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Arcade Highlights: Pilgrims

Apple Arcade launched with a flurry of fantastic games. Not long after the first wave of titles hit the service, Czech studio Amanita Design turned heads with the unexpected release of Pilgrims, a traditional adventure game that borrows interaction elements from card-based games. The studio’s quirky, signature art style and sound design come together in a short but delightful game that encourages exploration and experimentation.

Amanita has been making iOS games since the earliest days of the App Store. It’s probably best known for Machinarium, which was released in 2009, but it has released a string of artful games that are fan favorites, including CHUCHEL, Samorost 3, and Botanicula.

Pilgrims dropped on Apple Arcade in October and is available on iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, and the Mac. I’ve played the game on all four platforms and found that it’s best experienced on the iPad, followed closely by the Mac.

The reasons Pilgrims succeeds so well on the iPad are threefold. First, the game is beautifully illustrated in a hand-drawn style that is reminiscent of a children’s storybook, which a big Retina iPad screen helps bring to life. Second, the iPad’s superior sound system makes it a great way to enjoy the game’s soundtrack, even without headphones. Finally, as I’ll explain in more detail below, Pilgrims relies on a card-based approach to gameplay that lends itself to touch, making direct interaction with the game’s cards and collectibles a natural fit.

The iPhone benefits from the same intimate interaction as the iPad, but the experience is diminished by the smaller screen and the iPhone’s inferior speakers when played without headphones. Pilgrims benefits from the even bigger screens of a Mac and TV, where I found that interacting with the game with a trackpad or mouse felt closer to the iPad’s touch experience than using the Apple TV’s Siri Remote or a game controller.

Pilgrims features a storybook-like feel, good humor, and a fun soundtrack.

Pilgrims features a storybook-like feel, good humor, and a fun soundtrack.

The premise of Pilgrims is simple: you start the game as a traveler who wakes up in his tent. You navigate around a map to various locations by tapping or clicking on them. Along the way, you collect items, interact with other characters, and solve puzzles. As you pass certain milestones, you’re joined by other pilgrims on your travels as you progress to the conclusion of the story.

The characters you befriend and the items you collect are represented by cards at the bottom of the screen. As you travel from point to point, your objectives will be clear: the thief wants potatoes, and the restaurant owner wants wine, for example. To obtain those items and unlock later stages of the game, you need to visit other locations on the map and through trial and error, collect items, trade for others, and interact with characters to advance the story.

Interactions in Pilgrims are primarily accomplished by dragging the cards of items you've collected and travelers you've befriended into each scene.

Interactions in Pilgrims are primarily accomplished by dragging the cards of items you’ve collected and travelers you’ve befriended into each scene.

Interactions are initiated by dragging cards into each scene and then watching how the story unfolds. The scenes are handled with an excellent sense of humor and whimsy that encourages you to experiment. In turn, that lends itself to a leisurely pace and provides a richer experience than doing the minimum necessary to reach the end of the game would suggest. It also makes Pilgrims a fun game to revisit because, although the environment may be familiar, testing different interactions with the characters you meet along the way makes repeat plays fun.

It’s the combination of storytelling and card-based play that makes Pilgrims such a perfect match with the iPad. Playing on a big Mac screen with a good set of speakers is a close second, but sitting back in a comfortable chair and exploring Pilgrims’ world from an iPad can’t be beaten. If you missed this release, which trailed the Apple Arcade launch by a few weeks, be sure to check it out now.

Pilgrims is available as part of Apple Arcade on iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and Mac.


Connected, Episode 277: Good Luck Not Waking Up the Entire Building

On this week’s episode of Connected:

After working out what the award should be for the two Chairman spots, the boys ponder the future of the iPad Pro’s accessories and the holes on the back of the rack-mounted Mac Pro. Then, Myke provides a tour of CES.

You can listen below (and find the show notes here).

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01:20:34

Connected, Episode 277

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iA Writer 5.4 Adds New Export Options, Local Backups, and Hashtag Suggestions

Over the holidays, the iA Writer team released version 5.4 of its iOS, iPadOS, and Mac apps, which added improved export options. The iOS and iPadOS apps also gained local backups and hashtag suggestions.

The new export feature adds the ability to share, export, print, and copy from the app’s Library using context menus. On iOS and iPadOS, each of those commands is available by long-pressing an item in your Library and picking from the popup context menu. The experience is similar on the Mac, where the same options are available when you right-click on an item in the Library. iA Writer’s release notes say that publishing is available via context menus too, but the MacStories WordPress setup doesn’t work with iA Writer, and I don’t use Ghost or Medium, so I haven’t tried that feature.

iA Writer includes a new Copy Markdown Action.

iA Writer includes a new Copy Markdown Action.

