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Introducing the All-New Club MacStories: New Tiers for More Original Content, Discord Community, Search and Custom RSS, and Our New ‘Calliope’ Web App

Welcome to the new Club MacStories.

Welcome to the new Club MacStories.

TL;DR: Today, we’re announcing the all-new Club MacStories featuring two additional tiers: Club MacStories+ and Club Premier. The new plans offer extra content, a brand new, powerful web app to read Club articles on the web with advanced search and RSS features, exclusive discounts, and a new Discord community.

Club Premier is the ultimate plan that includes all of Club MacStories, Club MacStories+, and the new extended, ad-free AppStories+ podcast in a single, $12/month package. It is the best value and the easiest way to get access to everything we do. It is, effectively, the MacStories all-access pass.

You can find out more on our new Plans page and sign up or upgrade there. Nothing is changing for the regular Club MacStories tier; in fact, we’re giving existing members access to our new web app at club.macstories.net as well. Existing Club members can choose to upgrade their existing accounts to the new tiers.

Today, we’re launching the future of Club MacStories and MacStories itself. Read on for the full announcement below.

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macOS Monterey First Impressions: The Start of a New Era

Today Apple released the first public beta of macOS Monterey after just over three weeks of developer testing. The public beta is a chance for anyone who doesn’t have a developer account to preview the new features coming to the Mac’s OS this fall.

I’ve been using Monterey since the first developer beta was released during WWDC and switched to it full-time about a week ago when developer beta 2 was released. I’ll have a lot more to say about Monterey this fall when it’s officially released. However, having already spent a substantial amount of time using the OS for my everyday work, I wanted to share my first impressions with readers who are thinking about trying it too.

I’m sure there are a lot of MacStories readers eager to install the Monterey beta. It’s a good year to do that too. I haven’t run into any show-stopping bugs, and this year’s beta is far more approachable than the Catalina or Big Sur betas were. Those updates included fundamental shifts in the way the OS worked that made the update uncomfortable for some users. There’s some of that in Monterey, but less than in the past couple of years. Instead, Monterey introduces a collection of enhancements to existing system apps and new cross-system feature integrations that make the update useful immediately. Coupled with the debut of Shortcuts on the Mac, there’s a lot in this year’s beta that I’m sure MacStories readers will enjoy testing.

To Apple’s credit, much of Monterey feels like a natural extension of the OS’s existing features and system apps, even in the early betas. Focus, Quick Note, Live Text, and AirPlay to Mac all fit into that category, feeling right at home with the rest of the OS. However, that’s not universally true. I think Apple has overshot its target with Safari in some respects, which is disappointing in no small measure because there are also meaningful innovations coming to the browser this fall that have already been useful in my daily web browsing.

Of course, I’m also very excited about Shortcuts for Mac. If you’ve used the automation app on the iPhone or iPad and have a Mac, I don’t know how you couldn’t be eager to try the app. If you rely on Shortcuts as I do, Monterey is a very big deal that, even early in the beta cycle, delivers on the promise of a unified vision of automation across Apple platforms.

Many of my existing shortcuts worked immediately on the Mac.

Many of my existing shortcuts worked immediately on the Mac.

The Shortcuts team has done a remarkable job of ensuring that many of my everyday shortcuts already work without needing me to do anything. Combined with deep integration of existing scripting systems, Monterey backs up the statement made onstage at WWDC that Shortcuts is the future of automation on the Mac. There’s still work to be done before Shortcuts is as powerful as other Mac automation solutions, but the app is off to an excellent start.

Before diving into what it’s been like to work full-time with Monterey, it’s worth stepping back and considering where macOS has come from over the past few years. In many ways, Monterey feels like the third act of a story that’s played out since the introduction of Catalina. That update was a little unsettling. It was clear macOS was heading in a new direction, but the destination was unclear.

With the introduction of M1 Macs, improvements to Mac Catalyst, and Big Sur’s design changes, macOS’s destination began to come into focus. The OS was being aligned more closely with Apple’s other OSes through a combination of design and underlying technologies to create a continuum that respects device differences but unifies user experience across the entire lineup.

I don’t think I’d go so far as to declare Monterey the conclusion of macOS’s three-act drama. There are elements of tying up the loose ends left over from the prior two releases of the OS. However, we’re also seeing the first tangible examples of where the Apple silicon era will take the Mac even as the company continues to migrate the machines to its own SoCs.

