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Installing tvOS Betas Over-the-Air from iOS with iCab and Dropbox

I was trying to update my two Apple TVs (a 4K model and a 4th generation one) to the latest tvOS 11.2.5 beta earlier today to test AirPlay 2 (more on this soon) and, because I remembered there was a way to install tvOS betas without a USB-C cable, I was attempting to download Apple’s tvOS beta configuration profile using Safari on iOS. However, as soon as I tapped the Download button on Apple’s developer website, I got this message instead of a new tab showing the downloaded configuration file:

I don’t know when Apple changed this behavior, but I recalled that Safari wouldn’t try to install tvOS configuration profiles on an iOS device. Without a way to manually fetch the .mobileconfig file and save it to my Dropbox, I was going to unplug my TVs and connect them to my MacBook Pro (which usually sits in the closet until it’s recording day for AppStories or Relay) to finish the process.

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iCab Browser Updated for iOS 7, Adds Keyboard Shortcuts and Multi-User Support

iCab has long been one of the most powerful third-party browsers for iOS, pioneering features such as extensive integration with x-callback-url for automation, sync through iCloud and Dropbox for bookmarks and a proprietary Reading List, and integration with many third-party services for read-later and bookmarking functionalities.

Last week, iCab was updated to version 8.0, which has brought a redesign for iOS 7 and a reorganization of the app’s Settings; according to developer Alexander Clauss, the app has also been completely rewritten, resulting in native support for 64-bit devices, background downloads (iCab’s download manager is one of the app’s marquee features), and overall faster performance under iOS 7.

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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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    Drafts 22 Review: Widgets, Scribble, and More

    One of my favorite times every year is right around the beginning of August. Not because of the weather – summer where I live – but rather it’s when beta season is in full swing. Apps are putting polish on features, the full update scope is set, and everything starts to feel stable. And there’s nothing better to me than a new Drafts update to coincide with new OS features, bringing new uses of the app to my répertoire.

    With the release of iOS and iPadOS 14 this year, it might seem on the surface that the updates to most apps are minimal. Widgets are the hot new feature of the operating systems, along with the visual changes of macOS Big Sur. While most apps will benefit from these changes, the productivity category will be greatly helped. And like Shortcuts, Scriptable, and others, Drafts benefits greatly from these new changes. It might take you a bit of time to see how this will fit your use cases, but once you give that some thought, it will open up new opportunities for you to use the app.

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    WWDC 2020: All the Little Things in Apple’s New OS Releases

    WWDC week is always full of big and small announcements about Apple’s core software platforms. Monday’s keynote only has time for sharing a limited number of details, however, so as the week goes on many new discoveries are made as developers and writers delve into the first beta OS releases themselves. As a result, we always have a roundup of new things to share midway through the week. So today, on top of everything detailed in our overviews of iOS and iPadOS 14, watchOS 7, macOS Big Sur, and tvOS 14, here’s an assortment of extra goodies that will be arriving on your devices this fall.

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    For iPad, Accessibility Gives ‘It’s Just a Big iPhone’ New Meaning

    Perhaps the most common complaint hurled against the iPad over its first decade of life is that it‘s little more than a bigger iPhone. At a fundamental level, the criticism is certainly valid: by and large, the iPad runs the same software as the iPhone. The penchant for bemoaning this bigness emanates from discontentment over the fact that substantial improvements to the iPad’s software have come at a glacially slow pace. Until last year, meaningful upgrades tailored to the tablet were few and far between.1 As much as Apple has extolled the iPad for being “unlike any computer,” the truth is the product stagnated for quite a while in terms of software.2 For better or worse, the company has been preoccupied with savoring every last drop of mother’s milk from the cash cow that is the iPhone. The iPad was left to wither thirstily when it came to its own growth, and it suffered for some time as a result.

    In actuality, the iPad being more or less a scaled-up iPhone isn’t necessarily an entirely bad thing. The reason is iOS; familiarity breeds comfort – Apple shrewdly created the iPad’s user interface (and to lesser extents, Apple Watch and Apple TV) to largely resemble the iPhone. Especially for less nerdy users, the consistency across devices makes for a seamless, less intimidating experience. From icons to text to features to the touchscreen, the iPad being so similar to the iPhone means acclimating to the device takes minimal time and effort. From an accessibility standpoint, easy acclimation sets the tone for an enjoyable user experience. The foremost reason this is important is that the easier it is to acclimate to a device, the easier it is to find and configure mission-critical accessibility features.

    Thus, it’s not at all unreasonable to look at what was heretofore a pejorative assessment – the iPad is nothing but a big iPhone – and turn it into a positive. One of the unheralded aspects of the device’s success is how its approachable, intuitive nature has made it a hit in accessibility-centric contexts such as special education classrooms and as a communicative aid. Such advances get right at the heart of the oft-cited Steve Jobs quote on the so-called intersection of technology and the liberal arts, when he said, “It’s in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough.” Assistive technology obviously caters to the humanities part of the liberal arts, and it’s not hard to see how the iPad’s roots as ostensibly a bigger iPhone can be an asset rather than a liability. You just have to be willing to keep an open mind.

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    Unread 2 Review: The Elegant RSS Client Leaps into Modernity

    Unread has always been one of my favorite RSS clients due to its clean, elegant, gesture-based design, but as competing apps have continued advancing at a steady pace, Unread’s development stalled leading up to its acquisition in 2017 by Golden Hill Software. Since that time, the app has received new life in the form of regular updates, but nothing on the level of what’s debuting today.

    Unread 2, on one hand, brings a lot of change and propels the beloved RSS client into the present. It does this, however, with almost no design changes. Unread 2 looks and feels just like Unread 1, but with more power and a roster of modern features under the hood.

    If Unread wasn’t the app for you before, then version 2 almost certainly won’t change your mind. But if you already appreciated the elegant RSS reader, Unread 2 provides a lot more reasons to love it.

    There are so many big and small upgrades in Unread 2, for my review I’ve chosen to break its noteworthy improvements into three different categories: RSS, iPad, and OS features.

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    Pixelmator Photo Adds Direct iCloud Photo Library Access, Batch Editing, and New Export Features

    Pixelmator Photo for the iPad has been released with a trio of new features that greatly increase the power of the app. With the update, you can now now edit images in your iCloud Photo Library non-destructively without creating duplicates. There are also new batch-processing workflows and better options for exporting images. It’s an interesting mix of updates that I expect will appeal to a wide audience even though there remain iPadOS features I’d like to see adopted in the future.

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