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Essential

The iPhone is good at many trivial tasks such as playing games and watching videos, but this week I experienced firsthand how much its portability and apps matter when dealing with an emergency situation.

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Beyond the Silo: How Apple Plans To Reinvent Document Management with iOS 8

With iOS 8, announced last week at WWDC, Apple is going to bring deep changes to one of the most controversial aspects of its mobile platform: document storage and management. While iCloud will play a big role with a unified iCloud Drive for iOS and OS X, third-party developers will also get a chance to add better file management functionalities to their apps.

The new features and APIs have been detailed by Apple during its opening keynote and in developer sessions throughout the week, and they follow a common thread: apps can now extend beyond their sandbox, accessing documents stored in other apps without creating unnecessary copies. To better understand the importance of these technological changes in iOS 8 and the inherent complexity that they’ll add for developers and users, I want to take a step back and contextualize how iOS currently handles file storage and management.

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iOS 8 Extensions: Apple’s Plan for a Powerful App Ecosystem

Amidst the variety of announcements from WWDC 2014, Extensibility -- a new set of technologies for developers to extend their apps -- has been mainly regarded as Apple's solution to the lack of inter-app communication on iOS.

Traditionally, iOS has been a closed platform in terms of software personalization and extensibility: due to a combination of design choices and strict enforcement of sandboxing rules, iOS users never enjoyed many of the benefits found on Google's mobile operating system. Android users could, for instance, install system-wide replacement keyboards or pick documents from any app advertised as a storage location; iOS users, on the other hand, were forced to deal with unnecessary copies created by an outdated Open In system or stick with Apple's dubious keyboard design in iOS 7.

Simultaneously, with Apple focusing on Maps improvements and a new design foundation for iOS, a few third-party developers took up on the task of creating apps and protocols capable of extending iOS as much as possible leveraging the tiny holes left by Apple in its sandbox.

We've seen a proliferation of apps that use URL schemes to facilitate the process of launching other apps and passing text to them; bookmarklets -- pieces of JavaScript code executed in the browser -- to let Safari communicate with third-party apps; developers creating their own SDKs and app ecosystems to solve document management; Fleksy -- a popular Android keyboard -- making an iOS SDK; a Python interpreter and a text editor with a workflow automation system, developed by a one-man shop in Germany.

The third-party iOS development community has been incredibly creative in spite of Apple's longstanding limitations on iOS, but many of the devised solutions -- especially URL schemes -- were, ultimately, hacks and workarounds based on a protocol that wasn't intended to let multiple apps communicate and exchange data.

With iOS 8, Apple wants to make iOS more flexible and powerful by letting developers extend custom functionality and content beyond their apps, making it available to users in other parts of the OS -- and all while maintaining a secure design model, user privacy, good performance, and battery life.

As someone who's invested in iOS as a productivity platform and uses the iPad as a primary computing device every day, I welcomed Apple's move with excitement and optimism, but I also wanted to investigate the actual scope of the technology the company will ship later this year.

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iOS 8: Our Complete Overview and First Impressions

iOS 8, the next major version of Apple's mobile operating system, was unveiled earlier today at the company's WWDC 2014 keynote. Shipping this Fall, iOS 8 focuses on refining the bold new look launched last year with iOS 7, but, more importantly, it puts the spotlight on new user features, apps, and developer technologies.

Apple CEO Tim Cook kicked off his iOS presentation noting that iOS 8 would be a "giant release" aimed at highlighting two different stories: end-user features and developer functionalities. The dual narrative of iOS 8 was the underlying theme of the entire segment, starting with improvements to existing iOS apps (Messages, Safari) and features like Notification Center's Today view to the promising Extensibility APIs and HomeKit.

“iOS 8 offers simpler, faster and more intuitive ways to use your device with incredible new features like iCloud Photo Library, a new Messages app, the QuickType keyboard and an entirely new Health app,” said Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering. “We’re also giving developers amazing new tools to make managing your health and your home from your devices an integrated, simple and secure experience.”

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A Discussion About Apple’s Unsatisfactory In-App Purchase Policies

A couple of weeks ago the issue of Apple’s In-App Purchase (IAP) policy once again came into focus when ComiXology was purchased by Amazon and subsequently removed the ability to purchase comics within their iOS apps using IAPs. I think it is safe to say that there was quite an outcry from ardent ComiXology users and others who follow the news of the technology industry.