One thing’s for certain, though: the sometimes awkward evolution of macOS over these past few years and the adjustments required to move the Mac and iPad into closer alignment are bearing fruit. For the first time in memory, Apple is releasing features across all of its platforms at once. The days of waiting for features that start on one platform to make their way to others seem to be coming to an end. That’s terrific news for users who will be able to move more freely between platforms without a steep learning curve, eliminating a lot of the frustration of the past.

With that, let’s dig into some of the details that I think will have an immediate impact on readers who download the macOS Monterey public beta.

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MacStories Developer Debrief: WWDC 2021

We kicked off the MacStories Summer OS Preview Series on AppStories a couple of weeks ago with interviews of four 2021 Apple Design Award winners. We’ll also publish a series of in-depth first-looks at what users can expect this fall from iOS and iPadOS 15, macOS Monterey, and watchOS 8. We’ll also be interviewing developers on AppStories, exploring the technical details that we expect will have the biggest impact on upcoming app updates and releases. You can follow along with the series through our dedicated hub or subscribe to its RSS feed.

Today, we wanted to continue the conversations that began with the AppStories ADA interviews by talking to seven more developers about a wide range of topics. Now that the initial excitement has passed and the dust settled from WWDC, we wanted to hear more from the developers who will be using Apple’s latest technologies to bring readers new apps and innovative updates to readers this fall.

This year, we spoke to:

The following is a collection of the responses from each of the developers I interviewed on a wide range of topics from new frameworks and APIs to Shortcuts on the Mac, the ability to publish apps built on the iPad, SharePlay, SwiftUI, Swift concurrency, and more. Thanks so much to everyone for sharing their insights on these topics with MacStories readers. We greatly appreciate everyone taking time out of their busy post-WWDC schedules to participate.

I received fantastic, thoughtful responses from all of the developers I interviewed, which resulted in more material than I could use for this story. However, we’ll be featuring unabridged versions of the interviews in the next two issues of MacStories Weekly. It’s an excellent way to get an even deeper sense of the ramifications of this year’s WWDC announcements. If you’re not already a member, you can learn more at club.macstories.net or sign up below.

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Vidit Bhargava’s Design Concept for a Menu Bar and Multitasking on iPadOS

Vidit Bhargava, the developer behind the excellent dictionary app LookUp, has published a compelling design concept on Pixel Posts for bringing a menu bar to the iPad and modifying how its multitasking works.

Complex apps like Adobe Illustrator hide functionality behind multiple layers of obscure icons using floating palettes that can be hard to learn. As Bhargava explains:

They are powerful utility apps that some how [sic] struggle with providing a simple, easy to use and understand navigation for their actions. Actions are often hidden behind modes, strips of complicated icons or simply not available for the lack of space.

As a result, there’s no single location you can go to find all of the functionality an iPad app offers.

Bhargava makes a good case for a menu system on the iPad, using what he calls an Extended Status Bar that includes an app’s menu and a customizable control tray to access OS actions like Spotlight search and shortcuts. In addition to the Extended Status Bar, Bhargava imagines the App Library coming to the dock and the addition of floating windows for apps like Calculator.

I’m not convinced that Apple would adopt a system so similar to macOS, but I think Bhargava’s on the right track. As more complex apps are brought to the iPad, the lack of a universal way to organize their features means users have to learn a new system for every app, which hinders pro app adoption. If Apple brought Final Cut Pro or Xcode to the iPad, I think its engineers would quickly feel the same pain points with which other developers of pro apps are already grappling.

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macOS Big Sur: Widget Roundup

Developer adoption of new macOS features is often a little slower than it is on iOS and iPadOS. However, that hasn’t been the case with Big Sur widgets. Apple wisely took the same SwiftUI-based system used for creating widgets on the iPhone and iPad and implemented it on the Mac, providing a relatively simple approach for developers to bring their existing widgets to the Mac. The result has been an immediate explosion of widget options for Mac users.

Over the course of the summer and fall, I tried several different widgets as I ran the Big Sur betas. A few of those widgets — which have been in development the longest and were highlighted in my Big Sur review — remain some of my favorites and are recapped below. However, many more terrific widgets have been released since and deserve consideration as well, so let’s dig in.

