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A Peek Inside Apple’s Music Apps Studio

In celebration of Garageband's 15th anniversary this year, Rolling Stone was granted special access to the studio where Apple's music apps come to life. If I had one major takeaway from the article, it would be that the amount of thought and effort Apple's team expends in Garageband's development is remarkable. Rolling Stone's Amy Wang writes:

In the first media visit Apple has ever allowed to its under-the-radar Music Apps studio, the team of engineers showed Rolling Stone how the creation process for Garageband’s two types of sounds — synthetic and “real” — can span weeks or sometimes months per instrument, with new hurdles at every turn. Synthesized sounds (i.e. the type of obviously artificial notes often heard in EDM) are made from code and tweaked by code; “real” sounds have to be recorded in a drop-dead-silent studio setting, dozens of times, then pieced together like patchwork to form single perfect notes, one by one.

Some instruments are extra excruciating. In the digital reproduction of an American upright bass, a player in the studio plucks a string, holds his breath for seven seconds to ensure there’s no extra noise on the recording whatsoever as the note shivers into the air (engineers have custom-coded an app to time the duration precisely), and repeats the endeavor at different finger positions, volumes and pressures, day in and day out. After wheeling each of the cavalcade of instruments out of the studio, the team pores over the hundreds of recordings to pick out the best. When adding a suite of East Asian instruments in a recent product update, the engineers consulted with designers across the world to pick out the specific color of wood and font of a poem that would make a Chinese guzheng appear the most authentic. Engineers also constantly browse music-making forums for complaints, suggestions and thoughts on what to tweak next.

Garageband's continued development over such a long period of time is a testament to music's importance to Apple, a point that's reinforced several times in the full article.

Besides highlighting the work that goes into making Garageband a better tool for creators, one other interesting tidbit from the article involves Apple's future direction for the app:

“Without getting into specifics, I think machine learning — as in, systems and software that will enable more ability to help anticipate what someone wants to do — will be of value,” [Phil] Schiller says about what’s in the works.

Perhaps before the year's out we'll see the fruits of Apple's efforts to apply machine learning to music creation.

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Setapp: The Best Mac Apps in One Suite [Sponsor]

Setapp is the Mac app suite that should have been and now is. It’s not an app store; it’s more an app buffet. You pay just one fee and gain immediate access to an ever-growing collection of over 130 of the best Mac apps, curated to make your day more productive.

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Our thanks to Setapp for sponsoring MacStories this week.


Stanford Medicine Presents Results of the Apple Heart Study

Over 400,000 people participated in the Apple Heart Study, which used the Apple Watch to collect irregular heart rhythm data from participants for eight months. When an irregular rhythm was detected and suggested the possibility of arterial fibrillation, the Watch sent the user a notification. Study participants who got the notification were contacted telephonically by a doctor and given an electrocardiogram patch for further monitoring.

This weekend, Stanford Medicine reported the results of the study at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session and Expo in New Orleans. The study showed that 0.5% of participants received irregular rhythm notifications putting to rest concerns in some quarters that the Apple Watch’s sensor would overburden health professionals with false positives. In a press release, Jeff Williams, Apple’s Chief Operating Officer said:

We are proud to work with Stanford Medicine as they conduct this important research and look forward to learning more about the impact of Apple Watch alongside the medical community. We hope consumers will continue to gain useful and actionable information about their heart health through Apple Watch.

We’re still in the early days of the potential healthcare benefits of wearable devices like the Apple Watch, and it’s encouraging to see results like these, which show the potential good that can come from arming people with information to help them get the care they need.


Phil Schiller Interviewed on ATP

Apple's Phil Schiller was a guest on the latest episode of ATP. I listened to the interview this morning, and I think Marco, Casey, and John did an excellent job in getting Schiller's perspective on how Apple approaches WWDC, the relationship with indie developers and bigger companies, and more. I strongly disagree with Schiller's thoughts on the ideal box lunch, but it's a fantastic interview and you should listen here.

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Apple Responds to Spotify’s Claims of Anticompetitive Behavior

In a lengthy response, Apple has addressed many of the allegations leveled against it by Spotify earlier this week. As we reported, Spotify has filed a complaint with the European Commission alleging that Apple’s treatment of the music streaming service is unfair and anti-competitive. Today, Apple fired back with a response to many of Spotify’s contentions.

