Nov
4
2013

Remote

Earlier today, Apple released an update to the official Remote app for iPhone and iPad that brings an iOS 7 redesign and support for the latest version of iTunes. While I wouldn't consider myself a heavy user of Remote, I like to keep it on my iPhone for those times when I have friends over for dinner and my MacBook is playing music in the background. The new app doesn't come with groundbreaking new features but it's got some iOS 7 design decisions worth pointing out.

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Oct
29
2013

Sunday afternoon was the first time I had stepped into a GameStop in years. The store was surprisingly packed, with people trading in old iPod nanos and an iPhone 4S, while others were purchasing 3DS games. Pokémon X and Y were the hot items, with kids and parents (who could probably think of more productive things to do) waiting their turn in line. On a whim I asked about trade-in values, went home, erased the data off my Xbox 360, and returned to GameStop to trade it in for around forty bucks, with an extra thirty percent earned on top since I turned around and bought a game off of GameStop’s “trade offers” list. I hadn’t touched my 360 since my early college days, and I determined I wasn’t going to get a better deal on eBay or Craigslist, nor was it worth the hassle. Might as well get rid of it now before it’s worth next to nothing once the next generation of consoles arrive.

I walked out with one of three 2DS systems that were left and a couple of games. Considering that I was trading in other items, I really didn’t have to spend a whole lot of money to gain access to a large library of fun titles. As an adult, I purchased a system that the press has written off as “cheap” and “just for kids.”

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Oct
26
2013

iPad mini

I’ve seen an argument being made in the past week: that the iPad mini is for “consumption”, whereas the iPad Air is for “creation”. This idea has been reinforced by Apple’s announcements: with both iPads now carrying the same hardware, the difference between the mini and the Air comes down to the fact that one is for consuming media and the other for creating content. I disagree. (more…)

iPhoto 2.0

I’m playing around with the new iPhoto for iOS 7, and I’ve noticed an interesting change from last year: edits that you make in iPhoto are now synced back to the original photo in the iOS Camera Roll. To my knowledge, no other iOS app can overwrite the original file – apps like Instagram, Facebook, and even the original iPhoto (if you still have it installed) can only save edited photos as new files in the Camera Roll.

As I noted today on Twitter, this is a big change from last year’s iPhoto workflow. Here’s what I wrote in March 2012:

After a few minutes, which I spent playing around with the app’s UI and various editing functionalities, I stopped editing and went back to the main page, thinking that all my edits would automatically carry over to the system Camera Roll. My reasoning was: if iPhoto for iOS, unlike the Mac, can pick from a central location (the Camera Roll), then maybe edits will sync automatically as well. Not so fast. It turns out, the Camera Roll isn’t centralized at all, as every modification you’ll make in iPhoto will have to be exported to the Camera Roll as a new file. Even better, if you edit something in iPhoto in the Camera Roll “album”, then edit the same file in the system Camera Roll from Photos.app, iOS will fail at communicating changes between the two, and you’ll end up with two different files in the same Camera Roll like I did.

In the new iPhoto, Apple has changed the communication layer between the system Camera Roll and iPhoto to allow for a more direct integration between the two: once you choose a photo in iPhoto and make some edits to it (such as an effect), the edits are automatically saved to the original photo in the Camera Roll without having to manually export the edited photo or create duplicates like the original iPhoto did. This makes for a more streamlined workflow and experience, but it raises some questions, so I wanted to dig deeper. (more…)

Oct
23
2013

The State of Maps

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Maps for iOS 6 wasn’t well received, prompting an apology from Apple and a brief App Store campaign that featured alternatives such as Google Maps. Apple’s core problem: they just didn’t have the data or the mapping prowess to compete with Google, the previous maps supplier and a popular provider for search, directions, and transit information. Apple’s strategy was to provide a core Maps experience, letting developers ship apps on the App Store that could take the spotlight for reviews and transit info.

For the past year, Apple has been trying to hire a number of “Ground Truth Experts” while acquiring companies like HopStop and Embark. They’ve made lots of improvements to Flyover, revisiting popular tourist spots to patch messy data. It’s a continual work in progress, but one year later, I expected to see more progress.

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I have been using Mavericks for a little while now and I have to admit that I was a little slow to get excited about this release of OS X. Once I started to sink my teeth into some of the power-user features, though, it didn’t take long for me to really get sucked into trying out every new geeky addition, specifically all of the new AppleScript features.

I will be the first to admit that AppleScript is not my favorite language and I only ever use it when I absolutely have to, but, with the release of Mavericks, Apple has added some very compelling reasons to give it another chance. I was recently discussing AppleScript with a developer friend of mine, and we agreed that since Apple had begun stripping out some script-related functionality of core apps like iTunes, it would not be surprising if the language was slowly phased out of any upcoming OS releases. However, I was wrong. In a surprising turn of events, Apple decided to breath new life into AppleScript and make it easier than ever to write clean and reusable scripts. (more…)

I don’t need my Mac as much as I used to.

When I started MacStories in April 2009, I had a late–2008 MacBook Pro and an original iPhone I had bought from the United States and unlocked to make it work in Italy. From 2008 and until the better part of 2012, my MacBook Pro (and then the Air) was my primary computer: it was the device I used to write, browse the web for research and leisure, respond to emails, and do all the other tasks to get work done on a daily basis. Because my Mac was also the only device that could allow me to manage MacStories, I had to bring it with me on trips or longer vacations.