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macOS Big Sur: The MacStories Review

Big Sur is a big deal. The OS picks up where Catalina left off, further rationalizing Apple’s product lineup through design, new ways to bring apps to the Mac, and updates to existing system apps. The approach realigns functionality across Apple’s platforms after years of divergence from their common foundation: Mac OS X. The result is an OS that walks a perilous line between breaking with the past and honoring it, acknowledging the ways computing has changed while aiming for a bold future.

macOS, which OS X has been called since 2016, is a mature operating system, so more often than not its annual updates are incremental affairs that don’t turn many heads. Big Sur is different. It’s an update that promises a future that’s connected to its past yet acknowledges today’s mobile-first computing landscape and harmonizing user experiences across devices.

Big Sur also clarifies Apple’s Mac strategy, the contours of which began to emerge with Catalina. It’s a vision of a continuum of computing devices that offer a consistent, familiar environment no matter which you choose while remaining true to what makes them unique. In practical terms, that means a carefully coordinated design language and a greater emphasis on feature parity across OSes. Conceptually, it’s also an opportunity for macOS to shed the perception that it’s a legacy OS overshadowed by iOS and reclaim a meaningful place in Apple’s lineup for years to come.

Together, the changes to macOS set the table for Apple’s M1 Macs, the next big step in the Mac’s modernization, and easily earn Big Sur its designation of version 11.0.

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iOS and iPadOS 14: The MacStories Review

Even with (unsurprisingly) smaller releases, Apple is pushing forward with bold ideas across all platforms.

How do you prepare a major new version of an operating system that now spans two separate platforms, which will be installed on millions of devices within a few hours of its release, amid a global pandemic? If you’re Apple, the answer is fairly straightforward: you mitigate the crisis by focusing on a narrower set of features, perhaps prioritizing bug fixes and stability improvements, but then you just have to do the work.

In my time as an iOS (then iOS and iPadOS) reviewer, I never thought I’d have to evaluate an OS update with the social and political backdrop of iOS 14. Let’s face it: when the COVID-19 outbreak started fundamentally changing our lives earlier this year, at some point many of us – including yours truly – thought that, among more serious and severe repercussions, our tiny corner of the Internet would see no new phones, OS updates, videogame consoles, or other events over the course of 2020. Or that, at the very least, changes in hardware and software would be so minor, they’d barely register in the grand scheme of things as tech companies and their employees were – rightfully so – adjusting to a new, work-from-home, socially distant life. Yet here we are, over a year after the debut of iOS and iPadOS 13, with brand new versions of both operating systems that were announced, as per tradition, at WWDC a few months ago. Remove all surrounding context, and you wouldn’t guess anything has changed from 2019.

Context is, however, key to understanding Apple’s background and goals with iOS and iPadOS 14, in a couple notable ways.

First, I think it’s safe to assume slowing down to reassess the state of the platform and focus on quality-of-life enhancements and performance gains would have worked out in Apple’s favor regardless of the pandemic. In last year’s review, I noted how the first version of iOS 13.0 launching to the public wasn’t “as polished or stable as the first version of iOS 12”; in a somewhat unpredictable twist of events, managing the iOS 13 release narrative only got more challenging for Apple after launch.

Late in the beta cycle last year, the company announced certain iOS 13 features – including automations in Shortcuts and ETA sharing in Maps – would be delayed until iOS 13.1, originally scheduled for September 30th. Following widespread criticism about bugs, various visual glitches, and stability issues in iOS 13.0, Apple moved up the release of iOS 13.1 and iPadOS (which never saw a proper 13.0 public release) by a week. Despite the release of a substantial .1 update, the company still had to ship two additional patches (13.1.1 and 13.1.2) before the end of September. Before the end of 2019, all while the general public was lamenting the poor state of iOS 13’s performance (just Google “iOS 13 buggy”, and you’ll get the idea), Apple went on to ship a total of eight software updates to iOS 13 (compared to iOS 12’s four updates before the end of 2018). The record pace, plus the mysterious removal of features that were originally announced at WWDC ‘19, suggested something had gone awry in the late stages of iOS 13’s development; it wasn’t long before a report covered Apple’s plans to overhaul its software testing methodology for iOS 14 and 2020. The pandemic may have forced Apple to scale back some functionalities and deeper design changes this year, but it’s likely that a decision had been made long before lockdowns and work-from-home orders.

