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LookUp 7 Debuts Widgets on iPhone and iPad Alongside Powerful New watchOS 7 App

LookUp’s new widgets and watchOS app.

LookUp’s new widgets and watchOS app.

Widgets in iOS and iPadOS 14 are here and can be saved to your iPhone or iPad Home screen. A lot of third-party app updates will be trickling out in the days and weeks ahead with support for their own custom widgets, vying for your limited Home screen space.

If you’re interested in expanding your vocabulary, a word of the day widget seems like a perfect fit for the Home screen where you can glance at it throughout the day. That’s exactly what LookUp 7 provides, alongside widgets for running quizzes and opening your word collections. The dictionary app has also upgraded its watchOS component in a big way, offering new functionality that was previously limited to the full iOS version.

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LookUp 6 Review: The Biggest Update Yet for the Best Dictionary App

The average life cycle of an app typically consists of two phases: the app’s early days often bring a host of significant updates as it strives toward feature maturity; however, once that level of maturity is achieved, the updates become more iterative and unsurprising, largely aimed at keeping pace with new OS technologies. LookUp 6 defies that normal pattern. The sixth major version of the excellent iOS dictionary app weds two important themes: adopting all the relevant functionality enabled by Apple’s latest OS releases, while simultaneously adding substantial features like quizzes, translation, full navigation via keyboard, and more. Despite how modern and feature-rich LookUp already was, version 6 sets the app on even stronger footing at the dawn of Apple’s latest software releases.

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LookUp 5 Teaches Siri the Word of the Day and More via Shortcuts

We all know that it’s important to regularly learn new things, but often the busyness of life crowds out that learning and we settle into routines that make learning unnecessary. Fortunately, one of the things made possible by iOS 12 and the new Shortcuts app is that you can create your own custom “routines” of sorts with the help of Siri, and integrate daily learning into those routines.

In that vein, the excellent dictionary app LookUp was updated this week to version 5, which takes advantage of Siri shortcuts in iOS 12 to offer access to the word of the day via Siri. The update also brings a new Collections feature, additional shortcut options, and more.

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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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LookUp Review: The Modern Dictionary

When considering a traditional dictionary, the words “fast” and “beautiful” don’t come to mind; even our digital dictionaries, sometimes coming in the form of iOS’ Look Up feature when highlighting a word, don’t do a great job of looking good, providing all the relevant information, and appearing in enough time to make it worth the process.

With LookUp, I’ve found things to be different – it’s a dictionary app built on convenience, design, and lots of information.

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watchOS 9: The MacStories Review

As we enter the ninth iteration of watchOS, I must admit that I sometimes find myself looking back wistfully on the computer watch that the Apple Watch once was. My inner tech nerd misses the wild, blind shots at digital connection and interface design which we were gifted by an Apple that had not yet figured out what the mass market wanted from this device.

In many ways, the early days of the Apple Watch feel like echoes from a bygone era of Apple; an era in which it was more willing to throw things at the wall just to see what stuck. This is, after all, the company which brought us the buttonless iPod shuffle, the hockey puck mouse, brushed metal, the tape-recorder Podcast app, and so much more. We tend to call it Apple’s sense of “whimsy”, and early watchOS had plenty of it.

Time Traveling in watchOS 2.

Time Traveling in watchOS 2.

In watchOS 2, Apple shipped a feature called Time Travel where you could spin the Digital Crown to “travel backwards and forwards in time”. Complications would move alongside the watch hands to reflect their past or predicted future values. Time Travel was demoted to a setting in watchOS 3, and quietly removed entirely some time later.

There was also the concept of Glances beginning all the way back in watchOS 1. Glances were single-page app interfaces accessible by swiping up from the watch face, then swiping side-to-side to switch between them. Third-party apps could create these, and the watch supported up to 20 of them. Glances were also canned in watchOS 3. They were replaced by the Dock, which never quite managed to capture the same energy.

