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Apple Music Is Now Available on the Amazon Echo

Although Amazon initially indicated that it would be out the week of December 17th, Apple Music support has begun to roll out on Amazon Echo devices today in the US.

To set up Apple Music on the Echo, open the Alexa iOS app and go to the Music section of the app’s Settings. You won’t see Apple Music listed as an existing service, so tap the ‘Link New Service’ button, which will list Apple Music along with several other services.

Once you’ve logged in with your Apple Music credentials, the Apple Music Skill is enabled, which allows you to say things like ‘Alexa, play my New Music Mix on Apple Music.’ You can separately set Apple Music as your default music service, which lets you use Alexa to request music without specifying ‘on Apple Music.’ When you make a request for music Alexa will let you know that playback is coming from Apple Music with a response like ‘Playing New Music Mix from Apple Music.’

Not all of the Apple Music features that work on a HomePod work with an Echo. For example, although Alexa will acknowledge your feedback if you say you like a song, that does not result in the songs being marked as ‘liked’ in Apple Music or iTunes. Nor can Apple Music be triggered through third-party Alexa apps like Astra. However, for basic playback of playlists, albums, and songs, the new integration works well.

At least one thing you cannot do with a HomePod is available on the Echo. With Apple Music activated, you can set alarms to play specific playlists as Zac Hall demonstrates on 9to5Mac, which is handy.

Overall, Apple Music’s integration with the Amazon Echo is about what you would expect. If you’re an Apple Music subscriber and use Echo devices, the option of using your Apple Music subscription is a nice addition, but it's also a development that has the potential to help drive consumer adoption of the Echo and Apple Music.


Apple Music’s Connect Feature Is Shutting Down

Apple Music Connect, which once had a tab to itself in Apple’s Music app, was a multimedia feed of artist-submitted posts that debuted with the company’s music streaming service. The feature never really got traction after an initial flurry of posts by artists, and in the latest versions of Apple Music and iTunes, it was buried at the bottom of the ‘For You’ section and on individual artists’ pages.

According to Zac Hall at 9to5Mac, artists were contacted by Apple today with news that the company is ending Connect, which is backed up by a support page also cited by Hall. As of today, artists can no longer post Connect content, and existing posts are no longer visible in the Music app or iTunes. However, Apple also told artists that previously-uploaded content would remain available until May 24, 2019, via search.

Connect content appears in the 'More' section of search results.

Connect content appears in the 'More' section of search results.

Based on searches of artists who I recalled having participated in Connect, it looks as though that content is included in the ‘More’ section of search results. Presented outside the context of an explanatory post, some of the material, like U2’s tour of its eXPERIENCE VR bus in the screenshots above, feels out of place. However, I’m glad Apple has chosen to preserve Connect content for the time being because it also included things like alternate versions of songs and other material that is valued by fans. Hopefully, the best of that content will surface elsewhere for fans to enjoy.

Connect wasn’t Apple’s first attempt to bring music fans and artists together. Ping, Apple’s attempt at a music-themed social network that NPR called one of the worst ideas of 2010, failed more swiftly than Connect. The third try may be the charm, however. With iOS 11, Apple introduced the ability to follow friends as a way to discover new music, which has been met with greater acceptance by users.


Apple Frames Shortcut, Now with Support for the 2018 12.9″ iPad Pro

Apple Frames, my shortcut to add official device frames to screenshots taken on iPhones, iPads, Macs, and Apple Watch Series 4, has been updated with support for the 2018 12.9" iPad Pro.

Since Apple announced the new iPad Pro in late October, I was frequently asked by MacStories readers whether I could update Apple Frames to support the device's new rounded display. While I could have updated the shortcut a few weeks ago to include third-party frames for the new iPad Pro, what I personally like about Apple Frames is that it uses Apple's official device frames adapted from the company's Product Images webpage. Unfortunately, it took Apple a few weeks to post official assets for the new iPad Pro.

Last week, I noticed that Apple updated their Marketing mini-site with new assets for the 12.9" iPad Pro, and I immediately asked Silvia (who worked on the original Apple Frames assets) to optimize the new frames for my shortcut. Alas, Apple hasn't shared frames for the 11" iPad Pro, and I would prefer to stick to official device frames created by the company itself.

Below, you'll find links to download both the full version of Apple Frames as well as the iOS-only version for iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. The shortcut works just like I originally described it: you can pick one or multiple screenshots you want to frame from a Photos picker in the Shortcuts app, or you can share images with the Shortcuts extension. In any case, framed screenshots will be saved to your photo library after a few seconds of processing. If it's dealing with multiple screenshots at once, the shortcut will also combine framed screenshots into a single image.

If Apple ever shares device frames for the 11" iPad Pro, I'll update my shortcut accordingly. In the meantime, you can find the updated Apple Frames shortcut below.

Apple Frames

Add device frames to screenshots for iPhones (6, 7, 8, X, and XS generations in standard/Plus/Max sizes), iPad Pro (12.9"), Apple Watch S4 (44mm), MacBook Pro (Retina 13-inch), and iMac (5K).
The shortcut supports portrait and landscape orientations. If multiple screenshots are passed as input, they will be combined in a single image.