Second, context is necessary because despite the pandemic and rocky rollout of iOS 13 and its many updates, Apple was still able to infuse iOS and iPadOS 14 with fresh, bold ideas that are tracing a path for both platforms to follow over the next few years.

On the surface, iOS 14 will be widely regarded as the update that brought a redesigned Home Screen and a plethora of useful quality-of-life additions to the iPhone. For the first time since the iPhone’s inception, Apple is moving past the grid of icons and letting users freely place data-rich, customizable widgets on the Home Screen – a major course correction that has opened the floodgates for new categories of utilities on the App Store. In addition to the upgraded Home Screen, iOS 14 also offers welcome improvements to long-standing limitations: phone calls can now come in as unobtrusive banners; Messages borrows some of WhatsApp’s best features and now lets you reply to specific messages as well as mention users; Siri doesn’t take over the entire screen anymore. There are hundreds of smaller additions to the system and built-in apps in iOS 14, which suggests Apple spent a long time trying to understand what wasn’t working and what customers were requesting.

iOS and iPadOS 14 aren’t just reactionary updates to criticisms and feature requests though: upon further examination, both OSes reveal underlying threads that will shape the evolution of Apple’s platforms. With compact UI, the company is revisiting a principle introduced in iOS 7 – clarity and content first – with fresh eyes: the UI is receding and becoming more glanceable, but the elements that are left are as inviting to the touch as ever – quite the departure from Jony Ive’s overly minimalistic, typography-based approach. We see this trend everywhere in iOS 14, from phone calls and Siri to widgets, new toolbar menus, and Picture in Picture. Intents, the existing technology behind SiriKit, Shortcuts, and intelligent Siri suggestions, is also at the center of widget personalization. Intents already was one of Apple’s most important frameworks given its ties to Siri and on-device intelligence; iOS 14 proves we haven’t seen all the possible permutations and applications of Intents yet.

Then, of course, there’s iPad. In iPadOS 14, we see the logical continuation of pointer and trackpad support introduced earlier this year in iPadOS 13.4: now that users can control an iPad without ever touching the screen, Apple is advising third-party developers to move away from iPhone-inspired designs with apps that are truly made for iPad…and somewhat reminiscent of their macOS counterparts. We can see the results of this initiative in modernized system apps that take advantage of the iPad’s display with a sidebar, multiple columns, and deeper trackpad integration – new options that every iPad app developer could (and, according to Apple, should) consider going forward. Although some of the iPad’s oft-mentioned ongoing struggles remain unaddressed in iPadOS 14 (see: multitasking and window management), Apple is embracing the iPad’s nature as a modular computer this year, and they feel comfortable leaning into lessons learned with the Mac decades ago.

The context of 2020 is what makes iOS and iPadOS 14 so fascinating and, to a certain extent, fun to review. On one hand, we have two major OS updates that may or may not have been impacted by the global pandemic in their focus on fewer groundbreaking additions and more consistent improvements across built-in apps; on the other, just like any other year, we have a suite of overarching themes and potential implications to dissect.

But for all those users still pausing over that ‘Install’ button, pondering whether updating their most important communication and work-from-home devices is worth it, there’s only one consideration that matters:

Will this go any better than last year?

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    MacStories Unwind: Apple’s Watch and iPad Event, App Reviews, and Club MacStories 5th Anniversary

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    Sponsored by: Muse – Tool for Thought on iPad

    This week on MacStories Unwind:

    MacStories

    Club MacStories

    • MacStories Weekly
      * Giveaways
      * A sneak peek at tips from Federico’s upcoming iOS and iPadOS 14 review
      * A collection of apps with widgets
      * Thoughts on the new iPad Air
      * An interview with Aaron Pearce, the developer of HomeCam, HomeRun, and other HomeKit apps
      * Lots of app updates
    • Join Club MacStories

    AppStories

    Unwind

    • Federico’s Pick:
      • This week’s app reviews on MacStories
    • John’s Pick:
      • Super Mario All-Stars available as part of Nintendo Switch Online
        • Featuring:
          • Super Mario Bros.
          • Super Mario Bros., The Lost Levels
        • Lost Levels
        • Super Mario Bros. 2
        • Super Mario Bros. 3