John Voorhees

1689 posts on MacStories since November 2015

John, MacStories’ Managing Editor, has been writing about Apple and apps since joining the team in 2015. He also co-hosts MacStories’ podcasts, including AppStories, which explores of the world of apps, MacStories Unwind, a weekly recap of everything MacStories and more, and MacStories Unplugged, a behind-the-scenes, anything-goes show exclusively for Club MacStories members.

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MacStories Unwind: A Darkroom Update and Pixelmator Pro Teaser, a New Flagship Apple Store in Rome, Snowman’s Upcoming App, and Thoughts on Shortcuts Notifications

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18:39


Sponsored by: Musens – The Beautiful Music Player

This week on MacStories Unwind:

MacStories

Club MacStories

  • MacStories Weekly
    • Darkroom
    • A Morpho Converter giveaway
    • Recording Streaming Video with PlayOn and Channels
    • Don’t treat your RSS and Twitter like inboxes

AppStories

Unwind


Apple Prepares to Open Its Latest Flagship Store in Rome’s Historic Via del Corso Shopping District

Today, Apple took the wraps off its latest flagship store in the heart of Rome’s Via del Corso shopping district. The store is Apple’s first in Rome’s historic center, although the company has long had a presence in Rome and other parts of Italy, including another flagship store that was opened in Milan in 2018. The new Rome location isn’t open yet but will be soon.

As with many of Apple’s other flagship stores around the world, restoration of the historic location was spearheaded by the architectural firm Foster + Partners. The new store is located next to Piazza di San Silvestro, in the center of Rome within a short distance of landmarks like the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain.

Palazzo Marignoli, the building in which Apple’s new store is housed, has been carefully restored to its late 19th century glory. The palazzo once housed Caffè Aragno, a destination for writers, painters, and other creatives of Rome, a history that fits nicely with Apple’s vision of its flagship stores as destinations for creativity through technology.

In fact, you can see from the photo above, which was taken earlier today, that the window coverings say ‘Creativi dentro’ or ‘Creative inside.’ According to Apple, the message honors Rome’s rich cultural history embodied by Carrara marble, the predominant stone used in the store’s construction and the material that has been used by Roman architects and sculptors for centuries to create artistic masterpieces.

Six colors, Roman edition.

Six colors, Roman edition.

The same marble is incorporated into the Apple logo which weaves the company’s signature six colors into the veins of the stone. According to Apple, the logo symbolizes the fusion of Rome’s cultural history with Apple’s mission to provide tools that unlock everyone’s creativity with programs like those that will be led by Apple Creatives in the Via del Corso store when it opens to the public.

Alessandra Gatta contributed to this story with Italian-English translations.


Photo Editor and Organizer Darkroom Adds New Clarity Tool

Photo editing and management app Darkroom has been updated with a new Clarity slider that I’ve been testing on the iPhone and iPad for a couple of weeks now.

The new slider in the app’s editing panel is deceptively simple. Move the slider to the right to make the details of an image pop or to the left to smooth out the details. If you look carefully, though, you’ll notice that the increase in contrast isn’t uniform across a photo. You can turn the Clarity of a portrait down to smooth a person’s skin, for instance, without affecting their hair or eyes.

Source: Darkroom.

Source: Darkroom.

As Jasper Hauser explains on the Darkroom blog, the Clarity slider is logarithmic, meaning that the effect intensifies more quickly as you approach the endpoints. Picking a point in the middle of the slider’s range produces a subtler effect.

The effect works well with landscapes like the photo of skyscrapers along the Chicago River at the beginning of this story. You can see that increasing Clarity brings out the details in the windows of each building, and turning Clarity down softens areas like the water.

Clarity can achieve a wide range of effects like this shot where it is turned down, smoothing details

Clarity can achieve a wide range of effects like this shot where it is turned down, smoothing details

In contrast, turning up Clarity increases a photo's details dramatically.

In contrast, turning up Clarity increases a photo’s details dramatically.

