John Voorhees

2703 posts on MacStories since November 2015

John is MacStories’ Managing Editor and has been writing about Apple and apps since joining the team in 2015. He is also Federico’s business partner and co-hosts two MacStories podcasts: AppStories, which covers the world of apps and MacStories Unwind, which explores the fun differences between American and Italian culture and recommends media to listeners.

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MacStories Unwind: It’s All Been Leading up to This

This week on MacStories Unwind, Federico has reached the pinnacle of handheld gaming with a setup that he’s been working toward for years.



This episode is sponsored by:

  • Kolide – It ensures that if a device isn’t secure it can’t access your apps.  It’s Device Trust for Okta. Watch the demo now.

Unplugged

A Federico Videogame Surprise


MacStories Unwind+

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Apple Announces Expansion of Support for Used iPhone Parts in Repairs

Source: Apple.

Source: Apple.

Today, Apple announced that it is extending its repair program to make it easier for repair shops to work with used parts while also limiting the use of lost or stolen devices.

A complaint leveled at Apple by right to repair advocates is that its use of parts pairing limits the use of used parts by repair shops. With its announcement today, Apple says that it has developed a system that satisfies customer privacy, security, and safety while broadening the use of used parts:

The process of confirming whether or not a repair part is genuine and gathering information about the part — often referred to as “pairing” — is critical to preserving the privacy, security, and safety of iPhone. Apple teams have been hard at work over the last two years to enable the reuse of parts such as biometric sensors used for Face ID or Touch ID, and beginning this fall, calibration for genuine Apple parts, new or used, will happen on device after the part is installed. In addition, future iPhone releases will have support for used biometric sensors. And in order to simplify the repair process, customers and service providers will no longer need to provide a device’s serial number when ordering parts from the Self Service Repair Store for repairs not involving replacement of the logic board.

The iPhone’s Activation Lock and Lost Mode are being extended to used parts as a deterrent to thieves pulling apart iPhones for their parts. If a lost or stolen part is detected, Apple says its calibration capabilities will be restricted. Also, Apple says it will expand the Parts and Service History section of its Settings app to include information about whether parts used in an iPhone are new or used.


Automattic Acquires Messaging Integrator Beeper

Mark Gurman, writing for Bloomberg, reports that Beeper, the messaging app that ultimately lost its fight to bring blue bubbles to Android, has been acquired by Automattic, for $125 million according to his sources.

You may recall that Automattic, the company behind WordPress, Tumblr, Day One, Pocket Casts, and other endeavors, acquired a company called Texts last fall. Roughly two months later, Beeper took advantage of a loophole in iMessage’s architecture to offer iMessage natively on Android. After some back and forth, Apple ultimately blocked the technique Beeper was using.

According to Gurman, Automattic is acquiring Beeper’s team of 27 employees, its app, which integrates services like Signal, Facebook Messenger, and Slack, and about 100,000 customers. Of those things, I suspect the people and the customers were most important to Automattic because, as I explained in my story about the company’s purchase of Texts, the two services run on different technology stacks. Regardless of Automattic’s underlying motivations, it’s more apparent than ever that the company is betting that consumer demand, government regulation, and antitrust lawsuits will open up messaging platforms for companies ready to integrate them.

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AppStories, Episode 378 – Are We Entering a Post-App World?

This week on AppStories, we explore whether we’re experiencing the beginning of the end of apps and consider what might replace them.


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Are We Entering a Post-App World?


On AppStories+, we explain why we’ve said goodbye to time tracking.

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Monument Valley at 10: The Story of the Most Meticulous Puzzle Game Ever Created

Earlier this week, I linked to The Ringer’s profile of Monument Valley on its 10th anniversary, which focused on what’s become of mobile gaming since the game’s release. Today, I have another story about Monument Valley that focuses on the game’s origins and beautiful design.

Jonathan Bell’s article for Wallpaper explores the Monument Valley team’s approach and influences:

The end result had a pixel-perfect axonometric aesthetic that not only went hard on its references to Dutch master artist and printmaker Maurits Cornelis Escher, but also dug deep into classic video game design, going right back to early arcade machines and 8-bit titles. Each of the ten levels is like a piece of fine furniture, built with invisible dovetail joints and inlaid with marquetry, stuffed with secret compartments and little design flourishes. Gray cites the world of theatre and stage design, as well as graphics, as important keystones in the way the levels were constructed. ‘Ken would always talk about flower arranging, and how you frame a silhouette of a level on the screen,’ he says

I love this anecdote about the game’s last minute naming:

The small team was so laser-focused on delivering the best game they could that the name wasn’t even considered until the very end. ‘Right before launch we were going to be interviewed by Edge magazine – the morning of that day we hadn’t picked the name.’ Monument Valley was chosen as being familiar, yet unusual, implying a sense of mystery, grandeur and travel.

Monument Valley is one of the most important indie games ever published on the App Store, so it’s great to see its backstory told in detail by Bell. Be sure to check out the full story, which includes photos of early design sketches of the game’s interface and characters.

