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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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    Dropbox Integrates with iOS 11’s Files App in Latest Update

    Fulfilling its recent promise of integrating with iOS 11’s Files app during the OS’s launch week, Dropbox today released an updated iOS app that does just that. It is now a full-fledged file provider in Files, allowing you to access and manage all of your Dropbox files directly from the Files app.

    Adding Files support means Dropbox files can now live alongside files from iCloud Drive and other file providers. This enables things like copying files between cloud services with ease, organizing files from different providers with the same tags, and of course, using drag and drop to rearrange files (on either iPhone or iPad), or to move files to other apps (iPad only). Not all functionality from the main Dropbox app has made its way to Files, but there’s surprisingly little missing here. You can still download files on demand, and you can even share files without needing to open the Dropbox app – simply long-press the file you’d like to share and hit the Copy Link button. For me personally at least, I don’t see any reason I would need to open Dropbox anymore.

    Several major cloud services pledged to support Files back in June following WWDC, and it’s great to see that, at least for one of them, that support came swiftly. Here’s hoping the rest will follow soon.


    Reliving that Snow Leopard Magic

    Enthusiasts of all types always have that one special obsession. For muscle car people, maybe it's one particular year of Ford Mustang. Photographers always have a favorite lens, while baseball players may have a favored bat or glove.

    Ask almost any macOS fan, and they'll tell you that Snow Leopard is their favorite version of all time.

    There are a bunch of good reasons for that, beyond pure nostalgia.

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    Apple’s Quest to Transform Photography

    John Paczkowski of BuzzFeed conducted a fascinating interview with Apple’s Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller and Johnnie Manzari of Apple's Human Interface Team about the iPhone’s camera. Much of the discussion is focused on the new Portrait Lighting feature available in the 8 Plus and X. As Paczkowski explains,

    The camera's effects don't rely on filters. They're the result of Apple's new dual camera system working in concert with machine learning to sense a scene, map it for depth, and then change lighting contours over the subject. It's all done in real time, and you can even preview the results thanks to the company’s enormously powerful new A11 Bionic chip. The result, when applied to Apple scale, has the power to be transformative for modern photography, with millions of amateur shots suddenly professionalized.

    Manzari described the extensive process that went into creating Portrait Lighting:

    "We spent a lot of time shining light on people and moving them around — a lot of time," Manzari says. "We had some engineers trying to understand the contours of a face and how we could apply lighting to them through software, and we had other silicon engineers just working to make the process super-fast. We really did a lot of work."

    BuzzFeed’s article is worth a close read because it’s about more than just the camera in Apple’s new and upcoming iPhones. The behind-the-scenes peek at the development process of the many functions that the iPhone’s camera serves is the best example of one of Apple’s biggest competitive advantages: the fusion of hardware and software.

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    AppStories, Episode 23 – The Apps Behind Federico’s iOS 11 Review

    On this week's episode of AppStories, we lift the curtain on some of the special events at MacStories and Club MacStories surrounding the release of iOS 11, discuss the removal of the App Store from iTunes on macOS, and dive into the apps Federico used to plan, research, write, and produce his iOS 11 review.

    Sponsored by:

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    Conduct AR: Desktop Micromanaging at its Finest

    I never was the kid to play with toy trains, but that hasn’t stopped me from becoming engrossed in augmented reality ones thanks to Conduct AR.

    An AR follow-up game to Northplay’s Conduct THIS, Conduct AR puts you in control of trains barreling down the tracks. As they make their routes, they’ll pick up passengers at stations for later drop off, but only if you can guide the trains there without crashing into obstacles along the way.

    To do that, you’ll switch tracks, stop, and start the trains, carefully pointing your camera at them and tapping the screen at the same time. In AR, though, this can be tricky, as Conduct AR requires you to move around, peer into the level, and get close enough to where you can control the trains in a precise way.

    Many AR apps are meant to be seen as a big picture experience, like a rocket ship landing in your backyard pool. That’s not Conduct AR. In order to play the game right, you have to survey the level and get a perfect understanding of how to play it. As you progress through the levels, so much is happening that you always have to be moving, checking tunnels, and guaranteeing your trains don’t crash.

    Conduct AR’s performance is sufficient but occasionally shaky, sometimes in the literal sense; there were occasions where the tracking fell off and required an app restart. Still, those issues are relatively uncommon, and the game often runs well.

    If you’re looking to dive into Conduct AR, I really recommend that you play it on a desktop or table – with a flat surface directly in front of you, it’s much easier to stand up, move around, but also play comfortably. You should also know that the game has run hot on my iPhone 7, but I’d expect this to get figured out on the iOS end as ARKit develops.

    Once you become addicted to Conduct AR, you’ll be happy to see that there’s plenty of content to work through before you finish the game. For $3.99, it’s worth the experience alone, but having many levels makes it all that much sweeter. Those interested in the new AR experiences in iOS should pick up Conduct AR in the App Store here.


    LookUp 4.0 Adds Object Recognition via Vision Framework, Plus Drag and Drop

    LookUp is a beautifully designed dictionary app that we first reviewed earlier this year. With its effective use of bold headings and colorful graphics atop a white background, Lookup visually looks like a sister app to Apple’s new App Store – and considering how much I love the new App Store, that’s high praise. I won’t spend any time on the basics of the app though, as you can check out Jake’s original review for that. Instead, I want to focus on how LookUp harnesses the power of new iOS 11 technologies.

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