As Hauser explains, Clarity works by building a detail map of an image and then adjusting the contrast of its regions using an algorithm called a Fast Local Laplacian Filter. There’s a lot of math happening under the hood that Hauser links to if you’re interested in learning more behind what the Darkroom team has managed to incorporate into a simple slider interaction that’s yet another excellent addition to this Apple Design Award-winning app. To learn more about Darkroom’s features, be sure to check out our past coverage and interview on AppStories with Darkroom co-founder Majd Taby.

Darkroom’s latest update is available on the App Store.


Pixelmator Pro Teases ML Crop Feature and Announces a 50% Off Sale

Source Pixelmator.

Source Pixelmator.

Some of the most impressive additions to Pixelmator Pro in recent updates have been the ones that rely on machine learning. From the auto enhancement feature added in 2018 to last year’s ML Color Match and ML Super Resolution, a wide variety of the app’s tools have harnessed machine learning to help photographers edit their images. Today, the Pixelmator team announced that their extending Pixelmator Pro’s reliance on machine learning to its cropping tool with ML Crop.

Source: Pixelmator.

Source: Pixelmator.

ML Crop uses machine learning to analyze the composition of a photo and suggest how you might like to crop it with the click of a single button. From the video in Pixelmator’s blog post, which is excerpted in the GIF above, the feature looks promising. ML Crop joins features that let you quickly set primary and secondary colors for an image and edit colors in a composition using drag and drop.

In addition to the sneak peek at ML Crop, Pixelmator announced today that the app is currently on sale for 50% off, which makes it a great time to jump in and give Pixelmator Pro if you haven’t yet.


AppStories, Episode 217 – Our 2021 macOS WWDC Wishes

This week on AppStories, we begin our annual pre-WWDC wish list episodes with our 2021 wishes for macOS.

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Snowman Announces New Creative Studio and Its First App, Pok Pok Playroom, A Digital Play Experience for Kids

Today, Snowman, the studio behind some of our favorite games on Apple platforms like Alto’s Adventure and Odyssey, Where Cards Fall, and Skate City, announced Pok Pok, a new creative studio that is launching an app on May 20th called Pok Pok Playroom.

Pok Pok Playroom is an app designed to encourage interactive play with a series of digital toys that spark curiosity and creativity in kids in a low-key, calming environment. The app’s digital playroom includes multiple brightly colored toys that prompt children to explore through independent play. Here’s how Snowman explains the app in its announcement:

Pok Pok’s first app is called Pok Pok Playroom. It’s a playroom filled with educational toys that spark creativity, imagination and learning through open-ended play. There is no right or wrong way to play, only lots of opportunities for experimentation and exploration. Pok Pok puts kids at the centre of the experience so they can follow their noses and learn at their own pace.

I’ve been eagerly awaiting Pok Pok Playroom since I got a demo of an early version at WWDC in 2019 from Esther Huybreghts who, along with her husband Mathijs Demaeght, are the artist-duo and parents of two young children behind its development. I’ll have more to say about Pok Pok Playroom when it’s released on May 20th, but for now, check out the trailer, which does an excellent job of providing a feel for what the app is like:

Alongside the announcement of the trailer and app release date, Snowman announced that Pok Pok Playroom is part of a new creative studio called Pok Pok. The studio, which was incubated inside Snowman for the past few years, was co-founded by Huybreghts and Demaeght, along with Snowman’s Melissa Cash, Ryan Cash, and Jordan Rosenberg, and will continue to build Pok Pok Playroom and new content for it that will be released periodically.

For more information about the app and studio, visit playpokpok.com.


MacStories Unwind: Epic’s Antitrust Case Against Apple, CARROT Weather Updated, and Another Streaming Service Integrates with the HomePod

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29:39


Sponsored by: Inoreader – Take Back Control of Your News Feed

This week on MacStories Unwind:

MacStories

Club MacStories

  • MacStories Weekly
    • A collection of plain text apps that aren’t text editors
    • Federico jumps through some hoops to get his Toggl data into Timemator
    • An interview with Six Colors’ Jason Snell
    • A Scorecard giveaway

AppStories

Unwind


Deezer’s New HomePod Integration Supports Hi-Res Audio Playback

Source: Deezer.

