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macOS Sonoma: The MacStories Review

In one sense, the story of this year’s macOS update is that there is no story, but that’s not exactly right. Instead, it’s a bunch of stories. It’s the tail end of the realignment of macOS with Apple’s other OSes that began with macOS Catalina in 2019. However, Sonoma is also part of a work-at-home story accelerated by COVID-19. The OS is also linked to the story of visionOS, only part of which has been revealed. Sonoma is a bundle of narrative threads built on the foundation of past releases, adding up to a collection of updates that will be less disruptive for most Mac users than recent macOS updates. Instead, Sonoma is packed with a variety of useful new features that help draw it closer to iPadOS and iOS than ever before, design enhancements, and a few disappointing omissions.

The timing for a more modest macOS update is right. In recent years, Mac users have had to adjust to substantial redesigns of everything from their favorite system apps to the Finder’s windows and toolbars. The changes were inescapable and necessary to harmonize the Mac with Apple’s other products, but also disruptive for some long-time users.

Sonoma adds a vast collection of new wallpaper and screensaver options.

Sonoma adds a vast collection of new wallpaper and screensaver options.

With macOS Sonoma, the biggest design shifts seem to be behind us – at least for the time being. Interactive widgets on the desktop are a big change this year, but it’s not like macOS dumps a bunch of them on your desktop by default. If you never want to see a widget anywhere near your desktop, you don’t have to. Other than the subtle way the login screen has changed and the new screensavers and wallpapers that are available, the core macOS experience has barely changed.

Instead, this year’s update is primarily about refining and building upon the foundation of the past few years, coupled with a handful of more significant updates to system apps. So, while the marquee features and design changes may be less notable than in recent years, there is still a long list of new and refreshed items that touch nearly every aspect of the OS, so let’s dive in.

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MacStories Unwind: Road Trips, Casino Heists, and Apple Podcasts


This week on MacStories Unwind, Federico and I compare road trip notes and somehow wind up talking about Federico’s fascination with casinos, before turning to the latest content updates to Apple Podcasts from Music and News.

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Road Trips

John’s Pick:

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Photo Scout: An Excellent Photographer’s Companion for iPhone and iPad

Taking a great photo requires a lot of variables to fall into place. It’s amazing when this happens by happenstance, but what if you could stack the odds in your favor? That’s the question Photo Scout by Cascable answers.

Photo Scout, available for the iPhone and iPad, combines location data with weather conditions, date and time information, sunlight, and night sky variables to recommend when you should grab your camera or drone and head out for a photo shoot. The app can account for many variables, but what’s best about Photo Scout is that it makes managing them simple.

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Hue Widgets’ Interactive Widgets Are the Easiest Way to Control Complex Hue Lighting Scenes

I’ve never been a big fan of the Philips Hue app. It has improved over time, and I appreciate its fine-grained control over my lights and its Shortcuts support, but the app has always felt a little clunky. That’s why I was happy when I discovered Hue Widgets over a year ago now. It’s a simple widget creation tool that lets you activate your Hue lights and scenes from your iPhone’s Home Screen, which is a much easier and nicer experience than using the Hue app. Better yet, with iOS 17, the app’s widgets are interactive, so lights and scenes can be triggered without ever opening the app.

Many Hue lights support features you can’t control from Apple’s Home app. For instance, many Hue lights can create animated and multi-color gradient lighting scenes that aren’t supported by HomeKit. These extended features can be accessed in the official Hue app, but it doesn’t have widgets, which is a faster and easier way to control your lighting and where Hue Widgets comes in.

Controlling lights and scenes from Home Widgets.

Controlling lights and scenes from Home Widgets.

The Hue Widgets app has two main tabs: a list of the rooms in your home, and an interface for creating widgets. The Home tab allows you to turn on an entire room or zone’s lights or control them individually, turning lights and scenes on and off and adjusting brightness levels, light temperatures, and colors. The official Hue app works similarly, but Hue Widgets’ interface is simpler and faster.

