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Sofa Review: A Simple Tool for Tracking Movies, TV Shows, Books, and Podcasts

We live in a time when media options are growing at a fast pace. It’s a golden age for television, with great shows debuting all the time; the film industry is being transformed by the infusion of new competition from streaming giants like Netflix; podcasts are becoming more mainstream by the day; and despite books not being in a similar growth phase, new titles are still being written constantly. In this crowded media landscape, it’s hard to keep track of all the great content waiting to be enjoyed.

In the past I’ve kept notes in Apple Notes containing lists of TV shows, movies, podcasts, and books to check out. Lately, however, I’ve been using an app called Sofa.

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Sofa: Discover New Movies from Curated Collections

Sofa is a new app that launched just last Friday. Sofa does two things: it helps you discover new movies to watch, and it lets you keep a list of movies you want to watch. Despite its rather sparse feature list, Sofa is well worth your time. One of the reasons why is because Sofa’s discover section is populated by hand-curated collections of movies. But Sofa also looks great and, because it isn’t burdened with dozens of features, the app is simple and delightful to use.

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MacStories Selects 2021: Recognizing the Best Apps of the Year

John: The MacStories Selects Awards are our annual celebration of the apps we love and the people who make them. Every year, the MacStories team uses hundreds of apps. Some are familiar favorites, but most are new. So, after many months of testing those developers’ apps, we stop to recognize the best.

This year, as we headed into the final stretch of the year, we decided it was time for the MacStories Selects to honor more than just the apps from the past year. MacStories has been covering apps since Federico published his first story in 2009, and having covered thousands of apps spanning more than twelve years, it’s time to look back at all of those apps and honor the standouts that have withstood the test of time with an annual Lifetime Achievement Award, which you can read about more in a special story that includes a bit of history about the winning app and interview with its developer.

Apps have become part of the fabric of our daily lives, which makes it easy to forget that they’re the result of hard work by creative people. The MacStories Selects awards are our chance to pause and appreciate just how fortunate we are to have such a wealth of fantastic tools available from so many talented developers before we start the new year.

2021 has been an exciting year for apps. The resurgence of note-taking apps ignited by apps like Craft, Obsidian, and Roam Research continued unabated. We also saw new apps successfully remix technologies and approaches and apply them to new domains, and of course, automation continued to be a central theme, with a long list of established and new apps testing the waters of Shortcuts for Mac for the first time.

As a result, we had a wealth of apps to choose from as always for the following awards:

  • Best New App
  • Best App Update
  • Best New Feature
  • Best Watch App
  • Best Mac App
  • Best Design
  • App of the Year

Along with the Lifetime Achievement Award and Readers’ Choice Award, which was chosen by Club MacStories members, that makes a total of nine award winners plus seven runners-up for these fourth annual MacStories Selects Awards, which began in 2018. As we did last year, we have also created beautiful physical awards commemorating the winners, which we will be sent to each of the winners this week.

We also recorded a special episode of our podcast AppStories all about the MacStories Selects winners and runners-up. It’s a terrific way to learn more about this year’s apps.

You can listen to the episode below.

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We will hold our Monthly Town Hall live event with additional MacStories Selects coverage in our Discord community for Club MacStories+ and Club Premier members tomorrow, December 14, 2021, at 12:30 PM Eastern US time and release it later as a Town Hall podcast episode for those who can’t join live.

So, with those preliminaries out of the way, it’s my pleasure to introduce the 2021 MacStories Selects Awards to the MacStories community.

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macOS Monterey: The MacStories Review

OSes are never truly finished. macOS has been continuously evolving for decades, and it would be foolhardy to declare it ‘finished’ in any sense of the word. It’s not.

However, when you step back and look at macOS over time, trends and storylines emerge from the feature list minutiae of each release. For the past few years, no narrative thread has been more important to the Mac and its operating system than their realignment within Apple’s product lineup. It’s a fundamental transformation of both hardware and software that has taken shape over years, beginning publicly with Craig Federighi’s WWDC Sneak Peek in 2018.

The story begins with a Sneak Peek at the end of a WWDC keynote in 2018.

The story begins with a Sneak Peek at the end of a WWDC keynote in 2018.

A parallel story has been playing out with the iPad’s hardware and OS. The iPad’s trajectory has been different than the Mac’s, but today, we find ourselves with two distinct but more closely aligned platforms than ever before. To get there, the iPad has grown into a powerful, modular computer, while the latest Macs now run on the same processor architecture as the iPad Pro and no longer work differently in places just because that’s the way it’s always been.

The journey hasn’t always been easy, especially in the wake of questions about Apple’s commitment to the Mac. The company took those concerns head-on in an unusual meeting with a handful of tech writers in 2017. Still, it was only natural for users to question whether the direction macOS was heading was the correct one.

It didn’t help that those first Catalyst apps that were part of the 2018 Sneak Peek – Home, News, Stocks, and Voice Memos – were rough around the edges and a departure from long-held beliefs about what constitutes a great Mac app. The Mac’s apps had historically been held out as a shining example of the kind of user experiences and designs to which developers who cared about their apps could aspire. Unfortunately, many early Mac Catalyst apps weren’t very inspiring.

The realignment has been rocky for iPad users, too, especially for iPad Pro uses. The Pro’s hardware has been infrequently updated, and the performance of the Apple silicon processors they’ve run on has outpaced what the apps on the platform can do.