Get the shortcut here.

Apple Frames (iOS-only)

Add device frames to screenshots for iPhones (6, 7, 8, X, and XS generations in standard/Plus/Max sizes), iPad Pro (12.9"), and Apple Watch S4 (44mm).

The shortcut supports portrait and landscape orientations. If multiple screenshots are passed as input, they will be combined in a single image.

Get the shortcut here.


CARROT Weather Adds New Data Sources, Including Netatmo Weather Stations

One of the nerdy features of CARROT Weather I love is its support for personal weather stations as a data source. Not long ago, Federico explained on AppStories that the weather station down the street from him had shut down, so he could no longer use it as a source in CARROT. I suggested he get a Netatmo Personal Weather Station and connect it to Weather Underground’s network of stations, but at about the same time Weather Underground ended its support for the Netatmo device, which left us both without a hyper-local weather source. It wasn’t a huge deal, but there’s something fun about knowing that the temperature you’re seeing in CARROT is the precise temperature outside your window and not some weather station that may be miles away from your home.

With today’s update, CARROT has stepped in with direct support for the Netatmo weather station as well as other new data sources. For the Netatmo device, all you need to do is sign in using the same login you use for Netatmo’s dedicated app, and as long as you’re within two miles of your home, CARROT will include the data collected by the Netatmo device.

Dark Sky is the default data source for CARROT, but users have three other options. The first is The Weather Channel, which provides the most extended-range forecast (data covering the next 360 hours and 15 days), is available worldwide, and can access personal weather stations connected to the Weather Underground network. CARROT has also added AccuWeather and Aeris Weather as data sources. The Aeris Weather option includes PWSweather.com personal weather station data. Users have the option of including Dark Sky's short-term precipitation in CARROT even if The Weather Channel, AccuWeather, or Aeris Weather is their data source.

Personal weather stations connected to the Weather Underground system and PWSweather.com can be selected from a map allowing you to pick one closest to where you live. Other than the personal weather station access through the Weather Channel’s API though, Weather Underground data, which was previously a data source option in CARROT, has been removed because IBM, which owns Weather Underground, has discontinued its API.

CARROT Weather’s update includes a host of other smaller additions too:

  • Air quality index and pollen data are available in the current weather view if you use The Weather Channel or AccuWeather as sources
  • There are six new secret locations to discover
  • The location screen has a new ‘Recent Searches’ section, from which you can add previous searches to your saved locations by tapping the star icon next to them.

I’m glad Brian Mueller has expanded the data source options for CARROT Weather. The best source varies depending on where you are, and with more sources, CARROT should be a better option for more users going forward. I especially like the personal weather station integration. Whether you have a weather sensor yourself or want to piggy-back on another publicly-available station nearby, they’re an excellent way to track hyper-local conditions.

CARROT Weather is available as a free update to existing users on the App Store.


Agenda 4.0 Brings Support for File Attachments, Improved iOS Automation

Agenda launched earlier this year with a fresh take on note-taking apps focused on dates and a timeline-based approach. As John noted in his original review of the Mac version (and later iOS), Agenda prioritizes dates as a means of note organization rather than folders or tagging; while it is possible to store notes in folders (called Projects in Agenda) and add hashtags to them, Agenda shines when your notes become actionable, time-sensitive steps that you can access in the top level 'On the Agenda' view, the 'Today' section, or, even better, the system calendar. Given its unique nature, it takes a while to understand Agenda and evaluate whether or not it may have a place in your workflow; I recommend reading our reviews of the first version of Agenda if you still haven't tried the app.

As I mentioned on AppStories and Connected recently, I've been experimenting with Agenda as a mix of an outlining tool and note-taking app that I use in addition to Apple Notes. Whenever I'm planning an article or long-term project, I always start by saving thoughts or links in the Notes app. I find Notes to be the only app that removes as much friction as possible when saving notes while still maintaining the benefits of a traditional folder structure with instant iCloud sync between devices. The fact that I can throw text, links, and images into Notes makes it a superior choice to Drafts when it comes to quickly assembling a collection of ideas and references.

Once I have enough material to turn an idea into a story, I move everything from Notes to Agenda, where I can start giving notes more structure, tag them (and thus create saved searches), and, more importantly, give them deadlines with due dates. If I'm supposed to start writing an article before the weekend, for instance, I'll give the associated note in Agenda a due date of Friday; on that day, the note will appear in the Today section of the app and, if I enabled the integration, on my system calendar as well. I've also been using Agenda to store notes for my podcasts (I work on them each week and make them due on recording day), ideas for shortcuts I want to build, and other bits of technical documentation that benefit from Agenda's support for code snippets and sub-headings. But mostly I use the app because its timeline-oriented design lets me see which note I have to turn into an article or podcast outline on any given day without having to create a separate reminder for it.

