Connected: The Year of Now for You

This week, the Connected gang talk about the iOS 9 beta, new iPods and what the future may hold for the iPad.

On this week's Connected, we elaborated on Apple blocking App Store reviews on the iOS 9 beta and Stephen's usage of iPods in 2015. You can listen here.

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YouTube and Full-Screen Playback of Vertical Videos

YouTube has added support for full-screen playback of vertical videos in their latest iOS app update. The new version follows a mobile web redesign and new Android features that will soon come to iOS as well.

While I understand that many people are deeply against vertical videos, the reality is that vertical video makes sense for some cases in the age of smartphones. The ergonomics of big phones make it easier to start shooting in portrait mode without having to rotate the device and wait for the interface to adjust. On the iPhone, for instance, there's no landscape Lock screen, and a camera shortcut is right there in the portrait Lock screen. Vertical video is ideal for framing people or faces with the front-facing camera – just see how people are watching videos in Snapchat, and you'll get the idea.

On iOS, FaceTime, selfies, and the majority of the iPhone UI are mostly portrait experiences, and that has changed how people approach media content created on mobile.

TVs and computer monitors are horizontally oriented and horizontal video is how movies and other videos are best experienced – I get that. But, like it or not, we live in an era where a lot of video content is also created by people with phones oriented vertically because it's faster, easier, or simply better to record that way in some scenarios.

For this reason, I welcome YouTube adding support for full-screen vertical video playback on their platform.


Tracking TV Shows with iShows 2: Welding Great Design with Extensive Customization

I watch a lot of TV – almost certainly too much TV. Years ago I used to keep track of the TV shows I watched mentally and through a TV guide from the Saturday newspaper. But as I started to watch more TV it became harder to keep track of when shows air. Fortunately, I started to use iPhone TV tracker apps, which make it effortless to keep track of your favorite TV shows. I’ve probably used 4 or 5 different apps for a solid period of time, and this February I switched to what I think is the latest and greatest TV tracker app: iShows 2, which officially launches today in the App Store.

I had briefly used the original iShows app, but I never permanently switched to it. Whilst the design was quite good, it had this very odd layout that left a gap on the side of the screen which (as petty as it sounds) I couldn’t get over. Somewhat embarrassingly the other issue I encountered was that I never discovered some of the gestures, without which the app was a lot harder to use. Some of those gestures persist in iShows 2, and I’ll discuss them shortly.

Prior to switching to iShows 2 whilst it was in beta, I had been using iTV Shows for around a year. It never looked quite as good as iShows or TeeVee 3 (another popular and very pretty app), but I preferred the way iTV Shows worked. I’m still a fan of iTV Shows, but I’ve been convinced (after months of use) that iShows 2 is the better option for me.

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Apple’s 2015 Back to School Promotion

Benjamin Mayo, writing for 9to5Mac:

Apple is today launching its Back to School promotion for 2015. This year, it will give away a free pair of Beats Solo2 headphones with the purchase of an eligible Mac. Customers must either purchase an iMac, MacBook, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, or Mac Pro with education pricing to qualify, including build-to-order configurations. The Mac mini does not participate in the deal.

Somewhat curious that Apple isn't including iPad purchases in this year's promotion (they have in previous years). An iPad is, in theory, a great device for students and education purposes. However, I wouldn't be surprised to see more of a push next year after new iPads and iOS 9, and the cheapest Mac starts at $899, not $299 like an iPad mini 2. Beats headphones are a pretty good deal.

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Chrome for iOS Gets ‘Physical Web’ Support for Beacon Discovery

Chrome for iOS has been updated today with support for Physical Web, an initiative aimed at interacting with beacons based on the new Eddystone protocol through webpages instead of apps. Now, Chrome's Today widget on iOS (previously used to open tabs and voice searches) can scan beacons broadcasting URLs nearby and offer to open them in Chrome directly.

From the blog post:

When users who have enabled the Physical Web open the Today view, the Chrome widget scans for broadcasted URLs and displays these results, using estimated proximity of the beacons to rank the content. You can learn more about the types of user experiences that the Physical Web enables by visiting our cookbook and joining the open source community on GitHub.

