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PCalc 3.9 Adds Dark Mode and the Latest Shortcuts Features, Expanding the App’s Automation Capabilities

Last year when Siri shortcuts debuted on iOS 12, developer James Thomson added one of the first and best implementations for creating custom shortcuts with his calculator app PCalc. However, iOS 12 required PCalc to rely on the system clipboard as a means of passing inputs to calculations and then outputting the results, which added complexity to shortcuts that used PCalc actions. iOS and iPadOS 13 free PCalc of that constraint, and with the addition of parameter support and the conversational Siri shortcuts coming in iOS and iPadOS 13.1, PCalc’s automation features are vastly more powerful.

Federico’s review of PCalc 3.8 featured a shortcut called PCalc Currencies, which is a terrific example of what a PCalc-based shortcut looked like in iOS 12. The shortcut coverts Euros to US Dollars and British Pounds. The first step is to pass the number of Euros to the shortcut from the system clipboard and then create a variable to store that value. Next, the shortcut uses PCalc’s conversion action to calculate the US Dollar equivalent, store it in a separate variable, and then do the same for pounds. The final step displays the results using each of the three currency variables. In total, the shortcut uses twelve actions, many of which involve moving data on and off the clipboard.

PCalc Currencies for iOS 12 (left) and iOS 13 (right).

PCalc Currencies for iOS 12 (left) and iOS 13 (right).

With PCalc’s new Shortcuts actions, we can reduce the number of actions from twelve to just four. It’s a fantastic demonstration of the power that iOS and iPadOS 13 add to third-party shortcut actions and the reduction in complexity that can be achieved with even a relatively simple shortcut. Okay, let’s update Federico’s shortcut.

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iPhone 11 and 11 Pro Roundup: The King of Cameras?

Today the first reviews for the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro dropped, and they should inspire excitement in anyone planning to pick up a new iPhone later this week. Apple’s claims for massive battery life increases on the Pro models seem to have proven true, Face ID is better than before, and each device is more durable than before too, but the cameras are where this year’s iPhones truly shine. In years past the iPhone was the undisputed camera king, and with the 11 and 11 Pro Apple is building a compelling case why that’s true once more.

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AppStories, Episode 129 – The Apps of Apple’s Fall Event

On this week’s episode of AppStories, we dive into the new and updated apps announced at Apple’s fall keynote including Compass, Camera, and the upcoming Apple Arcade game subscription service.

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Arcade Launches for Some iOS Beta Testers

Earlier today, a series of reviews of Apple Arcade were published across the web and on YouTube. Shortly thereafter, Apple took the wraps off the service itself for at least a subset of people running the iOS 13 or 13.1 betas. Arcade doesn’t officially launch until September 19th, but it appears that Apple is using a slow roll-out to some beta testers to test the service and create buzz around the launch.

The design of the Arcade tab is reminiscent of the App Store’s other tabs, although more space is reserved for spotlighting individual titles, and so far, there is little editorial content. It will be interesting to see how this mix evolves as more games become available and more editorial content is created. In addition to themed collections like ‘Start Your Adventure’ and ‘No Time to Blink,’ Arcade has a section dedicated to ‘New Arrivals,’ includes hint guides for three of the games and a button at the bottom of the view for accessing every game in the service.

The activation of Arcade for some users coincided with a press release from Apple highlighting four games by smaller game studios: The Enchanted World, Patterned, Overland, and Card of Darkness. I haven’t had a chance to comb through the entire catalog yet, but there are a lot of great-looking games featured at launch that jumped out at me including:

I’m looking forward to trying all of these as well as discovering new titles.

As I said on AppStories this week, I’ve been cautiously optimistic and excited about Arcade. What I’ve seen of the new service in my brief time with it so far today is perfectly in line with what I hoped for. Apple seems to have struck a nice balance among many different categories of games, and with only about half of the 100+ titles that should be coming soon, that is an excellent start.


Textastic: The Code Editor for Your iPad and iPhone [Sponsor]

Textastic is the most complete and versatile code editor available for your iPad and iPhone. To start with, the app has syntax highlighting for more than 80 programming and markup languages. There’s everything from C to Objective-C, Swift, JavaScript, Python, YAML, HTML, CSS, and dozens more languages.

Of course, Textastic is also compatible with Markdown. Not only can you write in Markdown, but you can preview Markdown with the app’s built in web server or Safari. Textastic is compatible with Sublime Text and Textmate syntax definitions too. You can even create your very own.

Textastic goes well beyond the features of a classic editor though. You can manage remote file transfers with FTP, SFTP, WebDAV, Dropbox, and Google Drive and there’s a terrific, full-featured SSH terminal built right into the app. Because Textastic supports tabs, you can even have multiple files and SSH terminals open simultaneously.

