Graham Spencer

913 posts on MacStories since January 2011

Graham is a regular contributor to MacStories, a law and economics student at university, and a fan of great TV shows. With a particular passion for telling stories with the aid of data and visualizations, there is a high likelihood that he wrote a story if you see a graph on MacStories.


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Spotify Launches Two New Radio Shows

Rich McCormick at The Verge:

Swedish streaming service Spotify is launching two new radio shows today, both of which feature musicians talking about the kind of music that they like listening to while they're making their art. The first, AM/PM, will feature artists like electronic music pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre and Terry Hall of ska icons The Specials talking about the music they listen to in the mornings before work, and in the evenings after a day spent creating. The second, Secret Genius, speaks to the songwriters and producers behind major songs, and features the actually-pretty-well-known James Blake, among others.

Looks like Spotify's "In Residence" radio shows which launched last year were successful enough for Spotify to commission these two new shows. The comparison to the radio shows on Beats 1 is unavoidable, but it's a good move on Spotify's part. They may not be for everyone, but those Beats 1 shows are one of the best benefits of the launch of Apple Music. Spotify's radio shows aren't live like some of those on Beats 1 are, but I don't think that makes a great deal of difference to their appeal to listeners.

Speaking of live radio and Beats 1, I'd be very interested to find out how many people listen to Beats 1 live, compared to how many just listen to the recorded radio shows when it is most convenient for them.


Open Casting Call Posted for Apple’s ‘Planet of the Apps’ Reality TV Show

Chance Miller at 9to5Mac:

Earlier this year it was announced that Apple was planning to launch its first original TV series about the “app economy.” Now, Apple has posted an open casting call for the unscripted reality series, which we now know is called Planet of the Apps.

The show is being co-produced with Propagate, a newly launched production company co-owned by Ben Silverman, best known for The Biggest Loser, and Howard T. Owens of MasterChef Junior fame. will also have a hand in producing Apple’s reality series.

The casting call is open to legal residents of the US, and it requires you to have a functioning app (for iOS, macOS, tvOS or watchOS) by October 21. The show will also incorporate elements of mentorship, marketing and promotion ("featured placement in the App Store at the end of the show"), and even funding from "top-tier VCs".

Executive producers, Ben Silverman, and Howard Owens are teaming up for an unscripted series about the world of apps and the talented people that drive its innovation. They’re looking for developers with the vision to shape the future, solve real problems, and inspire change within our daily lives. “We can really tell their stories as we explore how apps are developed and created and incubated,” says Silverman.

If you're interested in potentially applying to be a part of Planet of the Apps, you can visit their website which contains more information on the requirements and application process.

Shooting takes place from "late 2016 to early 2017" with no official broadcast date just yet, though the website does note that the show will "reach millions of viewers around the world on Apple platforms". Also yet to be announced are the tech experts and mentors, and these will be announced in "the coming weeks".

I'm not sure why they're calling the series "Planet of the Apps", a name which appears to inexplicably riff on the "Planet of the Apes" science fiction franchise. I hope that by the time the series goes to air it has a different, better, name.


Pokémon GO’s Spectacular Launch

Pokémon GO launched last week, and it has quickly captured the attention of millions who are now playing the augmented reality game created by Niantic in collaboration with The Pokémon Company (which is partially owned by Nintendo). After launching in Australia, New Zealand and the United States, the staggering popularity of the game appeared to catch Niantic off-guard, which had to make the decision to temporarily pause the international rollout. However, there are reports today that the game's European and Asian rollout will commence "within a few days".

Despite the limited geographical rollout thus far, Pokémon GO has been a huge early success in Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Across almost every publically accessible metric, across iOS and Android, the game has done incredibly well. Most notably, Pokémon GO has been the number 1 free app and number 1 top grossing app on the iOS App Store essentially since it launched.

It is early days, but given the quite spectacular launch that Pokémon GO has experienced, here's an infographic that attempts to capture its early success.