Users’ fears have also been fueled by Apple’s institutional secrecy and the multi-year scope of the company’s undertaking. Early communications about Mac Catalyst and SwiftUI left developers and observers confused about the role of each. The situation is more clear today, but at the same time, the question of how to approach building a Mac app is best answered with ‘it depends.’ That isn’t a very satisfying answer. Nor does it help that despite the added clarity, technologies like SwiftUI still have a long way to go to reach their full potential.

Catalina was full of promise, but the road ahead was unclear.

Catalina was full of promise, but the road ahead was unclear.

Yet despite the bumps along the road, macOS has made great strides since that 2018 Sneak Peek. With Catalina, we saw the first steps down a path that pointed the Mac in a new direction. Although sometimes messy, the promise of Catalina was exciting because, as I concluded in that review:

There’s no greater threat to the Mac than resistance to change that exists not because the change is worse, but because it’s different.

Catalina was a counter-strike against the sort of inertia that would have doomed macOS eventually, even though at the time, it was more a promise than a destination.

Big Sur's design changes brought the direction of macOS into sharper focus.

Big Sur’s design changes brought the direction of macOS into sharper focus.

Big Sur picked up where Catalina left off, adjusting course and clarifying where macOS was heading. The update continued the harmonization of user experiences across Apple’s entire lineup, creating a more natural continuum among the company’s products through new design language and updated system apps without abandoning what makes the Mac unique. I don’t mean to suggest that Catalina or Big Sur were unmitigated successes. They weren’t, and some of the missteps of those releases have yet to be addressed, but there was no mistaking where macOS was headed after the release of Big Sur.

Monterey harmonizes system app updates across all of Apple's platforms.

Monterey harmonizes system app updates across all of Apple’s platforms.

Monterey’s focus is all about system apps, a topic near and dear to me. With the technical building blocks in place and a refined design out of the way, Monterey is one of the most tangible, user-facing payoffs of the past three years of transition. More than ever before, Apple is advancing system apps across all of its platforms at the same time. Finally, everything is everywhere.

However, as much as it pleases me to see the groundwork laid in years past pay dividends in the form of new features being rolled out simultaneously on all platforms, Monterey’s payoff isn’t an unqualified success. Every OS release has its rough spots, but this year, Shortcuts is especially rough. As optimistic and excited as I remain for Shortcuts to be the future of automation on the Mac, it’s too frustrating to use at launch. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed any upside using Shortcuts on my Mac, and it has improved over the course of the beta period, but it still gets in my way more often than it should.

Alright, that’s enough looking back. Let’s dig in and see where things work, where they don’t, and what lies ahead when you install macOS Monterey.

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Deeper on Calliope, Our New Web App for Club MacStories and AppStories

Our new web app for Club MacStories and AppStories, Calliope.

Our new web app for Club MacStories and AppStories, Calliope.

Yesterday, we unveiled the all-new Club MacStories, featuring the new Club MacStories+ and Club Premier tiers, a new web app, a Discord community, new original content for members, and more. You can read my announcement here, and sign up for (or upgrade to) the new Club MacStories plans here. We believe the best option is Club Premier, which bundles Club MacStories+ and AppStories+ in a single package at $12/month.

Today, I want to dive deeper into Calliope, our brand new web app that, for the first time, allows all Club members to read our content, including MacStories Weekly, on the web. As I highlighted in my article from yesterday, there’s a lot more Calliope can do, especially if you subscribe to Club MacStories+ or Club Premier; I want to take a closer look at its advanced features so members can properly take advantage of everything we built over the past year.

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MacStories Unwind: Apple Maps, Obsidian, and Markdown Editors in Task Managers

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Sponsored by: UpNote – The Best Cross-Platform Note-Taking App

This week on MacStories Unwind:

MacStories

Club MacStories

  • MacStories Weekly
    • Federico recommends Delta
    • Tips on how to set up Sofa
    • John’s iPad Air Home Screen

AppStories

Unwind


MacStories Unwind: Apple Event Announced, Spotify’s Car Thing, Fitness+ Expanded, and HomeKit Advice

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Sponsored by: MindNode – Ever Had a Geistesblitz?

This week on MacStories Unwind:

MacStories

Club MacStories

  • MacStories Weekly
    • Federico unveils MusicLink a shortcut that creates links to multiple music services and John shows how to link GoodTask and Craft using a shortcut
    • John recommends CardioBot
    • An interview with iOS developer and Sofa creator Shawn Hickman
    • Apps, and more.

AppStories

Unwind


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: WWDC, OmniFocus Custom Perspectives, and New Read-It-Later and Camera Apps

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    This week on MacStories Unwind:

    MacStories

    Club MacStories

    • MacStories Weekly
      • Federico shares a shortcut for browsing articles by topic and domain in Reeder and GoodLinks
      • Ryan highlights apps with great implementations of features announced at WWDC 2019
      • John imagines what better external display support for the iPad Pro might look like
      • Plus lots of apps, Q&A, Links and more
    • MacStories Unplugged
      • John travels west and Federico reveals his fascination with small town America before they dive into a discussion of optimism in technology writing and explore a new trend they are seeing emerge in the App Store.

    AppStories

    Unwind Picks