Posts in stories

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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iPhone 6 Plus Review

I was wrong about the iPhone 6 Plus.

For years, I thought that big Android phones were meant to address a market segment made of people with abnormally voluminous hands. I had never tried one, but preconceptions are easier (and cheaper) to subscribe to than facts. When Apple released the iPhone 6 family in two sizes last year, I assumed that, among the People Who Have Big Hands And Like Big Smartphones, there could be a few millions who happened to want a 6 Plus.

I also am one of those people.

For the past two months, I've been carrying a 128 GB iPhone 6 Plus (white model) that Apple loaned to me for review purposes. I was curious to see if a larger iPhone could fit in my daily iOS usage, and, if so, how it would impact my iPad habits. The iPad is my primary computer; would an iPhone 6 Plus replace some of its advantages, or would the bigger size simply make some iPhone tasks better?

I've used the iPhone 6 Plus intensively, and I'll have to return it to Apple. But I really wish I didn't have to go back to my iPhone 6.

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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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