Apple, Client-Side Applications and Being “Good at Web Services”

Bryan Irace writes:

Apple now claims that being a services company is important to them. If they’re able to address the latency and reliability issues that their services have historically been plagued with, they may have succeeded at exactly what they set out to improve. But I still personally won’t consider them a good services company until they take tangible steps towards making their APIs far more open than they have been to date. These types of companies understand that they alone cannot build all of the interactions their users would find useful (nor would targeted, limited partnerships suffice). They earn the adoration of their developer community by empowering them to create the next big app or feature, standing on the shoulders of giants rather than sitting in their pocket.

I completely agree with Bryan. iOS devices have become more powerful and capable in recent years as Apple has opened up the platform with extension support, custom keyboards, widgets, new developer APIs and more. In that same way, Apple's services from Apple Music to Apple's Notes app, could be improved through new APIs that go beyond client-side features. Imagine being able to connect something like IFTTT to and creating a recipe to automatically append any links you favorite in Pocket to a note in

I think it will happen, but it could be a long wait. We've seen through the introduction of various extension points in iOS that Apple is extremely cautious about relinquishing control. It just won't happen overnight, it'll be a gradual expansion in carefully considered and controlled stages. As Bryan points out, CloudKit web services (which can be openly communicated with over HTTP) may be an early reason for optimism.

Closed systems have enabled Apple (and members of their developer programs) to deliver many of the user experiences we know and love, but past performance does not equal future success. While embracing interoperability might require a philosophical shift away from what has worked to date, I worry that the alternative is Apple continuing to stretch themselves thinner and thinner as software continues to eat the world and hardware continues to become smaller, cheaper, and more ubiquitous.

Permalink Upload and Share Your iPhone Home Screen

How different people arrange their iPhone Home screen is a natural curiosity for most of us with an interest in technology. We've featured Home screens in the vast majority of MacStories Weekly email newsletters, and it has easily been one of the most popular sections.

The iPhone has become an integral part of our lives, and seeing the apps that different people elevate to their Home screen provides insights into how they work and live their lives. But it also gives us the opportunity to discover new apps, find a new wallpaper, or re-think the layout and structure of how we organize the apps on our own Home screens.

If you find yourself curious about the iPhone Home screens of others, the relaunch of the website might interest you. The basic pitch is that it allows anyone to upload and share their iPhone Home screen and Apple Watch watch face. The team behind is also featuring the Home screens of different users, giving you the opportunity to get inspired and discover new apps.

A particularly nice touch with is that in your profile settings you can choose which iPhone (model and color) and Watch (model) you own. This selection has an impact because the screenshots you upload will be superimposed onto the correct device. When you upload your screenshot you're also given the option to provide a description, and a wallpaper source.

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Understanding the New Territory Pricing and Expanded Subscription Price Tiers

Apple yesterday announced a slew of changes to the App Store including an overhaul of subscription pricing policies, paid search ads, faster App Store review times, and more. Amongst the changes to subscription prices was one particular change that I think is really significant, but hasn't yet got much attention: territory pricing and more pricing tiers.

Apple is saying that starting this Fall, developers will be able to price their in-app subscriptions at different levels depending on the territory of the customer. Currently, apart from a minor exception, developers must set a price by selecting a single "tier" which results in a price that is effectively the same across the world. Here's how Apple describes the change:

Starting this fall, apps with auto-renewable subscriptions will be able to offer territory-specific prices and will have access to 200 price points across all currencies. You will be able to set the prices you think are suitable for subscribers in different markets, and you will have the flexibility to price your subscriptions at parity if they’re available elsewhere. A new iTunes Connect pricing tool will help you manage pricing based on current exchange rates. If there is a tax increase or currency adjustment in a particular region, the price of subscriptions will generally not be affected unless you decide to pass the adjustment on to your users.

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Avian: Global Tweets Mapped on the Apple TV

Most of my time on the new Apple TV (probably around 90%) revolves around watching video (a combination of Plex, Netflix, Stan, iTunes or ABC iView). The final 10% is games and novelty apps like the hilarious GIFtv. The latest novelty app to catch my eye is Avian – a Twitter client.

