Alex has been writing for MacStories since 2013. As a MacStories contributor he covers Apple and related technology on the site and for Club MacStories. Alex also keeps the site running smoothly and works on new technology as MacStories’ senior software engineer.
At this morning’s keynote event, Apple announced the third-generation of its standard AirPods. The new devices feature a smaller design that is much more akin to the AirPods Pro. True to form for the non-Pro version, the new AirPods hook inside the base of your ear rather than being in-ear headphones. As such, they continue to not support the advanced noise cancelling features of their Pro siblings.
Despite the lack of noise cancelling, the new AirPods introduce Apple’s Spatial Audio technology to the non-Pro line for the first time. Spatial Audio creates the illusion of surround-sound audio for supporting media, and can even simulate the direction of that audio’s origin so that it changes when you turn your head. To aid this advanced audio experience, the new device also includes a brand-new low-distortion driver, which Apple claims will provide more powerful bass, and cleaner high frequencies.
At this morning’s event, Apple Music’s Zane Lowe made his keynote debut to announce the new Apple Music Voice Plan. Coming in at a mere $5/month, the Apple Music Voice Plan is now the lowest-cost way to gain access to Apple’s music streaming service 1.
The Voice Plan has a catch though. True to its name, it only grants full access to Apple Music via Siri. This includes a customized in-app experience in the Music app for Voice Plan subscribers. It’s not yet clear what exactly this experience entails, but based on Apple’s press release, these users will be able to access a limited set of the Music app’s features. Specifically, they’ll be able to access their playback history and Apple Music’s built-in playlists, but it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to create custom playlists using Apple Music songs. Whether or not full search of the Apple Music catalog will be available is unclear, but requesting specific songs from Siri should be possible.
We’ve come a long way from the Wild West of watchOS’ early versions. Changes in recent years have been thoroughly iterative in nature, suggesting that Apple believes that the platform has reached maturity. watchOS 8 heralds no deviation from this path, but as usual, a host of features bring new minor excitements for us to explore.
Health and fitness are established pinnacles of any good watchOS update, and this year’s offerings include a new Mindfulness app, sleep tracking improvements, and expanded workout types. Since Complications can now communicate with Bluetooth devices, health and fitness data from Bluetooth accessories will be more accessible than ever.
The usual host of first-party app updates are back this year too, with Home and Timers getting the most interesting changes. As for watch faces — another common source of easy feature additions — Apple seems to have dropped that ball this time around. Only two new faces are joining the ranks, and existing faces have remained stagnant.
At the system level, text input has received some nice updates. While still a bit clunky, some of the strictest limitations have been lifted, making the Apple Watch useable in more situations where I would previously have never considered it. The always-on display in Apple Watch Series 5 and higher will be far more useful in watchOS 8 as well, as third-party apps are finally able to utilize it.
Despite a lot of tidbits scattered throughout, watchOS 8 is easily the smallest annual update in the Apple Watch’s short history. This shouldn’t be a surprise given that we’re in the second year of a global pandemic, but it still feels disappointing.
Hopefully next year Apple will devote a bit more time and effort to watchOS, but for now let’s dig into the new additions that we do have to explore. Despite the small size of watchOS 8, its features are all positive improvements, and it’s still the best iteration of the Apple Watch operating system to date.
At this morning’s virtual keynote event, Apple’s Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams announced the Apple Watch Series 7. Packing a brand-new display, a more rounded case design, faster charging, and greater resistance to cracking and dust, the Series 7 is a very nice iterative update.
Display and Durability
By far the biggest feature of the Series 7 is its gorgeous new display. Apple has reduced the bezels on all sides of the device by 40%, resulting in just 1.7mm borders around the screen. The screen itself has been stretched to fill this new area, and is 20% bigger than the screen on last year’s Series 6. To fit the new screen, case sizes have been increased to 41mm and 45mm — a fairly subtle change from the 40mm and 44mm sizes of the Series 5 and 6 Apple Watches. Thankfully, compatibility has been maintained with existing Apple Watch bands.
Last week the MacStories team launched Project Calliope, an enormous new software project that we’ve been working on tirelessly for the last year. If you’ve been following along, you’ve heard us describe Calliope as a CMS; but from a software-engineering perspective, it’s actually a whole lot more. While we introduced Calliope as the foundation of our all-new Club MacStories and AppStories websites, we have much bigger plans for the new platform going forward. This is the foundation for the next generation of MacStories, from the website itself to many special projects in the future.
We’re extremely proud of what we’ve created here, and as the sole developer of Calliope, this post will be my deep dive into the more technical side of the project. Fair warning: this will be easier to follow if you’re a software developer (particularly a web or back-end developer), but I’ll be doing my best to give understandable explanations of the technologies involved. I also just want to talk about the journey we took to get here, the challenges we faced along the way, and the factors that drove us to this particular set of solutions.
At yesterday’s WWDC keynote event, Apple’s VP of Technology Kevin Lynch announced watchOS 8. The latest iteration of the Apple Watch operating system includes advancements in health features, a refreshed take on photos, improved text input, and more. Apple didn’t spend much time on watchOS during the event, but there are many quiet, new features sneaking into this release. Let’s take a look at everything Apple has in store for Apple Watch users this fall.
Health and Fitness
No watchOS update is complete without health and fitness changes. This year, Apple has revamped the Breathe app (and renamed it to Mindfulness), added more sleep tracking features, and provided new workout types.
Fast Company’s Michael Grothaus interviewed Craig Federighi this week regarding the suite of new privacy features which Apple unveiled at WWDC. The article includes some notable technical details on how iCloud Private Relay works under the hood. One of the most interesting — and somewhat unfortunate — revelations is that iCloud Private Relay will only work from Safari. Users of other browsers are out of luck here.
The reason for this restriction has to do with Apple’s commitment to unassailable privacy, which happens by ensuring that no party can ever access both your IP address and your destination URL. From what I can gauge, this is actually a three-step process which looks something like this:
From Safari, you navigate to a particular URL. Safari encrypts this destination URL locally and then forwards your request to Apple’s iCloud Private Relay servers.
Apple’s servers anonymize your IP address so that it can’t be traced back to you, then forward the request to a trusted third-party’s servers.
The third-party decrypts the destination URL, then forwards the final request (decrypted URL plus anonymized IP address) to the destination.
This morning at Apple’s second fully-remote WWDC keynote address, Craig Federighi introduced iOS and iPadOS 15. This year’s updates include significant improvements to core first-party apps, new controls for maintaining focus, system-wide text and object recognition in images, and much more.
On the iPad-only side of things, Apple has announced a variety of new multitasking interface elements, feature parity with the iPhone’s Home Screen, quick note capturing available at any time in any app, and an overhauled Swift Playgrounds which supports building and shipping complete SwiftUI apps to the App Store.
As usual, developer betas are available today, with final versions scheduled to ship to all users this fall. Let’s take a look at all the details that Apple has in store for us this year.
In celebration of spring, Apple is releasing a very nice new purple finish for the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini. Purple joins the existing 5 colors and continues to make the 12 Apple’s most colorful iPhone lineup since the iPhone 5c.
The new purple iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini are available for preorder starting this Friday, April 23, and will arrive the following week on Friday, April 30.