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iOS 13: The MacStories Overview

iOS 13 is the latest major version of Apple’s mobile software platform, unveiled earlier today during the company’s WWDC keynote. Contrasting with last year’s iOS 12, which focused largely on performance improvements and brought fewer new features than usual, iOS 13 promises to continue the theme of strong performance while also adding a wide array of enhancements across the board. From a systemwide dark mode, updates to Shortcuts, a long-awaited redesign for Reminders, enhancements to an unprecedented number of system apps, and much more, there is a lot to take in here.

What’s not included in iOS 13 is iPad-specific updates, but that’s because Apple has split off the iPad’s version of iOS into its own dedicated software platform: iPadOS, which you can read our complete overview of here.

As for iOS 13, despite not including the variety of iPad improvements Apple has built, it remains a substantial release meant to take the mobile computing experience to a whole new level. Let’s dive in.

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iOS 12: The MacStories Review

After years of unabated visual and functional changes, iOS 12 is Apple’s opportunity to regroup and reassess the foundation before the next big step – with one notable exception.

We left last year’s iOS 11 update with a palpable tension between two platforms.

On one hand, following a year of minor changes to the iPad and a hardware refresh that came in later than some expected, Apple once again devoted plenty of attention to reimagining the tablet’s role in the world of modern computing. iPad updates in iOS 11, despite having their fair share of critics, largely did not disappoint. On the other hand, the iPhone – by and large still Apple’s crown jewel – had to play second fiddle to a platform that was more in need of a strong, coherent message. And so despite blessing the iPhone with the same features of its larger multitouch cousin (at least most of them), Apple seemed content ceding the smartphone’s spotlight to the iPad. There was a healthy array of new functionalities for both, but iOS 11’s “Monumental leap for iPad” tagline pretty much told the whole story.

iOS 12, available today for the same range of devices that supported iOS 11, feels like a reaction to changes that have occurred around Apple and consumer technology over the past year.

While iOS 11 may go down in Apple software history as the touchstone of the iPad’s maturity, it will also be remembered as one of the company’s most taxing releases for its users. You don’t have to look far into the iOS 11 cycle for headlines lamenting its poor stability on older hardware, plethora of design inconsistencies (which were noted time and time again), and general sense of sluggishness – issues that may have contributed to a slower adoption rate than 2016’s iOS 10.

There were debacles in Apple’s PR and marketing approach as well: performance problems with battery and power management were handled poorly during a key time of the year, culminating with a year-long discounted battery replacement program and a somewhat rushed battery-related addition to iOS’ Settings. Then, of course, there was the much derided iPhone X ad clearly showing one of the many reported iOS bugs on TV, which had to be fixed with an updated commercial before the actual software was fixed. No matter how you slice it, it’s been a rough few months for Apple in the realm of public perception of its software.

At the same time, toward the beginning of 2018, technology observers witnessed the rise of Time Well Spent – an organization and, perhaps more broadly, a public movement demanding that tech companies prioritize enabling healthier relationships with mobile devices. The principles underlying Time Well Spent, from battling smartphone addiction and notification overload to including superior parental controls in mobile OSes, may have originated as a natural consequence of breakneck technological progress; as some argue, they may also be a byproduct of global socioeconomic and political events. Time Well Spent’s ideas found fertile soil in Silicon Valley: earlier this year, Facebook made key changes to its news feed to improve how users spend time on the social network; Apple made a rare commitment to better parental features in a future version of iOS; Google went all out and turned digital well-being into a suite of system features for Android.

It’s important to understand the context in which iOS 12 is launching today, for events of the past year may have directly shaped Apple’s vision for this update.

With iOS 12, Apple wants to rectify iOS’ performance woes, proving to their customers that iOS updates should never induce digital regret. Perhaps more notably though, iOS 12 doesn’t have a single consumer feature that encapsulates this release – like Messages might have been for iOS 10 or the iPad for iOS 11. Instead, iOS 12 is a constellation of enhancements revolving around the overarching theme of time. Apple in 2018 needs more time for whatever the next big step of iOS may be; they want iOS users to understand how much time they’re spending on their devices; and they want to help users spend less time managing certain system features. Also, funnily enough, saving time is at the core (and in the very name) of iOS 12’s most exciting new feature: Shortcuts.

iOS 12 isn’t Apple’s Snow Leopard release: its system changes and updated apps wouldn’t justify a “No New Features” slide. However, for the first time in years, it feels as if the company is happy to let its foot off the gas a little and listen to users more.