But Avian is not a Twitter client like Tweetbot – that would be impractical for the Apple TV. Instead, Avian displays one tweet at a time, and literally places it on a map of the earth. You might be reading a tweet from the heart of New York City, and then Avian will surface a tweet from a user in Brazil, China, or New Zealand. As you transition from tweet to tweet, Avian zooms in and out, and rotates the map to the location of the tweet.

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Comparing Siri and Alexa

Rene Ritchie at iMore, in an article titled "Siri vs. Alexa is hilarious to people outside the U.S.":

Imagine if, on a weekly basis, you saw or heard "Xinghua" being compared to Siri. But "Xinghua" was available only in China and only to people who spoke Mandarin. How meaningful would those comparisons really be to you in the U.S.? That's about as meaningful as headlines comparing Amazon's virtual assistant, Alexa to Apple's Siri are to the vast majority of the world's population.

Right now Alexa is solving only for people in America who speak English. That's an incredibly small subset of what Siri, which just recently added Hebrew and several other languages in several other reasons, solves for.

With all due respect to Rene, I think this is a disingenuous way of defending Siri from the comparisons to the Amazon Echo's Alexa.

It is, of course, a fair complaint that the Amazon Echo is not available in countries outside the United States, and that it can only understand US English.1 But I do not think it is legitimate to imply that the Echo's geographic and lingual limitations somehow undermines the advances that the Echo offers in other areas such as its integrations with services which is seeing it receive praise from all-corners of the industry in recent months.

A large part of the praise of the Amazon Echo is because in 18 months it has gone from a product that didn't exist, into one that many in the US find incredibly useful. Also significant is that in those 18 months it has evolved rapidly, adding great new features that make it even more useful. That is why people are comparing it to Siri, which launched in 2011 and has undoubtedly improved, but at a much slower pace and in less substantial ways (multi-lingual support aside).

I'm an Australian and I don't think this Siri vs Alexa debate is "laughably US-centric", I think it's important, even if I can't personally use Alexa. Just last week, Google announced that it will be releasing a very similar product later this year, and credited Amazon for their pioneering work with the Echo. I am certain Apple has taken similar notice of Amazon's (seemingly successful) efforts with the Echo, and if Apple acts on those observations, then everyone with access to Siri will benefit.

So I'm not laughing, I'm grateful, if a little envious that my friends in the US are (yet again) getting a taste of the future before me. But I know it'll reach me soon enough, whether it's via Apple, Google, Amazon, or even Microsoft.

  1. I regularly make these kinds of observations/complaints about various products and services. Two years ago I even spent days researching and putting together this extensive examination of just how far ahead Apple was in terms of the availability of media content in countries around the world, so I understand this frustration very well. ↩︎

Apple Denied Key Exemption for Retail Stores in India

Bloomberg reports that Apple has been denied a key exemption that will likely scuttle Apple's plans in the short term to open official Apple Retail Stores in India:

India’s finance minister has ratified a decision that Apple Inc. must meet local sourcing rules to open its own stores, according to people familiar with the matter, dealing what may be a fatal blow to the iPhone maker’s effort to open retail outlets in the country.

Minister Arun Jaitley decided to support the decision by India’s Foreign Investment Promotion Board that Apple will have to procure 30 percent of components locally if it wants to sell through its own retail stores, said the people, asking not to be identified because the matter is private. The company makes most of its products in China and doesn’t currently meet that criteria.

It comes after another government panel had recommended, in late April, that Apple be granted the exemption. But more significantly, today's move comes after Tim Cook visited India in his first official trip to the country as CEO of Apple.

The decision by India's finance minister may not be the last word, as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi could theoretically intervene. During Cook's trip to India he met with Prime Minister Modi and Apple's retail plans were reportedly discussed, as was Modi's "Made in India" program which encourages foreign companies to manufacture in India. In public comments during the week Cook suggested that Apple was looking to establish a facility in India that would refurbish old iPhones for resale in India, but had no plans for other manufacturing at this stage.

If you're interested in reading more about Cook's week-long tour of India and China (which occurred last week), I wrote about the context of the trip as well as providing a timeline of what actually happened.