The reaction was mostly negative, or at least one of dissapointment. Depending on any one person’s views (or perhaps corporate allegiances), either Amazon was evil, Apple was evil, ComiXology was evil, or they were all evil and “once again” users lose out. I’m being overly dramatic here, but you get the picture: people (generally) weren’t happy with the change. If you want to read more about the specific issues at play in the ComiXology changes, I highly recommend Moises Chiullan’s article at Macworld.

Amazon is not absorbing, nor can it contractually subsume the 30 percent that gets paid to Apple from in-app purchases: By purchasing ComiXology what was previously ComiXology’s “piece of the pie” is now Amazon’s. That piece grows, but the publisher’s portion also grows, and therefore the amount that can be paid out to creators is larger. I asked ComiXology’s Mosher directly: Will the reduced overhead mean that more revenue can and will go to creators, whether they’re big-time publishers or independent creators? “Yes,” he said. (Macworld)

For me, the ComiXology issues once again highlighted the complexity for Apple (and others) of coming up with a policy for IAPs that is appropriate. I’ve always thought that the current policy leaves something to be desired because in a certain set of narrow (but high profile) circumstances, it results in situations that inconvenience or disadvantage the user.

So with all that in mind, I want to explain what the current policy is and the problems that it causes. Then, I will run through some potential alternative rules and highlight their respective benefits and drawbacks.
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OmniFocus 2 for Mac from a Reminders User’s Perspective

There was a time when I thought that I needed a powerful GTD app to be productive. Over the years, I've come to realize that all I need, really, is just a list of things to remember and some calendar events. I've been using Apple's Reminders and Calendar with iCloud as my primary todo systems for over a year now, and my schedule hasn't been disrupted by a cataclysm of missed appointments and overflowing todo lists.

It's with this mindset that I approached OmniFocus 2 for Mac, released today as a new version of The Omni Group's popular GTD software: fundamentally, I don't need the app. But as an old OmniFocus user who switched over to Apple's less flexible Reminders and stayed with it in spite of its (sometimes disarming) simplicity, I thought it'd be interesting to evaluate OmniFocus 2 with a fresh pair of eyes and a genuine curiosity for the work put into this new version.

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Mapping The International Availability of Entertainment Services

It is 2014 and we live in a rapidly globalizing world. Unfortunately, that is not always apparent from the technology press, which focuses primarily on developments in the US. That is not meant as a slight against others who write about technology -- it is just the reality. But thanks to our global and interconnected world, companies increasingly need to be able to do well in more than just one geographical market to succeed and grow. Additionally, customers outside the US are more aware than ever (thanks to the Internet and technology press) of new products available in the US and will place loyalty in the companies that bring those products to their country too.

It was this train of thought that led me to write a trilogy of so-called ‘Mapping’ posts in 2012 which covered three main topics: the availability of entertainment services across the world, the expansion of Apple Stores internationally and the rollout of various iPhones and iPads after their US launch. All are still available to be viewed, but as significant time has passed, please bear in mind that they are no longer current.

Today I am back to revisit the topic of entertainment services. The purpose, as was the case last time, is to see the international availability of entertainment services from Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon. Not only have we updated the information on all of these, but we have also added data about the availability of Rdio, Spotify, Deezer, Netflix, Hulu, Kobo, and Nook. Hopefully, with the aid of new maps and graphs included, you will get a better picture of how these entertainment services fare in catering to today's global market of consumers.

Technical notes on the interactive content

This article is a bit different to most others we run on MacStories as it includes interactive graphs and maps. Most importantly, if you are reading this from an RSS reader or read-it-later service such as Pocket or Instapaper, we would suggest you read this article in a web browser as those interactive elements form a big part of this article and will unfortunately not be visible in those services. If you are on an iPhone or iPad, don’t worry, we have made sure they work and look perfectly fine on those devices as well.

When you come across the interactive maps, there are a few things to be aware of. Firstly, they are interactive in the sense that you can zoom in (pinch to zoom on iOS, buttons in the top-left for Macs/PCs) and take the map full screen (button in the top-right corner). In order to compare the worldwide availability of various services, you simply need to click or tap on the service names that are listed directly below the map and the map will update with relevant countries shaded to indicate availability.

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