Apple denies it has blocked access to its products and updates. To the contrary, the company says it has approved over 200 updates to Spotify’s app and reached out to inquire about the adoption of features like Siri and AirPlay 2. Apple says the only time it has requested changes to Spotify’s apps is when the company ‘has tried to sidestep the same rules that every other app follows.’

Apple also takes issue with what it characterizes as Spotify’s desire for the benefits of a free app without being free. Long gone are the days when apps were either free or paid. Spotify, like many other apps, offers a free music streaming tier. Spotify doesn’t pay Apple anything for those free users or users that sign up for streaming through other channels like mobile carriers. For Spotify’s paid subscribers, Apple receives 30% in year one and 15% after that for access to its platform and payment system, which the company says Spotify is unfairly trying to sidestep.

Finally, Apple claims that Spotify’s complaints against it are just one facet of a pattern of actions that are in Spotify’s economic interests but are damaging to musicians and the music industry. As evidence of this, Apple raises recent moves by Spotify against songwriters after the US Copyright Royalty Board required Spotify to increase royalty payments.

I don’t know whether Apple’s actions constitute unfair and anti-competitive behavior under EU law. Separate and apart from the legalities of the situation though, Spotify’s complaints have struck a chord because they come at a time when new online app stores are taking a significantly smaller cut of revenue. Spotify has other legitimate complaints, like its frustrations with App Review, but what seems to really be driving the dispute is how much Apple charges for access to the App Store and its payment system. Now more than ever, Apple’s 30% cut looks like a bad deal even when that cut is reduced to 15% for the second year of subscriptions.

What makes this dispute unique is that Spotify competes with Apple Music and is big enough to grab public attention and raise the stakes for Apple by getting European regulators involved. Usually, this sort of fight would play out privately, but by making their disagreement very public and involving regulators, Spotify may have taken the outcome out of its and Apple’s control.


Apple Illustrates iPhone Privacy with Real-World Analogs

Finding a way to convey the benefits of privacy isn’t easy, which is why I like Apple’s ‘Privacy on iPhone – Private Side’ video so much.

The video, which runs under a minute, opens with images of several ‘No Trespassing,’ ‘Keep Out,’ ‘Beware of Dog,’ and other signs. In a series of quick cuts, the video shows two people who pause an intense conversation when interrupted by a waiter as well as people locking file cabinets, closing blinds, locking doors, shredding documents, and more. Near the end, a woman rolls up the window of a car when she sees someone nearby watching her put on makeup.

As Apple’s description of the YouTube video says:

Your privacy matters. From encrypting your iMessage conversations, or not keeping a history of your routes in Maps, to limiting tracking across sites with Safari. iPhone is designed to protect your information.

Every clip of the video, which adds a bit of levity to an otherwise serious topic, reinforces the closing message that ‘If privacy matters in your life, it should matter to the phone your life is on.’

The video is an effective rebuttal of the ‘I have nothing to hide’ argument against privacy. Even the mundane aspects of day-to-day life aren’t something that you necessarily want to broadcast to the world, which this video is very effective in conveying.

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Apple Announces WWDC 2019 Kicks Off June 3

Today Apple announced the dates for WWDC 2019. The annual developer conference will take place June 3-7, hosted for the third year in a row at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California.

WWDC is where Apple traditionally lays out its software plans for the year ahead, with major new OS versions like iOS 13 and watchOS 6 expected to be unveiled in detail. The conference typically kicks off with a keynote address where these software updates are previewed, so mark June 3 as the day to find out all about what improvements will come to your Apple devices later this year. From Apple's press release:

"WWDC is Apple’s biggest event of the year. It brings thousands of the most creative and dedicated developers from around the world together with over a thousand Apple engineers to learn about our latest platform innovations and to connect as a community,” said Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “Our developers are incredibly passionate about creating the next generation of mind-blowing experiences for the world through apps. We can’t wait to get together with them and share what’s next.”

The keynote is usually live-streamed around the world, but any developers interested in attending the full conference in person can apply for a ticket. Winners of the ticket lottery are chosen randomly, but all submissions must be in by March 20th.

Students and STEM organization members can apply for WWDC scholarships by submitting a Swift playground that demonstrates their creativity. Scholarship applicants must have submissions in by March 24th, and will be notified of their status by April 15th.


Connected, Episode 234: Photo Manage Spotify Out of Existence

Stephen introduces his co-hosts to a groundbreaking iPad drawing application, Federico starts a new mini-series and Myke buries the lede concerning Spotify.

On this week's episode of Connected, we started a new mini-series about improvements we'd like to see in Apple services, starting with Apple Music. You can listen here.

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