I’ve always been the kind of Mac user who likes to enhance his OS X experience with little scripts, shortcuts, and automation tools to save a few minutes every day and speed up tedious work tasks. I have Keyboard Maestro macros to automatically resize and generate screenshots for my reviews; I have assigned hotkeys to actions that I run frequently; if necessary, I can trigger a Python script or AppleScript-based workflow and have OS X take care of a complex task for me. I fall into the category of OS X power users and I’m fond of the apps and utilities I rely upon. But, in the past year, I’ve found myself using them less and less because I enjoy working from iOS more.

Most of my work activities are related to writing: whether it’s an article, a quick research note, an email, or chatting with my co-workers, I spend a lot of time typing and assembling words in a way that (I hope) makes sense to my readers and colleagues. In the past year – as people who have been following this site know – I have realized that I can be as efficient on my iPhone and iPad as I am on my Mac. I was initially forced into my new iPad-first workflow by frequent hospitalizations and a general inability to use my MacBook Air for long writing sessions; after the initial “What do I do now” moment and annoyances, I’ve come to like iOS – and the iPad – more and more.

I haven’t listened to people who told me I couldn’t work from my iPad. (more…)

Phil Schiller took the stage today at Apple’s media event at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco to officially unveil the iPad mini with Retina Display — the long-rumored successor to last year’s iPad mini — and the iPad Air, Apple’s new full-size iPad that replaces the old 4th generation iPad. (more…)

Sep
20
2013

I chose the Space Gray model over Gold and Silver[1], and I think the gray looks fantastic. The gray is maybe closer to stainless steel in tone, a darker tint than the aluminum finish of the silver model or of today’s MacBooks. The original batch of hands-on photos and renderings don’t do the color justice. I think “gray” downplays its premium look.

This is my first iPhone with the 4-inch Retina display and the difference is tremendous. Upgrading from the now stubby looking iPhone 4s, the 5s feels slim and tall. It’s featherlight, slick, and surprisingly more comfortable than I thought it would be. I haven’t had to think about pulling down the Notification Center or reaching too far to hit a back button.

It’s so light that I ended up purchasing one of Apple’s new leather cases just to give the phone a little extra grip. I do have mixed feelings about the leather case. As far as I can tell, it’s a plastic shell covered in a stiff (but ever so slightly plush) leather. The case doesn’t feel too different from a Smart Cover for the iPad. While it looks supple, it’s not. It’s shaped so that it very tightly snugs the phone. It’s such a tight fit that getting it out is an exercise in patience. I pried the corners back getting the phone halfway out, and used a pencil eraser maneuver the rest of it out through the camera hole, pushing on the glass. To their credit, Apple made a case that doesn’t add much bulk or weight to the iPhone 5s, but it’s not a case you will want to take on or off everyday.

Upon setting up the 5s, you’re presented with the same iCloud setup screens as usual. I opted not to restore a backup from iCloud, instead choosing only to sync other info like contacts and calendars. Afterwards you’re asked to set up Touch ID, the new fingerprint sensor that’s installed underneath the modest Home button. I didn’t think the instructions were clear enough, but I was already familiar with setup thanks to the numerous amount of hands-on videos from popular tech sites. Once activated, it really does work like magic. Other fingers don’t trigger the sensor, and it unlocks almost immediately. I’m still getting used to not swiping and typing in a pin.

Interestingly, the ring around the sensor on the Space Gray iPhone doesn’t match the gray body. Instead it’s jet black, darker than even the slate color on the previous iPhone 5. Unlike the Silver and Gold models, the black Home button does appear more translucent.

I pre-ordered an album on iTunes (just a fingerprint required) and it just worked. The natural next step for Apple would be to use Touch ID for EasyPay purchases. Michael Norton and crew touch on the idea for retail purchases during Episode 72 of The Impromptu.

I’ve taken a few selfies (I’d rather not share those) and the quality of the front facing camera is excellent, much improved from the 4s. The rear facing camera is spectacular: a dimly lit setting (overcast sky and closed blinds) appears slightly warmer and brighter in the photograph with hardly any grain. Photos taken outside are fantastic as usual. It was daylight by the time I walked out of the store, so I have to try out the upgraded flash and low light capabilities in the evening. I can’t say right now, but I’m expecting the 5s to be a very impressive little camera.

I was looking forward to giving the motion sensor a brief spin, but I haven’t noticed the Nike+ Move app in the App Store yet. I don’t know if that was slated to launch today or next week, but I’m looking forward to giving it a test and seeing what impact there is on battery life.

Lastly there’s the performance. It’s blazing fast. Everything is buttery smooth, and parallax scrolling doesn’t feel like something I have to turn off. Just how powerful the A7 chip is will become apparent down the road, as people start noticing how much faster it is to do things like export movies and photos with upgraded apps. The fact that Apple was able to double the processing speed over last year’s model (which was already twice as fast as the 4s) is impressive.


  1. While it’s true that the Space Gray model was the only available color at my carrier’s store, it was what I originally wanted. What I think is interesting is how Apple possibly underestimated interest in the Gold models, since they appear to be both in high demand and in limited supply at Apple Stores.  ↩