MacStories Unwind: Game Tracking, Wallpapers, and Cooking App Reviews

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This week on MacStories Unwind:

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  • MacStories Weekly
    • A joint story on the widgets we’d love to see this fall and beyond
    • A collection of iOS utilities from Ryan
    • A member Home screen featuring widgets and creative wallpapers
    • Plus, lots of apps and more.
  • MacStories Unplugged
    • This week Federico and John explore iced coffee, America’s obsession with drive-thrus, and ghost towns, along with updates on their OS reviews, the AppStories developer interview series, and more.
  • Join Club MacStories

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GameTrack Review: An Elegant Way to Discover, Track, and Share Videogames

There is far more media I’d like to try than I have time for. Between TV shows, movies, music, books and other reading, podcasts, and videogames, the supply of content far outstrips the time I have by an order of magnitude. As a result, I’m both picky and often slow to getting around to some media, especially games, which often require a substantial time commitment. The trouble is that it’s easy to lose track of games I’ve read about, that someone has recommended, and even those that I’m in the middle of playing if I can’t play regularly.

I’ve approached the problem in a lot of different ways. Text notes are a quick and portable solution but lack detail. Apps designed to track lots of different kinds of media have the benefit of consolidating everything in one place, but often don’t accommodate features specific to one kind of media. As a result, I’ve recently gravitated to apps that focus on just a single type of media. For videogames, that solution has been GameTrack, an app that we’ve covered in our Club MacStories newsletters in the past.

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John Giannandrea on the Broad Reach of Machine Learning in Apple’s Products

Today Samuel Axon at ArsTechnica published a new interview with two Apple executives: SVP of Machine Learning and AI Strategy John Giannandrea and VP of Product Marketing Bob Borchers. The interview is lengthy yet well worth reading, especially since it’s the most we’ve heard from Apple’s head of ML and AI since he departed Google to join the company in 2018.

Based on some of the things Giannandrea says in the interview, it sounds like he’s had a very busy two years. For example, when asked to list ways Apple has used machine learning in its recent software and products, Giannandrea lists a variety of things before ultimately indicating that it’s harder to name things that don’t use machine learning than ones that do.

There’s a whole bunch of new experiences that are powered by machine learning. And these are things like language translation, or on-device dictation, or our new features around health, like sleep and hand washing, and stuff we’ve released in the past around heart health and things like this. I think there are increasingly fewer and fewer places in iOS where we’re not using machine learning. It’s hard to find a part of the experience where you’re not doing some predictive [work].

One interesting tidbit mentioned by both Giannandrea and Borchers is that Apple’s increased dependence on machine learning hasn’t led to the company talking about ML non-stop. I’ve noticed this too – whereas a few years ago the company might have thrown out ‘machine learning’ countless times during a keynote presentation, these days it’s intentionally more careful and calculated in naming the term, and I think for good reason. As Giannandrea puts it, “I think that this is the future of the computing devices that we have, is that they be smart, and that, that smart sort of disappear.” Borchers expounds on that idea:

This is clearly our approach, with everything that we do, which is, ‘Let’s focus on what the benefit is, not how you got there.’ And in the best cases, it becomes automagic. It disappears… and you just focus on what happened, as opposed to how it happened.

The full interview covers subjects like Apple’s Neural Engine, Apple Silicon for Macs, the benefits of handling ML tasks on-device, and much more, including a fun story from Giannandrea’s early days at Apple. You can read it here.

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The Wallpaper App Review: Endless Wallpapers Tailored for Apple Devices

I’m very picky about wallpapers on my devices, and when I finally find one I like, I stick with it for a very long time. At some point during that very long time, I start getting tired of my wallpaper and look for a replacement, only to quickly give up and conclude that none of the other options are good. The number of wallpapers available on the web is practically infinite, yet these days I scarcely bother to look for anything new.

So in some respects I’m both the best and worst person to review The Wallpaper App, a new Lumen Digital utility for iPhone, iPad, and Mac that does nothing but supply new wallpaper options. Best because I could use a new wallpaper solution, and worst because my passionate condemnation of most wallpaper options makes me inclined to find little of value in a new wallpaper app.

I see four primary strengths to The Wallpaper App, all of which give it an advantage over other wallpaper apps or services I’ve tried in the past.

  1. It’s extremely simple to navigate
  2. All wallpapers are designed to work well behind app icons, widgets, etc.1
  3. You can customize wallpaper colors manually
  4. Wallpaper size options are tailored for Apple device sizes

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Crouton Review: An Elegant, Modern Recipe Manager and Cooking Aid

One trend that emerged from stay-home orders this year is that many people have spent more time cooking than ever before. Many restaurants have been unable to offer indoor dining, and the lack of a commute as much of society adjusted to work-from-home life provided the opportunity to spend more time in the kitchen. Bread baking became a popular habit, but so did home cooking in general. All of this has brought an influx of new entrants to cooking.

I’m not new to cooking, but I’ve nonetheless found myself in the market for a better solution for recipe management, meal planning, and cooking walkthroughs. The app I’ve found best suited for my needs is Crouton, from developer Devin Davies.

Crouton offers a handful of valuable aids for cooking, but the feature at the center of it all is the app’s recipe management system. Once you have recipes stored in the app, you can view those recipes in a well-designed, intuitive format, but you’ll also be able to easily assign recipes to your weekly meal plan, add ingredients to your grocery list, or be guided through step-by-step instructions while cooking.