The alternatives for getting text out of iA Writer have been expanded too. The update’s Copy action has added a Copy Markdown option that makes it trivially easy to copy your work and drop it into another iOS or iPadOS app or paste it into a Mac app using Handoff.

Better yet, the Copy Markdown functionality includes content blocks to the copied text. That way, if you split a long document into multiple files, copying the Markdown of the main document will automatically incorporate the externally referenced files as content blocks. It’s an excellent way to assemble a long-form story and paste it into a content management system or another app with just a couple of taps. Together with the app’s existing copy, share, and export options, iA Writer has become one of the most versatile text editors when it comes to delivering your final text in the format you want and where you need it.

A local backup is saved as your document is edited.

A local backup is saved as your document is edited.

On iOS and iPadOS, iA Writer 5.4 has also added local backups, which are accessed from the action button in the toolbar, by swiping left on or long-pressing an item in your Library, or using Quick Search, which Federico covered in his review of version 5.3 of the app. Backups of your files are created as you edit them, and reverting to an older version is as simple as selecting the one you want and tapping ‘Restore.’ If you change the name of a document, the app keeps the older backups under the file’s original name. You can also navigate to the root level of your Library folder structure from the backups of the document you are currently viewing, allowing you to browse every local backup created by iA Writer on your device.

The strength of iA Writer’s backup feature is that the backups are local. iOS 13 has been a buggy release, and iCloud Drive continues to cause trouble for some users. By creating a local backup, iA Writer provides its users with a copy of their work on whichever device they’re using that isn’t affected by sync or other cloud-based issues.

In my testing, the new backup feature worked well and provided additional peace of mind that my work is safe, which I love. I did run into a bug when navigating back to the editor from the backup view when I entered it via the Library’s context menu. The editor lost the focus, so I had no cursor or keyboard, though it’s an issue that can be fixed by tapping into another document and then back to the one you’re editing. Hopefully, that will be fixed soon, but for now, the workaround is simple, and the issue is easily avoidable by not using the context menu to access backups for the time being.

iA Writer’s hashtag suggestions appear in the row above its custom keyboard.

iA Writer’s hashtag suggestions appear in the row above its custom keyboard.

Another iOS and iPadOS-only feature that’s new for version 5.4 is hashtag suggestions. Hashtags aren’t a feature of iA Writer that I use, but the update makes accessing hashtags more convenient by displaying the most recent three in the row above the app’s custom keyboard if your cursor is on an empty space. Alternatively, if the cursor’s inside a word, the top row offers to convert the word into a hashtag. It’s worth noting, however, that hashtag suggestions are not displayed when iA Writer’s custom keyboard is displayed as a popover on the iPad Pro.


In the broader scheme of iA Writer’s development, version 5.4 is a relatively minor update, though it does reinforce why the app was chosen as the MacStories Selects App of the Year. iA Writer has been a category-leading text editor for years, but it continues to receive regular updates that incorporate the latest technologies on every platform in ways that refine the experience for users and expand the app’s capabilities.

There’s an incredible amount of power tucked away behind iA Writer’s simple UI. That power is always just a tap or two away, but stays hidden until you need it, which is my favorite sort of pro app UI.

iA Writer 5.4 for iOS and iPadOS and for the Mac is available as a free update for existing users.


Sam Henri Gold Launches The Unofficial Apple Archive

Source: The Unofficial Apple Archive

Source: The Unofficial Apple Archive

Last summer, Sam Henri Gold uploaded hundreds of images, videos, and other historical Apple material to Google Drive from the company’s earliest days to present. The collection didn’t last long. The flood of people trying to download its contents slowed the archive to a crawl, and ultimately Gold took it down.

The archive is back now at applearchive.org as an ad-free website organized by decade. The collection, which Gold has dubbed The (Unofficial) Apple Archive, includes a wide range of materials from press photos and keynotes to TV ads and Mac wallpapers. There is even a healthy collection of unreleased materials, like this unreleased social media ad for AirPower.

The site includes search functionality that makes it easier to find something specific among the hundreds of items or browse an entire product category. Images can be downloaded from the archive, but to deter downloading of videos, Gold is using a restrictive embedded Vimeo player. The desire to stop downloads is understandable, but it also means that the videos cannot be embedded by others writing about them elsewhere, which is a shame.

Between a Vimeo Pro account and Squarespace, Gold says the Apple Archive costs him about $456/year. Because the site is ad-free, Gold is accepting donations to help defray the costs here. To learn more about the Apple Archive project and the story behind it, check out Michael Steeber’s interview with Gold on 9to5Mac.