Building a widget.

Building a widget.

However, I’ve spent most of my time in the Widgets tab. Here, you can set up small, medium, or large widgets to control your Hue lights. The small version of the widget controls one light or scene, while the medium and large sizes control four and eight, respectively. After you pick the widget size you want, it appears in the Widget tab’s main interface. Then, tapping on each widget’s tiles walks you through picking a room and light or scene to control. Hue Widgets also lets you assign a color for each tile in your widget. It’s a quick and simple process but requires you to set up your lights and scenes in the Hue app first because Hue Widgets acts as a controller for the Hue app, not a replacement. When you’re satisfied with the widgets you’ve designed, return to your iPhone’s Home Screen to add one of the widgets you built, choosing the size you created in the app.

One thing I wish I could change in Hue Widgets is how it names widgets. Each is named automatically along the lines of ‘Small Widget #1’ and ‘Small Widget #2.’ If you create a lot of widgets, this isn’t ideal because it makes it hard to remember which widget is which. I’d prefer to assign more memorable names myself. I’d also love to see Hue Widgets on the iPad, where it could offer an extra-large widget.

Hue Widgets pairs nicely with Home Widget, which [I recently reviewed](

Hue Widgets pairs nicely with Home Widget, which I recently reviewed.

I was a fan of Hue Widgets before iOS 17, but having tried the interactive versions of its widgets, I can already tell I will be using them a lot more than before. Paired with the recent addition of Matter support for Hue hubs, which seems to have improved the responsiveness of my lighting, Hue Widgets has become a core part of my growing home automation setup.

Hue Widgets is available on the App Store for $1.99.

Introducing MultiButton: Assign Two Shortcuts to the Same Action Button Press on iPhone 15 Pro

MultiButton for iPhone 15

MultiButton for iPhone 15

I got my iPhone 15 Pro Max last week, and I’m loving the possibilities opened by the Action button combined with the Shortcuts app. But as I was playing around with different ideas for the Action button, I had a thought:

Wouldn’t it be great if instead of just one shortcut, I could toggle between two shortcuts with the same Action button press? That’s exactly what my new MultiButton shortcut does.

With MultiButton, you’ll be able to assign two separate shortcuts to the Action button. Unlike other solutions you may have seen that always make you pick shortcuts from a menu, MultiButton automatically cycles between two shortcuts if you press the Action button multiple times in rapid succession. You don’t need to pick shortcuts from a list; just press the Action button and MultiButton will take care of everything.

Toggling between two shortcuts with MultiButton.Replay

Allow me to explain how MultiButton works and how you can configure it for your Action button. In the process, I’ll also share some new shortcut ideas that you can start using today on your iPhone 15 Pro.

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AppStories, Episode 352 – Widgets Everywhere

This week on AppStories, we take a look at some of our favorite apps with interactive widgets for iOS 17, iOS 17, and macOS Sonoma.

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On AppStories+, we reflect on the end of the busiest part of review season at MacStories.

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Apple Announces ‘Meet with Apple Experts’ for Developers

Apple announced a worldwide series of events for developers who want to improve their apps through a combination of online and in-person resources.

The program includes more than 50 workshops, consultations, labs, and other sessions focusing on a broad range of topics, from developing for each of the company’s OSes to business and marketing assistance. For example, Apple’s developer website currently lists one-on-one App Review consultations, an in-person Apple Vision Pro event, and an online session on app discovery and marketing, as well as a wide variety of other topics hosted from several cities around the world. Sessions are offered in multiple languages and incorporate what was previously part of programs like Ask Apple, Meet with App Store experts, and Tech Talks.

The new Meet with Apple Experts events look like they’ll be a fantastic resources for developers. I especially like the blend of in-person and online resources. It’s hard to beat the kind of one-on-one interaction that used to happen in WWDC labs, but in-person events impose a lot of constraints that make them hard to host and attend. With a mix of in-person and online events, Apple should be able to reach a wider developer audience, which is great to see.