Will the plan work?

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    iOS 12 Beta: Our Favorite Tidbits and Hidden Features (So Far)

    Apple released the first public beta of iOS 12 today, allowing non-developer testers to check out the new features and improvements in the next major version of iOS, set to be released sometime in the fall. While it’s always good practice to avoid installing a beta OS on your primary devices, the public beta seed typically ensures a minimum level of stability and functionality that isn’t always guaranteed with the first developer builds seeded at WWDC. If you’re interested in installing the public beta of iOS 12, you can find more details here.

    We covered the big themes of iOS 12 and its most important functionalities in our original overview earlier this month. In this article, I want to focus on something different: showcasing my favorite small features and tidbits that I’ve come across in iOS 12 since installing the beta on both my iPhone X and iPad Pro a few weeks ago. While these features may change (or be removed altogether) between today and iOS 12’s final public release, they should give you an idea of the nice and hidden details you can expect from the latest iOS 12 beta. Let’s take a look.

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    Bear 1.4 Brings Tag and Note Autocomplete, True Black Theme for iPhone X, and More

    As I noted last month in my iPad Diaries column, I’ve started using Bear in addition to Apple Notes to research articles in Markdown and later convert them to drafts in Ulysses. I was impressed with Shiny Frog’s work on iOS 11 and how they brought advanced drag and drop to Bear, but I’m even more positively surprised by the improvements to tagging they released today as part of Bear’s 1.4 update.

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    Apple Releases iOS 11.2 with Apple Pay for iMessage, Fix for Notification Bug, and More

    Today in an unusual weekend launch, Apple released iOS 11.2 to the public. The hallmark feature for US users is Apple Pay for iMessage, but that service reportedly won’t go live until at least Monday. The reason the update launched today is that current versions of iOS contains a bug that may crash springboard on December 2nd – as users all over the world are now discovering – and 11.2 contains the fix for that bug.

    Apple has published a support article where they urge users encountering the issue to follow steps to disable notifications in order to stop the crashes, then update to iOS 11.2 before turning notifications back on.

    Besides the bug fix, iOS 11.2 includes the aforementioned Apple Pay for iMessage for US users, new wallpaper options for iPhone X users, and a handful of other minor improvements.

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    iOS 11: The MacStories Review

    For the second time in three years, the iPad isn’t following in the iPhone’s footsteps. With iOS 11, the iPad is going in its own direction – this time, with no cliffhanger.

    iOS 9 marked a significant milestone for the iPad platform. In contrast with previous iPhone interface adaptations, iOS 9 did away with longstanding preconceptions and allowed the iPad to reach beyond the comfort of familiarity with the iPhone’s experience.

    Shedding the vestiges of intrinsic iPhone OS notions – namely, single-tasking through one app at a time – the combination of more capable hardware with features such as Split View and Picture in Picture inaugurated a new beginning for the iPad’s post-PC endeavors. iOS 9 reset the iPad’s expectations and potential, providing millions of disenchanted users with the modern, powerful PC replacement they’d been envisioning since 2010.

    But in many ways, iOS 9 wasn’t enough. The productivity enhancements that set the iPad on a new course felt, in hindsight, like first attempts at reviving its software and app ecosystem. Key aspects of iOS 9 were evidently unfinished, possibly hinting at future optimizations and fixes.

    That future didn’t arrive with last year’s iOS 10, which only added to the sense of wondering when the iPad’s next shoe would drop. Amidst consistently declining unit sales and following another bland (at least iPad-wise) mid-cycle update to iOS, the legacy of iOS 9 gradually shifted from a first step packed with promise to a bittersweet one-off effort to infuse new life into the iPad.