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Phil Schiller Transitions into Reduced Role as Apple Fellow; Greg Joswiak Newly Appointed SVP of Worldwide Marketing

Apple announced a major change to its executive team today: Phil Schiller, who first started at Apple in 1987, is transitioning into a limited role with far fewer responsibilities, holding the title Apple Fellow. Schiller will retain oversight of the App Store and Apple Events, and continue reporting directly to CEO Tim Cook, but most of his current responsibilities will shift to Greg (Joz) Joswiak, who takes over the title of senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing.

Here’s Schiller on this significant day of transition:

“It has been a dream come true for me to work at Apple, on so many products I love, with all of these great friends — Steve, Tim, and so many more,” said Schiller. “I first started at Apple when I was 27, this year I turned 60 and it is time for some planned changes in my life. I’ll keep working here as long as they will have me, I bleed six colors, but I also want to make some time in the years ahead for my family, friends, and a few personal projects I care deeply about.”

Tim Cook remarks:

“Phil has helped make Apple the company it is today and his contributions are broad, vast, and run deep. In this new role he will continue to provide the incredible thought partnership, and guidance that have defined his decades at Apple”

Schiller has been one of the most visible members of Apple’s team for a long time, most notably owning primary responsibility for introducing new hardware at Apple keynotes, such as the latest iPhone models each year. His expected absence from future such occasions will mark a stark shift for the company.

Joswiak, who takes Schiller’s former role, is no unfamiliar face himself. He has over two decades of leadership experience within Apple, and in recent years has become a regular presence at Apple events as well. Despite being a major force within the company, however, Joswiak’s presence on the executive team represents a new level of leadership for him, and come with major new responsibilities.

After many years of stability at the highest levels of leadership, time is finally catching up with Apple’s executive team. Chief Design Officer Jony Ive departed the company last summer, just a few months after Angela Ahrendts vacated her role as SVP of Retail. While today’s news follows a different pattern, since Schiller is remaining with the company despite his reduced role, so much change at the top of the organization feels very new for the modern Apple era.

As someone who began following Apple closely only about a decade ago, not long before the passing of former presentation chief Steve Jobs, I’ve seen a lot of Schiller product introductions and am really going to miss his presence for many keynotes to come.



Apple Reveals Substantial Update to the 27-inch iMac with Smaller Updates to the 21.5-inch iMac and iMac Pro

Today, Apple revealed an update to the 27-inch 5K Retina iMac with faster processors, updated graphics, more storage, and new display features. Although the new 27-inch iMac’s design is identical to the existing model, this is still a significant update compared to the iMac it replaces.

According to Apple’s press release:

“Now more than ever, our customers are relying on the Mac. And many of them need the most powerful and capable iMac we’ve ever made,” said Tom Boger, Apple’s senior director of Mac and iPad Product Marketing. “With blazing performance, double the memory, SSDs across the line with quadruple the storage, an even more stunning Retina 5K display, a better camera, higher fidelity speakers, and studio-quality mics, the 27-inch iMac is loaded with new features at the same price. It’s the ultimate desktop, to work, create, and communicate.”

Last updated in March 2019, the new iMac features 6 and 8-core 10th generation Intel CPUs that can reach speeds of up to 5.0GHz with Turbo Boost. Storage is all SSD now with transfer speeds up to 3.4GB/s when launching apps and large files. There’s also an 8TB SSD option for the first time, which is four times the storage available in the previous model. Until today, the standard configurations of the 27-inch iMac came with Fusion drives.

The new iMac has been upgraded to AMD Radeon Pro Series 5000 graphics. The display of the iMac is the same resolution as before, but now, it comes with a new nano-texture option first seen in the Pro Display XDR, which provides a low-reflection, matte finish, and it supports Apple’s True Tone technology. The new all-in-one desktop also includes a T2 chip for boot and data security, a 1080p FaceTime HD camera, and improved speakers and microphones.

Apple’s other iMacs received smaller updates today too. SSDs are now standard in the 21.5-inch model, although a Fusion Drive is still an option. Also, a 10-core Intel Xeon processor is now standard in the iMac Pro.

Today’s updates are in line with Apple’s statements during WWDC that the company had additional updates to Macs based on Intel CPUs in the pipeline. Although Macs with ARM processors are on the way later this year, Apple has not revealed which models will be converted to ARM first. Consequently, if you need a new desktop Mac, it’s still worth considering the Intel-based models, especially the new 27-inch iMac, which is substantially improved over its last iteration.


MacStories Unwind: Mac Catalyst, Due Reminders on Mac, and a Fiery Feeds Update

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Sponsored by: Concepts – Sketch, Note, Draw

This week on MacStories Unwind:

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Club MacStories

  • Monthly Log
    • Federico explains how his use of MindNode has changed for his iOS and iPadOS 14 review
    • John imagines what a perfect cross-platform outlining app would look like
    • Ryan shares his favorite features from iPadOS, iOS, watchOS, and tvOS
  • MacStories Weekly
    • Federico explores the Apple Watch automation enabled by Shortcuts in the iOS and iPadOS 14 betas
    • Ryan covers the Nighthawk Twitter client
    • John explains why he’s returning to MindNode after a failed search for an outlining app
    • A GameClub subscription giveaway
  • Join Club MacStories

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