Apple Podcasts Adds Shows From Apple Music and News, Plus a Selection of Third-Party, Subscription-Based Apps

Apple Podcasts significantly expanded its Apple Music and Apple News podcast channels late yesterday and introduced podcasts for subscribers to a variety of third-party apps. In all, Apple says there are over 60 new shows comprised of over 2,500 episodes.

The Apple Music channel new features 42 shows, a significant increase from the handful that were available before. The lineup includes a mix of host-driven shows from Apple Music 1, interviews, music commentary, specials, and more, most of which are exclusive to Apple Music subscribers.

Apple News features four podcasts. News Today features a short, daily rundown of headlines from around the world; After the Whistle follows the World Cup; Apple News In Conversation is a weekly news commentary show; and Narrated News is an Apple News+ subscriber exclusive that presents audio narration of longform writing, something previously only available in the News app.

Some of the subscription-based apps that are offering podcasts. Source: Apple.

Some of the subscription-based apps that are offering podcasts. Source: Apple.

Among the subscription apps that are adding podcasts to their offerings are The Washington Post, Calm, Lingokids, Bloomberg, Sleep Cycle, and several others.

I haven’t had a chance to try any of the app add-on shows because I don’t subscribe to any of the participating apps. However, I spent some time this morning browsing through the Apple Music and Apple News offerings. Most of what is now available from Apple Music or Apple News in Podcasts was already available in their own apps. Still, I like having it available in Podcasts, where both channels’ shows fit in naturally with the other podcasts I enjoy, making Podcasts a one-stop destination for spoken audio. Listening in the Podcasts app also has the advantage of allowing listeners to receive notifications when a new episode is released and queue episodes for playback.

One thing I’d love to see the Apple Music and Apple News shows add is show notes. Links to songs played so they can be added to a listener’s library would be a useful addition to the Apple Music podcasts, as would links to materials on the topics covered by Apple News.

Apple’s Revised AirPods Pro 2 and Lossless Audio Support on Vision Pro

Soon after Apple’s Wonderlust event, it became clear that the company’s revised AirPods Pro with a USB-C case offered more than an updated connector. As detailed in a press release, the upgraded version of the second-generation AirPods Pro “unlocks powerful 20-bit, 48 kHz Lossless Audio with a massive reduction in audio latency”. But how?

Here’s Joe Rossignol, reporting at MacRumors:

In a video interview with Brian Tong, Apple’s VP of Sensing and Connectivity Ron Huang explained why only the updated second-generation AirPods Pro with a USB-C charging case support lossless audio with Apple’s upcoming Vision Pro headset.

Huang revealed that the H2 chip in the USB-C AirPods Pro supports the 5GHz band of wireless frequencies for ultra-low latency and less interference, while the H2 chip in the original second-generation AirPods Pro with a Lightning case is limited to the 2.4GHz band. Apple says it is this 5GHz support that enables the updated AirPods Pro to support lossless audio with the Vision Pro, which is slated for release in the U.S. in early 2024.

You can watch the video below:

The addition of 5GHz wireless makes complete sense in hindsight, and it doesn’t surprise me that Apple prioritized sound quality and latency reduction for a platform where full immersion is key to the experience.

Beyond Vision Pro, however, I wonder whether we’ll ever have any updates on the lossless audio front regarding Apple Music and AirPods Pro.

We know that Apple Music’s lossless catalog supports resolutions “ranging from 16-bit/44.1 kHz (CD Quality) up to 24-bit/192 kHz”. The new AirPods Pro fall short of supporting hi-res lossless playback at 24-bit/192 kHz, but so-called CD Quality lossless playback should now be within the capabilities of the device. Last time Apple gave a statement on the lack of lossless playback in AirPods Pro, they mentioned there are “other elements” to improve sound quality that aren’t necessarily about Bluetooth codecs. Is Apple waiting until they can support full 24-bit/192 kHz playback in future AirPods Pro hardware, or are there more audio-related changes coming with the launch of Vision Pro?