    With iOS 11, Apple’s iPad vision feels resolute again. Multitasking is blending with multitouch, giving drag and drop a new purpose; the Mac’s best features – from file management to the dock – have been rethought, simplified, and extended specifically for iOS. The iPad’s mission is to reimagine the very concept of a portable computer by empowering a new generation of users to do their best work wherever they are, whenever they want.

    If anything, iOS 9 was merely the iPad’s overture.

    The iPad, however, is only one part of the broader iOS story, which has been – and most likely always will be – characterized by the iPhone’s evolution and impact on our society.

    From that standpoint, not only did iOS 10 deliver with upgrades to core iPhone apps such as Photos, Messages, Music, and Maps – it showed how Apple was judiciously planting the seeds for technologies and human interface guidelines that are blossoming in iOS 11. The two-pronged approach of iOS 10 – updates to consumer apps along with the first signs of native iOS machine learning – resulted in an iPhone update that felt impactful without the need for a ground-up redesign.

    For the most part, iOS 11 follows the playbook of last year. The transition to a new design language is still in flux, with a progressive remodeling of iOS 7’s divisive aesthetic and the adoption of friendly UI elements that can guide users across the system. iOS 11’s most notable redesigns, including the App Store and Control Center, lay new foundations and fix what didn’t work before. Refinements – in some cases, reversals of ideas that didn’t pan out – are one of iOS 11’s overarching themes.

    iOS 11 also reaps the rewards of investments Apple made in iOS 10 and 2016’s iPhone line. From the upcoming wave of augmented reality apps to deeper computational photography and new responsibilities for iCloud, iOS 11 epitomizes – with remarkable accomplishments and a few missteps along the way – the focus and priorities of the modern Apple.

    But perhaps more importantly, unlike iOS 10, iOS 11 presents a cohesive narrative for both the iPad and iPhone. A story where, for the first time in years, the iPad is informing some of the design principles and features of the iPhone’s software. Even from different angles, and each with its own past struggles, both acts in iOS 11 end up asking the same question:

    Where does the modern computer go next?

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      The TV App as a Supporting Actor

      Joe Steel makes a good point in his look at this week’s Apple TV announcements:

      Why is TV the app an app and not the Home screen on the device? It’s obviously modeled after the same ideas that go into other streaming devices that expose content rather than app icons, so why is this a siloed launcher I have to navigate into and out of? Why is this bolted on to the bizarre springboard-like interface of tvOS when it reproduces so much of it?

      You could argue that people want to have access to apps that are not for movies or TV shows, but I would suggest that that probably occurs less often and would be satisfied by a button in the TV app that showed you the inane grid of application tiles if you wanted to get at something else.

      As I argued yesterday on Connected, I think the new TV app should be the main interface of tvOS – the first thing you see when you turn on the Apple TV. Not a grid of app icons (a vestige of the iPhone), but a collection of content you can watch next.

      It’s safe to assume that the majority of Apple TV owners turn on the device to watch something. But instead of being presented with a launch interface that highlights video content, tvOS focuses on icons. As someone who loves the simplicity of his Chromecast, and after having seen what Amazon is doing with the Fire TV’s Home screen, the tvOS Home screen looks genuinely dated and not built for a modern TV experience.

      I think Apple has almost figured this out – the TV app looks like the kind of simplification and content-first approach tvOS needs. But by keeping it a separate app, and by restricting it to US-only at launch, Apple is continuing to enforce the iPhone’s Home screen model on every device they make (except the Mac).

      That’s something the iPad, the Watch1, and the Apple TV all have in common – Home screen UIs lazily adapted from the iPhone. I wish Apple spent more time optimizing the Home screens of their devices for their different experiences.


      1. The Watch is doing slightly better than the other ones thanks to watchOS 3 and its Dock, but the odd honeycomb Home screen is still around, and it doesn’t make much sense on the device’s tiny screen. ↩︎

      Lessons Learned from the Demise of the Next Keyboard

      The Next Keyboard by Tiny Hearts made a big splash when it launched. Funded by a successful $65,000 Kickstarter campaign, it grabbed a lot of press, including from mainstream news outlets like CNBC. At it’s peak, the Next Keyboard made almost $20,000 in a single day, but like most apps, it rode a steep slope down after the initial spike.