That's a long-winded introduction to say that, yes, it took me a while to "get" what Agenda is all about, but now I understand when its system can work for me and when I should stick to Apple Notes instead (such as for personal, non-work notes or notes shared with other people). Which is why I'm happy that with version 4.0, launching today on macOS and iOS, Agenda is getting support for a feature that levels the playing field with Apple Notes: image and file attachments.

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Apple Announces New Austin Campus and Broad Expansion Across the US

Apple has announced a significant expansion across the US, including an expanded presence in Austin, a city where it currently employs over 6,000 people. Over the next three years, Apple also plans to grow to more than 1,000 employees in Seattle, San Diego, Culver City and add hundreds of jobs in New York, Pittsburgh, Boulder, Boston, and Portland. The company is also expanding its data centers in places like North Carolina, Nevada, Iowa, and Arizona.

At the center of the announcement though is a new facility that will be located in North Austin not far from Apple’s current Austin campus. The new office will cost over $1 billion to build and sit on a 133-acre site, 50 acres of which will be set aside for open space. Initially, the Austin campus will house 5,000 employees, with the ability to expand to as many as 15,000. The new complex will run on 100% renewable energy too.

Regarding the new site and the company’s expansion plans across the US, Apple CEO Tim Cook said:

“Apple is proud to bring new investment, jobs and opportunity to cities across the United States and to significantly deepen our quarter-century partnership with the city and people of Austin,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “Talent, creativity and tomorrow’s breakthrough ideas aren’t limited by region or zip code, and, with this new expansion, we’re redoubling our commitment to cultivating the high-tech sector and workforce nationwide.”

Overall, Apple added 6,000 jobs in the US during 2018 to bring its total US employee count to 90,000.


Things 3.8 Brings Dark Modes to the iOS Task Manager

This fall when macOS Mojave introduced a systemwide dark mode feature, Things added support for the new mode in version 3.7. The iPhone and iPad versions of the app, however, were left out. A lack of feature parity across platforms is always unfortunate, but that was especially true this time around because our John Voorhees  highlighted Things as having his single favorite dark mode implementation.

There's good news though: we didn't have to wait long for Things’ dark mode to make its way to iOS. Launching today in version 3.8, Things has added two different dark modes on both iPhone and iPad, one of which is suited particularly well to OLED iPhones.

Accessible via a new Appearance screen in Things’ Settings, there are now options for Light, Dark, and Black modes for the task manager. The former is the default appearance of the app we’re all well acquainted with, while the latter two are brand new. Both alternate appearances employ blue as the app’s accent color, with the main difference being the background color. Dark mode uses a nice shade of gray, while Black mode employs an OLED-optimized true black.

Each of Things’ appearance options can be set manually, or there's an option to have the app switch modes automatically depending on your display's brightness. Once you activate this toggle, you'll see an option to choose between Dark and Black options for automatic switching, as well as a brightness threshold at which Things will change its appearance. The app’s use of display brightness to change modes should work well for users who have iOS’ Auto-Brightness feature activated, but I wish there was an automatic switching function for those who, like me, have that turned off.

Things 3.8 doesn't introduce any other new features, but adding two beautiful dark modes is enough to make this a noteworthy release. Cultured Code has a strong reputation for thoughtful design, and its dark modes are a standout example on iOS.

Things 3.8 is available on iPhone and iPad.


Djay 3.0 Debuts as a Free, Universal App with a Subscription Option for Pro Features

During the October iPad Pro event in Brooklyn, New York, Apple briefly showed off an upcoming version of djay by Algoriddim. Today, djay 3.0 was released on the App Store as a universal app that’s free to download with premium features available as a subscription.

Previously, Algoriddim offered free and paid iPhone apps as well as separate paid iPad apps. Add-ons like audio effects and skins were available separately as In-App Purchases. Algoriddim also offered a video mixing app called vjay. Today’s launch of version 3.0 consolidates all of those apps into one with a simplified pricing model.

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HomeRun 1.1 Enables Creating Custom Watch Complications

HomeRun is a simple Apple Watch utility for controlling HomeKit scenes from your wrist. Where Apple’s Home app for the Watch can be clunky to navigate, especially if you have more than a couple HomeKit devices set up, HomeRun makes controls easily accessible for all your scenes. And today, with version 1.1, HomeRun has introduced custom complication creation, making it possible to have different launcher complications for each of your configured scenes.

Inside the HomeRun app on iPhone, the Complications screen in version 1.1 appears largely the same at first glance, but once you start tapping around you'll discover that Watch complications are now fully customizable. Visit the detail view for a specific watch face and you'll be able to update any and all complications for that face with custom colors and icons to accompany your selected scenes. The Series 4 Watch's Infograph face, for example, presents options to customize both the corner slot and circle slot complications.

Creating custom complications works just like setting up scenes for the main Watch app itself, with the same set of colors and glyphs available in both places. That means the excellent assortment of glyph options for scenes are all accessible as complication icons as well.

When it launched last month, HomeRun enabled adding scenes as complications to your watch face, but you had to use the app's icon for each complication. Custom complications were a natural next step for the app, and I'm thankful we didn't have to wait long for them to arrive.

HomeRun 1.1 is available on the App Store.