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iOS 11: The MacStories Review

For the second time in three years, the iPad isn’t following in the iPhone’s footsteps. With iOS 11, the iPad is going in its own direction – this time, with no cliffhanger.

iOS 9 marked a significant milestone for the iPad platform. In contrast with previous iPhone interface adaptations, iOS 9 did away with longstanding preconceptions and allowed the iPad to reach beyond the comfort of familiarity with the iPhone’s experience.

Shedding the vestiges of intrinsic iPhone OS notions – namely, single-tasking through one app at a time – the combination of more capable hardware with features such as Split View and Picture in Picture inaugurated a new beginning for the iPad’s post-PC endeavors. iOS 9 reset the iPad’s expectations and potential, providing millions of disenchanted users with the modern, powerful PC replacement they’d been envisioning since 2010.

But in many ways, iOS 9 wasn’t enough. The productivity enhancements that set the iPad on a new course felt, in hindsight, like first attempts at reviving its software and app ecosystem. Key aspects of iOS 9 were evidently unfinished, possibly hinting at future optimizations and fixes.

That future didn’t arrive with last year’s iOS 10, which only added to the sense of wondering when the iPad’s next shoe would drop. Amidst consistently declining unit sales and following another bland (at least iPad-wise) mid-cycle update to iOS, the legacy of iOS 9 gradually shifted from a first step packed with promise to a bittersweet one-off effort to infuse new life into the iPad.

With iOS 11, Apple’s iPad vision feels resolute again. Multitasking is blending with multitouch, giving drag and drop a new purpose; the Mac’s best features – from file management to the dock – have been rethought, simplified, and extended specifically for iOS. The iPad’s mission is to reimagine the very concept of a portable computer by empowering a new generation of users to do their best work wherever they are, whenever they want.

If anything, iOS 9 was merely the iPad’s overture.

The iPad, however, is only one part of the broader iOS story, which has been – and most likely always will be – characterized by the iPhone’s evolution and impact on our society.

From that standpoint, not only did iOS 10 deliver with upgrades to core iPhone apps such as Photos, Messages, Music, and Maps – it showed how Apple was judiciously planting the seeds for technologies and human interface guidelines that are blossoming in iOS 11. The two-pronged approach of iOS 10 – updates to consumer apps along with the first signs of native iOS machine learning – resulted in an iPhone update that felt impactful without the need for a ground-up redesign.

For the most part, iOS 11 follows the playbook of last year. The transition to a new design language is still in flux, with a progressive remodeling of iOS 7’s divisive aesthetic and the adoption of friendly UI elements that can guide users across the system. iOS 11’s most notable redesigns, including the App Store and Control Center, lay new foundations and fix what didn’t work before. Refinements – in some cases, reversals of ideas that didn’t pan out – are one of iOS 11’s overarching themes.

iOS 11 also reaps the rewards of investments Apple made in iOS 10 and 2016’s iPhone line. From the upcoming wave of augmented reality apps to deeper computational photography and new responsibilities for iCloud, iOS 11 epitomizes – with remarkable accomplishments and a few missteps along the way – the focus and priorities of the modern Apple.

But perhaps more importantly, unlike iOS 10, iOS 11 presents a cohesive narrative for both the iPad and iPhone. A story where, for the first time in years, the iPad is informing some of the design principles and features of the iPhone’s software. Even from different angles, and each with its own past struggles, both acts in iOS 11 end up asking the same question:

Where does the modern computer go next?

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    GIFwrapped Adds Powerful Drag and Drop Organization and Sharing

    It’s been a while since we last looked at GIFwrapped, a must-have utility for anyone who enjoys animated GIFs. The app, by Jellybean Soup aka Daniel Farrelly, is an all-in-one solution for collecting, organizing, and sharing GIFs on iOS. With the addition of drag and drop support, wrangling your GIF collection has never been easier.

    GIFs are notoriously hard to save from Twitter clients. Farrelly solved that problem since we last reviewed GIFwrapped with a share extension. When you see someone post a funny GIF that you want to add to your collection, tap the share button in your favorite Twitter client and pick the GIFwrapped extension from the system share sheet. It isn’t foolproof, but more often than not, GIFwrapped will spin for a moment and then acknowledge that the GIF has been saved to your library making collection a breeze.

    Drag and drop support for devices running iOS 11 adds a similar level of convenience and flexibility to organizing and sharing GIFs with GIFwrapped. As with other apps that implement drag and drop, the feature shines brightest on an iPad. Now, you can drag a GIF anywhere that accepts images whether that’s Messages, a Twitter client, Slack, or even Apple’s Mail app. It’s a small change but easier and more natural feeling than sending a GIF through the share sheet or copying it in GIFwrapped and then pasting in the destination app.