      Tiny Hearts recently announced that it is discontinuing work on the Next Keyboard and pulling it from the App Store at the end of next week. Robleh Jama, the founder of Tiny Hearts, explores what went wrong:

      When we built Next Keyboard, we were amongst the first to experiment with Apple’s custom keyboard functionality. Unfortunately all third-party iOS keyboards — including Next Keyboard — were never truly stable because of Apple’s API. There’s a surprisingly poor user experience around using third-party keyboards (such as setting up a new keyboard). Even Google’s Keyboard, Gboard, has issues today, a full two years after third-party keyboards were announced.

      It’s hard to turn any app into a sustainable business, but the Next Keyboard faced greater challenges than most. Third-party keyboards are hard to build, limitations in the Apple APIs mean they cannot match the system keyboard feature-for-feature, and big companies like Google and Microsoft entered the market shortly after the Next Keyboard was launched.

      The experience was a costly and disappointing one for Tiny Hearts, but not without value. As Jama explains:

      Even though it was an expensive lesson, things worked out. There are things we wished would’ve turned out differently. We let our users down, and we don’t feel good about that. But we came out stronger and smarter for it, we’ve learned an unbelievable amount, and we will still bet on iOS, messaging and conversational interfaces. If you don’t play, you’ll never win. It’s been tough for us to swallow, but we paid for one of the most important lessons: making money with an app is risky.

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      iOS 10: The MacStories Review

      Sometimes, change is unexpected. More often than not, change sneaks in until it feels grand and inevitable. Gradually, and then suddenly. iOS users have lived through numerous tides of such changes over the past three years.

      iOS 7, introduced in 2013 as a profound redesign, was a statement from a company ready to let go of its best-selling OS’ legacy. It was time to move on. With iOS 8 a year later, Apple proved that it could open up to developers and trust them to extend core parts of iOS. In the process, a new programming language was born. And with last year’s iOS 9, Apple put the capstone on iOS 7’s design ethos with a typeface crafted in-house, and gave the iPad the attention it deserved.

      You wouldn’t have expected it from a device that barely accounted for 10% of the company’s revenues, but iOS 9 was, first and foremost, an iPad update. After years of neglect, Apple stood by its belief in the iPad as the future of computing and revitalized it with a good dose of multitasking. Gone was the long-held dogma of the iPad as a one-app-at-a-time deal; Slide Over and Split View – products of the patient work that went into size classes – brought a higher level of efficiency. Video, too, ended its tenure as a full-screen-only feature. Even external keyboards, once first-party accessories and then seemingly forgotten in the attic of the iPad’s broken promises, made a comeback.

      iOS 9 melded foundational, anticipated improvements with breakthrough feature additions. The obvious advent of Apple’s own typeface in contrast to radical iPad updates; the next logical step for web views and the surprising embrace of content-blocking Safari extensions. The message was clear: iOS is in constant evolution. It’s a machine sustained by change – however that may happen.

      It would have been reasonable to expect the tenth iteration of iOS to bring a dramatic refresh to the interface or a full Home screen makeover. It happened with another version 10 beforetwice. And considering last year’s iPad reboot, it would have been fair to imagine a continuation of that work in iOS 10, taking the iPad further than Split View.

      There’s very little of either in iOS 10, which is an iPhone release focused on people – consumers and their iPhone lifestyles; developers and a deeper trust bestowed on their apps. Like its predecessors, iOS 10 treads the line of surprising new features – some of which may appear unforeseen and reactionary – and improvements to existing functionalities.

      Even without a clean slate, and with a release cycle that may begin to split across platforms, iOS 10 packs deep changes and hundreds of subtle refinements. The final product is a major leap forward from iOS 9 – at least for iPhone users.

      At the same time, iOS 10 is more than a collection of new features. It’s the epitome of Apple’s approach to web services and AI, messaging as a platform, virtual assistants, and the connected home. And as a cornucopia of big themes rather than trivial app updates, iOS 10 shows another side of Apple’s strategy:

      Sometimes, change is necessary.

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