For years, Apple seemed particularly interested in the potential of the Apple Watch to be a core hub for personal communication. Until watchOS 3, the hardware side button on the device was dedicated to opening the Friends interface. When interacting with your friends, you could send giant animated emojis — perhaps a very early precursor to the Memoji that we have today. And of course, no one could forget Digital Touch. Who among us did not feel more connected to our loved ones when tapping out pings and drawing shapes on their wrists1?

The Friends interface in watchOS 2.

The Friends interface in watchOS 2.

What leaves me feeling so conflicted is that, ultimately, all of the above features were pretty bad. No one used the Friends interface, Time Travel wasn’t particularly useful, third-party Glances were kneecapped by their lack of interactivity, and communicating from an Apple Watch has always just been way more work than pulling out your iPhone. Apple was right to kill all of these features in their time, but I still can’t stop missing the days when my Apple Watch was searching for more variety in purpose than it exists with today.

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  1. I imagine Digital Touch is unfazed by my mockery; likely too busy feeling satisfied that it is the only one of the features described above which has (somehow) endured into modern iterations of watchOS. ↩︎

The Club MacStories and AppStories Expansion: One Year Later

One year ago tomorrow, we introduced the MacStories audience to all-new versions of Club MacStories and AppStories. Club MacStories+, Club Premier, and AppStories+, were the culmination of months of work on ideas that we’d been considering for years and represent the first step in offering MacStories readers and listeners a tightly integrated experience across everything we do. There’s more to come, but to mark the first year on this journey, we wanted to take a quick look at how the Club and AppStories have evolved in that time and announce what we’re doing to celebrate this week.

Our Discord Community

Our Discord community, which is part of both a Club MacStories+ and Club Premier membership, has become a pillar of the Club. It’s a dynamic community rich with terrific recommendations for apps, hardware, automations, and more.

However, the Club Discord community is more than a resource for tips and tricks. It’s where members share their passion for all sorts of media, photography, development, their pets, and more. The Discord server is also where we regularly gather for community Town Halls, which are live audio events hosted by the MacStories team, often with special guests from the community, covering Apple events, WWDC, Automation April, and other events.

Discord is the home of Beta Beat, a series of channels where we invite developers to share their upcoming apps with members who provide feedback. So far, Beta Beat has included apps like LookUp, Play, Timery, MusicBox, and Runestone.

Our periodic bookclub-style AV Club events happen on the Discord server too. We collectively pick and enjoy a book, TV show, movie, or other media and then discuss it during a special Town Hall. We’ve even got a special Discord bot for giveaways that we’ve done for events like Automation April.

Speaking of which, Discord played a big role during Automation April, one of two new special events we debuted in 2022. Participants shared their shortcuts in discord, traded tips, and attended Town Halls dedicated to the event. Participants and winners received special Discord roles too. The community played a big role in the success of the event, which is something we plan to expand to our other MacStories events.

Most important of all, though, are the people who make up the Discord community. We have heard repeatedly from members who join our Discord server about how much they enjoy the civil, respectful conversations with other members. We’re very fortunate to have such a great group of people along for the ride. Of course, we’re also incredibly grateful to our moderators, who have provided valuable feedback to us along the way.

Automation Academy and The Macintosh Desktop Experience

The expansion of the Club marked the debut of two Club MacStories+ and Club Premier-exclusive columns. Automation Academy is Federico’s column where he breaks down Shortcuts actions and techniques to help Club members get more from Apple’s automation system. So far, he’s covered topics from Reminders and Files actions to ways to optimize your shortcuts for the Mac. The column is where Federico debuted his shortcut that creates a podcast feed from articles stored in Matter too.

The Macintosh Desktop Experience is my modern spin on Apple’s oldest OS. In the past year, I’ve written about ways to combine AppleScript, Shortcuts, and third-party automation tools to create advanced automations, covered hardware like the Loupedeck Live, explored modern app launchers such as Raycast, and explained how I’m using Universal Control to incorporate the iPad Pro into my Mac setup.

MacStories Weekly, the Monthly Log, and Discounts

Of course, we’ve also continued to publish our MacStories Weekly and Monthly Log newsletters, which have been greatly enhanced by Calliope, the web app and technologies assembled by Alex Guyot that underly everything we do with the Club and AppStories. Calliope allows all Club members to read the newsletters on the web in a format that’s far better than Mailchimp’s web versions of newsletters and manage their Club account.