    Importing several GIFs from Photos into my GIFwrapped library.

    Importing several GIFs from Photos into my GIFwrapped library.

    GIFwrapped’s drag and drop functionality is not limited to the iPad though. Apple only allows drag and drop on the iPhone within a single app. However, if you have GIFs stored in your iPhone’s photo library, you can access them in GIFwrapped’s Photos tab and use drag and drop to pick up and drag multiple GIFs into GIFwrapped’s Library tab importing the whole stack at one time. The one thing I’d like to see added to GIFwrapped is the ability to manually organize my GIF by dragging them into an order of my choosing. Currently, you can sort your library by file name or date modified only.

    GIFwrapped demonstrates just how powerful drag and drop is. Copying and pasting GIFs was not an enormous burden, but the iPad is designed for interaction with the content on the screen and the multiple steps needed to send a GIF where you wanted it before iOS 11 felt clunky. Now, I can pick my Dancing Eddy GIF right up off the screen of my iPad and drop it into Tweetbot for the 100th time with newfound ease.

    GIFwrapped is available on the App Store.

    Make the Most of iOS 11 With Omni’s Apps [Sponsor]

    It’s almost iOS 11 time and The Omni Group is ready to go. Right from the start, three of Omni’s apps will take advantage of iOS 11’s advanced productivity features.

    Getting things done on iOS has never been easier than with OmniFocus and iOS 11. Now you can drag and drop content to and from OmniFocus and even internally within the app. It’s the best way to share information between OmniFocus and your other apps, or move tasks among your projects or to change due dates by simply dragging tasks to different days in Forecast.

    OmniFocus is also adding extensive Siri support. Just ask Siri to ‘add buy milk to my shopping list’ and Siri will drop the task straight into OmniFocus. Siri integration goes even deeper though. It also supports dates and times, location-based tasks, list creation, list display, and task completion.

    OmniGraffle and OmniPlan will be ready for iOS 11 too. Both support the Files app so you can open files created with each wherever you have them stored. They support drag and drop too, so you can do things like drag objects to new positions in an OmniGraffle hierarchy and drag content into your Gaant charts in OmniPlan such as calendars and lists.

    iOS 11 is full of power user features, especially for the iPad. OmniFocus, OmniGraffle, and OmniPlan were already among the most powerful productivity apps available on the App Store, but by leveraging the new system features of iOS 11, Omni’s apps are unrivaled.

    OmniFocus, OmniGraffle, and OmniPlan each feature a 2-week free trial so there’s no reason to wait. Head over to Omni’s website to learn more about how its apps can make you more productive today.

    Our thanks to The Omni Group for sponsoring MacStories this week.

    Terminology’s Versatility Expanded With Drag and Drop Support

    Terminology by Agile Tortoise is my go-to dictionary and thesaurus app on iOS. Early this year, the app got a major update that transformed it into a full-featured language research tool, complete with customizable actions for searching Wikipedia, online dictionaries, and other resources. That update also added a powerful share extension that makes it easy to look up words you find on the web or in any other app.

    You can mark words as favorites in Terminology so they are easy to return to but until now, your choices for extracting information from Terminology has been limited. There is a dedicated button in the app’s toolbar for copying words you look up. You can also select, copy, and paste definitions into other apps, but Terminology didn’t include a way to export a term and its definition together.

    Version 4.1 adds iOS 11’s drag and drop feature, which makes it simple to drag a word and its definition from Terminology to another app on an iPad. When you start the drag, a preview of the definition appears under your finger. One small thing I’d like to see added to the preview is the defined word since it too is pasted into the destination app when you drop the definition. You can also drag a word from another app into Terminology’s search box to look up its definition, but I prefer to use the app’s extension.

    If you’re a student or English is your second language, Terminology’s drag and drop functionality makes it easy to create lists of words to study or flashcards for learning definitions. Those may seem like narrow use cases, but combined with Terminology’s extension, custom actions, and other features, the app has become a Swiss Army knife for anyone who works with words from a student developing a broader vocabulary to professional writers.

    Terminology is available on the App Store.

    Drag and Drop Streamlines Editing Images in Annotable

    Earlier this year, John called Annotable “my hands-down favorite app for image annotations.” An all-in-one tool for marking up your images, Annotable serves as an interim stop for importing images and then exporting annotated versions to another app. With an iOS 11 update, images can now be dragged into and out of Annotable, making the annotation process simpler than ever before.

