the idea on principle.

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iPad Air 2 Review: Why the iPad Became My Main Computer

My current iPad Home screen.

My current iPad Home screen.

Last week, I came across Kyle Vanhemert's story for Wired about the iPad and pondered, with a bit of fascination and surprise, his conclusion that “nobody knows what the iPad is good for anymore”. In particular, two arguments from the piece stood out to me.

First, Vanhemert argues that iPhone software is unequivocally superior to iPad apps:

An iPad might still be the best option for idly surfing around the web. But if you want to look something up, the iPhone has a huge advantage: It’s right there in your pocket. Today’s iPhones are arguably better than the iPad for reading news and ebooks; they’ve got nice big screens but you can still hold them with one hand. iPhones are certainly better than iPads for taking and sharing photos, if not “enjoying” those photos, which isn’t really something people do anyway.

Then, he makes the case for MacBooks as portable devices that are more comfortable than iPads:

And while iPads are indeed easier to use than Macs in terms of the software they run, as physical devices to be held and manipulated, iPads are often more awkward. MacBooks effectively have built-in kickstands. They can balance on coffee tabs, laps, stomaches. They’re light enough that it isn’t burdensome to move them between these perches. By contrast, you always have to hold a tablet.

I don't want to elaborate on the particulars of specific apps and use cases, but, in broad strokes, I disagree with the article's overall assessment of iPads being better suited as “consumption” devices.1 While I see some good points in parts of the article's thesis – that Apple has struggled to explain the iPad in many ways, for instance – the underlying characterization of the iPad experience strikes me as shortsighted and repetitive.

Therefore, three months after I bought an iPad Air 2 and three years into my iPad-as-a-computer experiment, I'd like to offer some thoughts on my current iPad setup and how the device has changed my computing habits.

Because not only do I know what the iPad is good for in my life – the iPad Air 2 finally let me replace my aging MacBook Air as my main computer.

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