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Apple Amends App Review Guidelines to Permit Game Emulators and Make Other Changes

Yesterday, Apple announced an update to its App Review Guidelines in a brief post on its developer site. The changes to sections 3.1.1(a) and 4.7 of the guidelines, which apply globally to all apps distributed through Apple’s App Store, address three items:

  • game emulators,
  • super apps, and
  • linking to the web from inside music streaming apps to make purchases outside the App Store

Historically, game emulators were forbidden from the App Store. As a result, an emulator like Delta, which can play games released for Nintendo systems through the N64, could only be used on iPhones through a clever combination of developer tools and a Mail plug-in. In contrast, there are plenty of emulators on the Google Play store for Android users to download.

Revised section 4.7 of the App Review guidelines specifically allows retro gaming emulators:

Mini apps, mini games, streaming games, chatbots, plug-ins, and game emulators

Apps may offer certain software that is not embedded in the binary, specifically HTML5 mini apps and mini games, streaming games, chatbots, and plug-ins. Additionally, retro game console emulator apps can offer to download games.

Presumably, this will allow Delta and other emulators onto the App Store, so they can be used to play game files stored on iPhones.

The change to section 4.7 also says that “mini apps and mini games, streaming games, chatbots, and plug-ins” of the sort found in apps like WeChat must be created with HTML 5, a clarification of the language previously used.

Finally, section 3.1.1(a) of the App Review Guidelines allows music streaming services to link out to the web from their apps so customers can make purchases outside the App Store. The change addresses the anti-steering provisions for which Apple was fined $2 billion by the EU, and Apple has said it will appeal.


MacStories Unwind: I Don’t Believe This Website

This week on MacStories Unwind, cicadas invade Italian TV, John tries an espresso soda, Dragon’s Dogma II, The Creator, and what’s next in our media queues.



  • Show Notes

Unplugged

Picks

On Deck


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Vision Pro App Spotlight: Seasons Weaves Immersive Conditions Into a Comprehensive Weather App

Seasons is the sort of weather app I’d hoped for ever since I ordered my Vision Pro. It’s a unique mix of detailed forecast data combined with an immersive spatial computing experience. There’s a gee-whiz, proof-of-concept aspect to the app, but at its core, Seasons is a serious weather app and a spatial widget that’s a pleasure to incorporate into an everyday Vision Pro workflow.

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Ten Years Later, ‘Monument Valley’ Is a Monument to Mobile Gaming’s Bygone Era

Lewis Gordan, writing for The Ringer, looks back at the 10 years since Monument Valley was released and wonders what has become of premium mobile games:

With such gigantic success, Monument Valley should have become a blueprint for indies on mobile (and it did, for the small cohort of artful titles such as Alto’s Adventure and Old Man’s Journey that followed soon after it). But as the years wore on, it became clear that the game was really more of an aberration. Premium mobile games, that is, those that you pay for, eventually turned into an endangered species, crowded out by free-to-play “forever game” behemoths such as Clash Royale and, most recently, Monopoly Go! (the latter of which is partly bankrolled by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund and spent an eye-watering sum of nearly $500 million on marketing and user acquisition alone). A binary, then (and thus a battle), presents itself, pitting the art game that values people’s time against the commercial product that seeks to exploit it with ever-increasing, capitalistic intensity. “In 2014, it was just the beginning of that battle,” says Orland. “We didn’t have a clear winner.”

Gordon argues that Monument Valley’s release marked a high water mark and the beginning of the end of artful mobile games. As he recounts, the game was profitable within a week, but just six months later, users were leaving one-star reviews for a $1.99 expansion pack to a game that was only $3.99 to begin with. Gamers had been trained by the Candy Crush Sagas of the world to expect endless free updates.

Adriaan de Jongh, who Federico and I interviewed on AppStories years ago, points to the 2017 redesign of the App Store as another factor in the decline of premium titles:

Before, says de Jongh, Apple “featured” a couple of titles per week, promoting them to anyone across the entire globe who opened the App Store. It was the “single biggest marketing beat” for Hidden Folks, helping the game earn just more than $50,000 on its very first day. Then, with the redesign, the opportunity practically vanished. iPhone users had to navigate to a different tab to see new games. In de Jongh’s view, this was a fundamental and ultimately fatal layer of friction.

Gordon’s story is worth reading in its entirety because it’s one of the best tours of the business of selling iPhone games that I’ve read. At the same time, though, I think Gordon paints a bleaker picture than is justified. There’s no denying that the iPhone gaming universe has changed a lot from the days when games like Monument Valley, Alto’s Adventure, and Hidden Folks were first released. However, it’s also too soon to declare the end of premium iPhone gaming. Few of those titles may break into the top paid games category these days, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t innovative, artistic games being released on the App Store. You need to work a little harder, cutting through the jungle of free-to-play games to find them, but they’re there.

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