Arcade Highlights: Grindstone

When it comes to mobile games, all a new title has to do to draw me in is show a Candy Crush-style grid of objects. There’s something about the simple mechanic of making connections on a grid that’s hard for me to resist. Most of the time, though, I find that while such games can easily grab my interest, many will quickly lose it when I actually start playing. It’s usually just standard match three games that keep my attention, so when I first tried out Grindstone, I didn’t think it would be for me.

Grindstone is an Apple Arcade title from Capy and the creative team behind the excellent Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP. It features a familiar grid of objects – in this case monsters to defeat – but rather than rearranging matching monsters in a Candy Crush fashion, you’re tasked with tracing a line from one matching monster to another, determining the order in which you’ll slay them and potentially earn rewards. Monsters have to be adjacent to each other for you to string them together, so essentially you’re completing a connect the dots puzzle each turn with as many monsters destroyed as possible.

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The Case for Low Power Mode on the Mac

Marco Arment on marco.org, outlining his self-created Low Power Mode-like system which relies on a third-party app, and making the case for Apple to add something similar as an official macOS feature:

The vast majority of the time I’m using it, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is a much better laptop with Turbo Boost disabled.

It’s still fast enough to do everything I need (including significant development with Xcode), while remaining silent and cool, with incredible battery life.

But soon, I bet I won’t be able to do this anymore.

Turbo Boost Switcher Pro relies on a kernel extension that’s grandfathered into Apple’s latest security requirements, but it can never be updated — and when macOS Catalina loads it for the first time, it warns that it’ll be “incompatible with a future version of macOS.” I suspect that this is the last year I’ll get to run the latest OS and be able to turn off Turbo Boost at will, making all of my future laptop usage significantly worse.

Low Power Mode is one of many useful features that iOS has had for years but that Mac users have been forced to live without. The feature’s popularity on iOS makes it a no-brainer addition for portable Macs, where battery life is already worse than what’s found in the iPhone and iPad.

Update: Former MacStories contributor TJ Luoma helpfully pointed out something that genuinely surprised me: Low Power Mode isn’t on the iPad either. Here’s hoping Apple brings it not only to the Mac, but the iPad as well.

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Toggl: Simple Time Tracking Combined with Powerful Reporting [Sponsor]

Toggl brings together simple time tracking with powerful reporting. It’s a combination that allows you to account for your time effortlessly and gain valuable insights, and now is a terrific time to sign up for a paid annual plan. That’s because to celebrate the new year, Toggl is offering 20% off its annual plans if you sign up before January 17th!

With iOS, Mac, and web apps, it’s easy to start and stop timers whenever and wherever you’re working. All it takes is a single click or tap and you’re up and running with your time entries syncing seamlessly in the background. Each app is free and designed for the hardware on which it runs. For example, on iOS, Toggl works with Siri and Shortcuts. There’s an Apple Watch app too.

On the Mac, Toggl has been redesigned to more closely resemble the company’s web app. The update added dark mode, simplified adding of clients and projects, streamlined time tracking visualizations, and improved offline support.

There’s also a fantastic new timeline view on the Mac for quickly pinpointing the gaps in your day. Toggl can also privately monitor the apps you use on your Mac to help remind you of how you spent your time. The app can even set Pomodoro timers to remind you to take breaks, and for Macs with a Touch Bar, there’s a handy Global Toggl Button for starting timers that’s always visible when Toggl is running.

Tracking only gets you so far though. That’s why Toggl generates powerful, professional reports that provide valuable insights and make bookkeeping a breeze.

Simplify your time tracking. Download Toggl today for the Mac and iOS and be sure to take advantage of the 20% discount on paid annual plans by signing up before January 17th.

Our thanks to Toggl for sponsoring MacStories this week.


Apple Shows Off Daisy the Recycling Robot

We’ve covered Apple’s recycling robot Daisy, and its predecessor, Liam, before. Both are part of Apple’s efforts to become a ‘closed-loop’ manufacturer that doesn’t rely on the mining industry for the materials that make up its products.

Apple gave Reuters a tour of the warehouse in Austin, Texas that houses Daisy recently. According to the story:

Daisy, less than 20 yards in length, uses a four-step process to remove an iPhone battery with a blast of -80 Celsius (-176 Fahrenheit) degree air, and then pop out screws and modules, including the haptic module that makes a phone vibrate.

From the process, Apple is able to remove 14 minerals from 200 iPhones per hour that are sent to recyclers for extraction and refinement.

The company’s recycling effort has its skeptics as outlined in the Reuters story, but it’s commendable nonetheless. Be sure to check out the full story for images of Daisy and the components it removes from iPhones.

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