Explore allows Club MacStories+ and Club Premier members to filter Club stories based on a long list of metadata.

Explore allows Club MacStories+ and Club Premier members to filter Club stories based on a long list of metadata.

Plus, Club MacStories+ and Club Premier members can search and filter seven years of newsletter content by keyword and an extensive set of predefined parameters. Better yet, Explore’s filtered results can be turned into individualized RSS feeds, allowing members to build a personalized Club MacStories experience.

Explore results can be turned into RSS feeds.

Explore results can be turned into RSS feeds.

The new Club website is also where Club MacStories+ and Club Premier members will find a rotating list of deeply discounted apps and services, including CleanShot X, Keyboard Maestro, Typefully, and Hook.

AppStories+

Last but not least, we launched AppStories+ one year ago, which is our extended, ad-free version of the show that is published a day early for subscribers in high bitrate audio. AppStories+ is available as a standalone subscription from us or via Apple Podcasts, but the show is best experienced as part of a Club Premier plan. Not only is that the most economical way to enjoy everything we offer at MacStories at just $2/month more than the standalone Club MacStories+ membership that’s included as part of Club Premier, but the show is also recorded live in the Club MacStories+ Discord community for special events like Apple events and WWDC as an added perk for Club members.

After over a year of recording AppStories+, there’s a big back catalog of bonus content, too, with over 70 extended episodes published since May 2021. In total AppStories+ subscribers and Club Premier members have access to more than 14 hours of bonus content on a wide range of topics.

What’s Next

To kick off year two of our expanded offerings, we have a few special things in store for Club members this week. The first is a special Town Hall in the Club MacStories+ Discord. Federico, Alex, and I will be on hand to talk about the Club and AppStories+ and will answer member questions. Mark your calendars to listen in live at 4:30 PM Eastern on August 23rd. We’ll release the audio of the Town Hall later in the Town Hall podcast feed too.

We’re also welcoming Vidit Bhargava’s app LookUp back to Beta Beat, so users can test what Vidit is doing with Lock Screen widgets.

Finally, we’ve got a special digital download gift for all Club members, which will be announced in Friday’s issue of MacStories Weekly.

Thank You

Thanks to all of you who subscribe to Club MacStories and AppStories+ and who read MacStories. The direct support of readers and listeners has been critical to MacStories’ growth for years now, and the expansion we launched last year is the fuel that will drive the next generation of MacStories forward.

We have lots of new ideas in the pipeline for the Club and AppStories for the coming year that we can’t wait to share with you, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. It’s too early to announce anything, but we’ve been clear from the start that last summer’s expansion of the Club and AppStories was part of a much longer-term project. We’ve spent the past year testing and fine-tuning the technical underpinnings of what we built last year, and it’s ready to take on more. So, stay tuned for the next chapter of MacStories.


iOS and iPadOS 16: The MacStories Overview

iPadOS 16.

iPadOS 16.

At its keynote held earlier today online and, for a limited audience of developers and media, in Cupertino, Apple unveiled the next major versions of iOS and iPadOS: iOS 16 and iPadOS 16. Both OSes will be released for free this fall, with developer betas available today and a public beta to follow next month.

After last year’s iOS and iPadOS 15, which were largely quality-of-life updates that mostly focused on improving the foundation set with iOS 14, Apple is back this year with a round of sweeping features for iPhone and iPad that are poised to fundamentally alter how we interact with our devices. From an all-new Lock Screen experience with support for widgets and personalization and a more powerful Focus mode to desktop-class features in apps for iPad and, yes, a brand new multitasking mode called Stage Manager, both iOS and iPadOS 16 are substantial updates that will rethink key interactions for average and power users alike.

As always, you can expect in-depth coverage from me and the rest of the MacStories team over the coming weeks, throughout the summer, and, of course, when the OSes will launch to the public later this year. But in the meantime, let’s dive in and take a quick look at what’s coming.

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