With robust search and replace that supports regular expressions, keyboard shortcuts that are customizable, and support for Git repositories using Working Copy, it’s one of the most powerful code editors you’ll find anywhere. Textastic is a great iOS citizen too, supporting the Files app, drag and drop, printing, iCloud Drive, Split View, and a whole lot more. Add to that a long history of development and support, and Textastic is an app you can use with confidence.

To learn more about Textastic and what it can do for your code editing needs on iOS, visit textasticapp.com, then download a copy today. You’re going to love it.

Our thanks to Textastic for sponsoring MacStories this week.


Techmeme Ride Home, iPhone Event Debrief with John Voorhees of MacStories

On today’s weekend interview episode of Techmeme Ride Home, I was interviewed by Brian McCullough all about this week’s Apple event. We discussed the backlash against Apple events, how the company’s keynotes are evolving into something more than a showcase for iPhones, and then dove into all the new hardware and services announced.

As always, it was a pleasure to dig into the details as well as the big-picture implications of the week’s news with McCullough. You can find the episode on Apple Podcasts.

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The Potential of the iPhone 11’s Ultra Wideband U1 Chip

A feature of the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro that didn’t get stage time this week was Apple’s new U1 chip, which adopts the relatively new Ultra Wideband wireless technology. The UWB Alliance, an industry trade group, describes the technology as follows:

UWB is a unique radio technology that can use extremely low energy levels for short-range, high-bandwidth communications over a large portion of the radio spectrum. Devices powered by a coin cell can operate for a period of years without recharge or replacement. UWB technology enables a broad range of applications, from real-time locating and tracking, to sensing and radar, to secure wireless access, and short message communication. The flexibility, precision and low-power characteristics of UWB give it a unique set of capabilities unlike any other wireless technology.

For now, all Apple has said is that the U1 chip will permit users to point an iPhone 11 at another iPhone 11 and “and AirDrop will prioritize that device so you can share files faster.” However, the same iPhone 11 Pro preview page also notes that the U1 is “going to lead to amazing new capabilities.” In light of recent rumors that Apple is developing a hardware tag for tracking your belongings, it’s not hard to imagine at least one application that the company probably has in mind. However, Tile-like item tracking is just the tip of the iceberg.

Over on Six Colors, Jason Snell has dug deeper into UWB technology. Snell spoke to Mickael Viot, the VP of marketing at UWB chipmaker Decawave, to better understand other use cases for UWB:

But the possible applications of UWB go way beyond AirDrop and tracking tags. Decawave’s Viot says potential applications include smart home tech, augmented reality, mobile payments, the aforementioned keyless car entry, and even indoor navigation. (And it’s not a power hog, either—Viot says that Decawave’s latest UWB chip uses one-third of the power of a Bluetooth LE chip when in beacon mode, as a tracking tile would be.)

It’s interesting to consider what UWB could enable, especially inside the home. Apple will expand the automation capabilities of NFC tags, which are useful for home automation setups, in iOS and iPadOS 13.1. However, NFC tags still need to be scanned to trigger actions. UWB has the potential to go well beyond NFC by using spatial awareness and presence to expand how we interact and automate all sorts of smart devices.

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Siri in iOS 13: SiriKit for Media, New Suggestions, and a Better Voice

Another year, another batch of Siri improvements aimed at enhancing what’s already there, but not radically transforming it. Siri in iOS 13 comes with a handful of changes, all of which are in line with the types of iteration we’re used to seeing for Apple’s intelligent assistant. Siri now offers suggested actions in more places and ways than before, its voice continues becoming more human, and perhaps this year’s biggest change is a new SiriKit domain for media, which should enable – after the necessary work by third-party developers – audio apps like Spotify, Overcast, and Audible to be controlled by voice the way Apple’s native Music, Podcasts, and Books apps can be.

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Apple Highlights Arcade Titles in New Video

Today on its YouTube channel, Apple published a new video highlighting some of the titles coming to Apple Arcade once it launches next Thursday alongside iOS 13.

The video spends nearly two minutes providing quick glimpses at a lot of Arcade titles, while lingering for extended periods over a handful of titles that haven’t been seen much before, such as Earth Night, Hot Lava, Skate City, and more.

The demos Apple shared on-stage at its September event received mixed responses, but I would expect a much more enthusiastic response to greet this video. Everything showcased looks fantastic, offering interesting stories, gameplay mechanics, and visuals. If Apple really does have 100+ games like this at or near launch, Arcade is going to quickly become a very compelling service.