Source: Deezer.

Late last year, music fans gained the ability to switch their default music service on the HomePod. Pandora was the first to offer the option last November and has now been joined by Deezer in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Spain, the UK, and the US.

Similar to other services, Deezer’s HomePod voice control functionality lets subscribers play albums, specific tracks and artists, as well as playlists using Siri. However, the most notable feature of Deezer’s HomePod integration announced by the company today is that its HiFi subscribers will be able to listen to hi-res audio using Apple’s smart speaker. Deezer’s Flow feature, which plays an endless playlist of subscribers’ favorite music, is also available.

The HomePod mini isn’t the best choice for hi-res audio playback, but this integration is an excellent option for Deezer users who have the original HomePod. As the only major streaming service without a hi-res alternative and with the original HomePod discontinued and rumors of a ‘new HiFi tier’ of Apple Music circulating, it will be interesting to see what Apple does in this area.


CARROT Weather 5.2 Revamps Layout Customization and Adds New Sections and Data

When CARROT Weather 5 was released in January, it became one of the most highly-customizable apps available on the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. With that came a level of complexity that required a bit of a learning curve. With a bit of experimentation and the progressive unlocking of customizations, though, I thought version 5’s layout features were manageable. However, with the update released today, developer Brian Mueller has overhauled CARROT Weather’s layout functionality making it easier to get started and faster to build a personalized weather dashboard than ever before.

The Layout section of CARROT Weather's settings is where you choose from layout templates and add individual data components called Sections.

The Layout section of CARROT Weather’s settings is where you choose from layout templates and add individual data components called Sections.

The app’s settings include a new group of related items: Layout, Display, and App Icon, the first two of which are new. Layout replaces Customization and is divided into preset layouts and sections that can be added to the app’s main view. Layout presets, like Odin, Siren, and Chronos, are a great place to start when planning your CARROT Weather layout. You can preview any that you aren’t using, which takes your data settings and applies it to the new preset, so you can see how it would look. From the preview, you can tap ‘Set’ to begin using the new theme or ‘Cancel’ to return to the app’s Layout settings to make more adjustments.

The settings for each section now includes previews of what that section will look like before you add it to your layout.

The settings for each section now includes previews of what that section will look like before you add it to your layout.

The Sections part of Layout is where you pick and customize the individual data components for your layout. The big change here is that at the top of each section’s individual settings is a preview of what it will look like based on the options you’ve chosen. It’s a big improvement because it eliminates the guessing about what each change will look like before you add the section. Together with the Layout previews, the new Sections picker short-circuits the trial and error loop of version 5.0, making it much faster to design the perfect weather dashboard.

CARROT Weather 5.2 includes new Maps and Alerts sections.

CARROT Weather 5.2 includes new Maps and Alerts sections.

CARROT Weather has added a couple of new sections too. The first, which is exclusive to Premium Ultra subscribers, is a Weather Maps section that allows you to add weather radar to your dashboard. You can add multiple layers of data to the map, pick from three different sizes and zoom levels, and choose a handful of additional style and appearance settings, all of which are previewed for you at the top of the screen. There’s also a new alerts section that can be added to notify you of severe weather and other unusual conditions, as well as new tide data available in certain existing sections. Finally, you can adjust the text size and pick among multiple font choices in the new Display section of the app’s settings.

When CARROT Weather 5.0 came out, I spent some time coming up with a layout that I liked, and I never touched it again. It’s not like I spent hours trying every possible combination to come up with something that I liked, but there was enough trial and error involved that I didn’t feel like testing out anything else after that initial setup. With the new layout system, that has changed. Tweaking the size of sections and their layout is much faster with the new previews, making experimenting easier. As a result, I’ve tweaked my hourly view a little, added a Map section, and modified the data reported by a couple of other sections. The changes weren’t drastic, but it’s even better now, which I love. If you haven’t played with CARROT Weather’s customization options in a while, now is definitely the time to do so.

CARROT Weather is available as a free update on the App Store and offers multiple subscription tiers for its more advanced, data-rich features.