This is Google's attempt at improving upon one of the biggest shortcomings of Apple's iBeacon: app discoverability. iBeacons can achieve great utility if an associated/compatible app is already installed on a user's device and sends a notification, but iOS doesn't have a simple, consistent way to browse nearby beacons and start interacting with them right away. With Eddystone and Physical Web, Google is hoping that the transition from OS to discovered beacon and beacon functionality (for the smart device) can be smoother thanks to the web. Here's how they explain it:

The Physical Web is an approach to unleash the core superpower of the web: interaction on demand. People should be able to walk up to any smart device - a vending machine, a poster, a toy, a bus stop, a rental car - and not have to download an app first. Everything should be just a tap away.

Essentially, Google wants to give every smart device a web address that doesn't require an app store. This plays in favor of Google's strengths and, potentially, core business model, but it also sounds like a superior solution for some cases if the overhead of app discovery is out of the equation altogether (for more on the differences between iBeacon and Physical Web, see this). The Physical Web implementation in Chrome for iOS looks clever and well done, and I'm hoping that I'll get to play with it at some point. Seems crazy that all this is available in an iOS widget.



Gestimer: Effortlessly Set Timers on a Mac

When I think about what makes a great app, I don't think it needs to be packed full of every imaginable feature. It doesn't need to be as precisely and extensively engineered as Editorial or Tweetbot. A great app can just as easily be an app like Pedometer++ or Blink, apps which enable users to accomplish a specific task in a way that is delightful and useful. Which brings me to Gestimer, a Mac App that launched in late June.

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Keyboard Maestro 7.0

When I used to work from a Mac every day, Keyboard Maestro was one of my most used apps. Nowadays, my automation needs are satisfied by a combination of Workflow, Editorial, and Pythonista on iOS, but I still have a deep appreciation for the power and versatility of Keyboard Maestro on OS X.

Keyboard Maestro 7.0 has been released today with over 100 new features and improvements. My friend Gabe has a good first look at the new version and the Keyboard Maestro website explains in detail the new options for contextual menus for actions, new triggers, themed palette styles (nice), and more.

If you need to automate tasks on a Mac, you can't go wrong with Keyboard Maestro. You can download the new version and check out the upgrade options here.

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Prototyping with iAd Producer

Former Apple designer Linda Dong has a fascinating post on how iAd Producer can also be used to prototype iOS apps:

iAd Producer is a favorite of mine (I actually worked on its design for awhile at Apple) it's a little-known but extremely powerful tool from Apple. Think of it as “advanced Keynote”, or “actually accessible Interface Builder”. Alas the app is meant for not-so-popular content like iAds and iBooks widgets, but it can easily be repurposed to prototype iOS and Mac apps. It handles UI elements, screen flow, and animation really well. Better yet, an iAd project is based in HTML5, CSS3, and javascript which a lot of designers are already familiar with.

Interesting use case for an app that's advertised as an iAd content creation tool.

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Apple Prevents App Store Reviews From Users on iOS 9 Betas

Within the last 12 hours Apple has modified the App Store to prevent users running "prerelease" software from leaving app reviews on the App Store. Now when a user running a beta version of iOS 9 tries to leave an app review, they will get the following error message:

This feature isn't available.
You can't write reviews while using a pre-release version of iOS.

However it appears that the change only applies to iOS 9, because users running OS X El Capitan can still post reviews on the Mac App Store.

The change should help end the annual frustration experienced by app developers when users running beta versions of iOS discovered a third party app wasn't compatible with the beta software and then left a 1-star rating on the App Store. Poor reviews on the App Store can hurt sales, and developers often can't do anything to fix the problem because they can't submit software built for the new versions of iOS whilst it remains in beta, and the bug could be one for Apple to fix, not the developer.

As Federico wrote earlier this month:

In this day and age of high competition and over 1.5 million apps available, having negative reviews displayed on the app's product page is a problem for developers. But it gets worse when those negative reviews cite problems that developers can't fix yet. At that point, developers feel that it's not fair to receive a negative review for something that's completely out of their control. And when the livelihood of independent app markers is at stake, it's hard to argue aganst their sentiment of frustration and disappointment. There's nothing they can do to fix their app issues on betas of iOS and OS X and they can't respond directly to reviews on the App Store – and yet they're taking all the blame. This, every year, repeatedly for every beta of iOS and OS X, and it's possibly becoming more of a problem now that Apple has two public betas.

The problem of permitting app reviews from users on beta software was always a problem, but it risked being a much bigger issue this year because it is the first year that Apple has begun offering public betas of a major iOS release.