    Let’s say you’re browsing the web on your iPad and you find an image online that you want to share with a friend, but you need to point out a detail. In Safari, you press and hold on the picture to pick it up, open Annotable, and drop it into the app when the green plus sign appears in the bottom right corner. The image will open in Annotable's editor where you can apply any of the tools the app offers. You can even drag and drop text from another app onto an image in Annotable as an annotation. When you’re finished, tap save, and the image will be added to your camera roll, or drag the image into another app.

    When you want to export photos, you can grab multiple from Annotable’s photo viewer and drag them to your app of choice. Of course, you could also head over to Photos to accomplish this, but I’ve found it convenient just to stay in the same app when I’m finished annotating my images.

    Overall, the implementation of drag and drop into Annotable saves multiple steps, creating a more seamless way to get images into and out of this MacStories favorite.

    Annotable is available on the App Store.

    Craig Federighi Answers Face ID Questions

    In a telephone interview with Matthew Panzarino of TechCrunch, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi, answered many of the questions that have arisen about Face ID since the September 12th keynote event. Federighi went into depth on how Apple trained Face ID and how it works in practice. Regarding the training,

    “Phil [Schiller] mentioned that we’d gathered a billion images and that we’d done data gathering around the globe to make sure that we had broad geographic and ethnic data sets. Both for testing and validation for great recognition rates,” says Federighi. “That wasn’t just something you could go pull of the internet.”

    That data was collected worldwide from subjects who consented to having their faces scanned.

    Federighi explained that Apple retains a copy of the depth map data from those scans but does not collect user data to further train its model. Instead, Face ID works on-device only to recognize users. The computational power necessary for that process is supplied by the new A11 Bionic CPU and the data is crunched and stored in the redesigned Secure Enclave.

    The process of disabling Face ID differs from the five presses of the power button required on older iPhones. Federighi said,

    “On older phones the sequence was to click 5 times [on the power button] but on newer phones like iPhone 8 and iPhone X, if you grip the side buttons on either side and hold them a little while – we’ll take you to the power down [screen]. But that also has the effect of disabling Face ID,” says Federighi. “So, if you were in a case where the thief was asking to hand over your phone – you can just reach into your pocket, squeeze it, and it will disable Face ID. It will do the same thing on iPhone 8 to disable Touch ID.”

    In many respects, the approach Apple has taken with Face ID is very close to that taken with Touch ID. User data is stored in the Secure Enclave, and biometric processing happens on your iOS device, not in the cloud. If you have concerns about Face ID’s security, Panzarino’s article is an excellent place to start. Federighi says that closer to the introduction of the iPhone X, Apple will release an in-depth white paper on Face ID security with even more details.


    Apple’s Bionic Advantage

    Mashable interviewed Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller and Senior Vice President of Hardware Technologies Johny Srouji about Apple new A11 Bionic CPU, which powers the iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and X.

    “This is something we started 10 years ago, designing our own silicon because that’s the best way to truly customize something that’s uniquely optimized for Apple hardware and software,” said Srouji.

    For Apple, silicon development is an intrinsic part of the iPhone creation process. “It’s not just something you drop in or build around,” said Schiller.

    It’s a strategy that has paid off for Apple by giving it more control over the full hardware/software stack and enabling the company to squeeze more performance and energy efficiency out of the tiny chips that power iOS devices. At the same time though, it’s an approach that requires Apple to make big bets far in the future:

    Srouji told me that when Apple architects silicon, they start by looking three years out, which means the A11 Bionic was under development when Apple was shipping the iPhone 6 and its A8 chip. Back then we weren’t even talking about AI and machine learning at a mobile level and, yet, Srouji said, “The neural engine embed, it’s a bet we made three years ahead.”

    Apple’s tight control over hardware and the software that runs on it isn’t new. It’s one of the cornerstones of the company’s success. What’s remarkable though, is the microscopic level to which Apple has taken the approach. As author Lance Ulanoff points out, the images of chips that Phil Schiller displayed onscreen during the September 12th keynote to illustrate new and improved iPhone technologies weren’t different chips. They were different areas on the same chip – one with leaked Geekbench scores that put it on par with the silicon inside the 2017 13-inch MacBook Pro. That’s extraordinary and likely to be a key advantage that Apple will have over competitors for years to come.


    PCalc’s Delightfully Insane About Screen

    As apps updated for iOS 11 begin to trickle out onto the App Store, it’s fitting that the first of what will be many reviews on MacStories in the coming days features ARKit, which from all indications is a big hit with developers. Even more fitting though, is that the app reviewed is PCalc by James Thomson. PCalc is an excellent calculator app that was one of Federico’s ‘Must Have’ apps of 2016. It’s available on iOS devices, the Apple Watch, and even the Apple TV. Still, you wouldn’t expect it to incorporate 3D animation or augmented reality, but that is exactly what the latest version of PCalc has tucked away in its settings.

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