John Voorhees

1052 posts on MacStories since November 2015

John joined MacStories in 2015. He is an editor and regular contributor to MacStories and the Club MacStories newsletters, co-hosts AppStories, a weekly podcast exploring the world of apps, with Federico, and handles sponsorship sales for MacStories and AppStories. John is also the creator of Blink, an iOS affiliate linking app for the iTunes Affiliate Program.

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GoodNotes 5: The MacStories Review

I spend a lot of time at a keyboard. The obvious advantage of a keyboard is speed. When I'm in a groove, nothing beats typing into a text editor at my Mac or iPad Pro for quickly recording thoughts and ideas, so they aren't forgotten.

Moving fast is not nearly as important when it comes time to refine those ideas into something coherent. Slowing down, switching tools and contexts, and working in different environments all help to bring order to disparate thoughts. The same holds for planning something new, whether it's the next big article or organizing my thoughts on some other project.

It's in situations like these when I grab my iPad Pro and open GoodNotes. The switch from the indirect process of typing into a text editor to working directly on the iPad's screen with the Apple Pencil enables a different perspective that helps me refine ideas in a way that typing doesn't.

With version 5, the GoodNotes team has taken my favorite iOS note-taking app and refined every aspect of the experience. The update retains the simplicity of the app's design but does a better job surfacing existing functionality and extending other features. The result is a more flexible, powerful app that plays to its existing strengths – which current users will appreciate – but should also appeal to a broader audience than ever.

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DuckDuckGo Switches to Apple Maps for Location Searches

Today, DuckDuckGo, the privacy-focused web search engine, began using Apple Maps for location-based searches. The company, which previously used OpenStreetMap, switched to Apple's MapKit JS framework, which Apple introduced at WWDC in June 2018.

General search results and DuckDuckGo's Maps tab both embed Apple Maps' familiar UI with options to display street, satellite, and hybrid views of locations combined with Yelp data for businesses and other destinations. According to DuckDuckGo, users can search by address, geographical place, business name and type, and nearby. Clicking or tapping on the map preview in search results expands the map while selecting a location highlights it on the map.

With respect to location tracking, DuckDuckGo says:

At DuckDuckGo, we believe getting the privacy you deserve online should be as simple as closing the blinds. Naturally, our strict privacy policy of not collecting or sharing any personal information extends to this integration. We do not send any personally identifiable information such as IP address to Apple or other third parties.

DuckDuckGo explains elsewhere on its site that it uses GEO::IP lookup to determine users' location by default. For better results, users can grant DuckDuckGo permission to use their browser location data, in which case DuckDuckGo says searches are still anonymous because the company does not store location data on its servers.

I tried DuckDuckGo's new Apple Maps integration with several different searches. The search engine had no problem finding the coffee shop I was at this morning, and the familiar Apple Maps UI is a definite plus. However, the results weren't as good when I ran a few 'near me' searches. Searches for coffee, pizza, and barbers 'near me' all returned better results before I granted DuckDuckGo access to my location. Of course, these are just a few non-scientific searches from one location, so your results may be different.


Steredenn: Binary Stars Debuts on iOS

French indie game studio Pixelnest debuted Steredenn: Binary Stars on iOS today. The update is a major expansion of the original version of Steredenn that I reviewed over a year and a half ago. Everything I loved about the original game that made it special and an instant classic is present in Binary Stars plus a whole lot more.

Pixelnest has added more ships. Each has unique strengths and weaknesses and a special ability that’s triggered by tapping the top right corner of the screen. That’s a new addition to the game’s control scheme, but it fits naturally with the game’s existing controls making the new abilities easy to pick up even if you are used to the old control scheme.

The new ships aren’t all immediately available though. Instead, they, along with bosses, weapons, and other unique elements are unlocked as you progress through the game adding a sense of progress and incentive to come back and play more.

There are loads of other additions too including new weapons, ship upgrades, and bosses. Like the original, the game's stages are mostly procedurally generated. As in the past that keeps the game feeling fresh throughout no matter how often you're defeated. However, the addition of so many new game elements makes Binary Stars a much deeper game than the original and one that’s sure to grab players’ attention for extended periods.

Binary Stars also features a new unlockable mode called Boss Rush. It’s a weekly challenge similar to the Daily Run that pits players against a variety of bosses and tracks their success on a special leaderboard.

Pixelnest has announced that the studio is being disbanded but that the team will continue to support Steredenn. It’s shame to see Pixelnest wind down, but they leave behind an incredible legacy in Steredenn, which launched to wide critical acclaim on consoles, desktops, and iOS and has gained a loyal following.

If you haven’t tried Steredenn before, now is a great time to jump in because Binary Stars has taken everything that is great about the original game and polished it into an incredibly fun, intense gaming experience that’s ideally suited for mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad. There's so much new content to explore that players of the original version that haven't picked up the game in a while should dig in again too.

Steredenn: Binary Stars is available on the App Store a free update to existing players of Steredenn and $3.99 for newcomers.


AppStories, Episode 94 – Interview: iOS Game Design with Edwin Smith of Feral Interactive

On this week's episode of AppStories, we interview Edwin Smith of Feral Interactive, the developer and publisher of Mac and iOS games about the design challenges of bringing complex desktop games to the iPad and iPhone.

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CES AirPlay, HomeKit, and Accessory Roundup, Part 1

Apple may not be exhibiting at CES, but its presence is felt nonetheless. More than ever, Apple’s technologies like HomeKit and AirPlay are showing up in third-party hardware. What’s different this year is the first appearance of Apple video content on third-party devices in what is undoubtedly the first step in the company’s emerging video strategy, which breaks from the traditionally tight integration between Apple hardware and software.

As in past years, the MacStories team is sifting through the hundreds of press releases to find the announcements that are most relevant to our readers. CES has only just begun, and we’ve already seen a long list of product announcements that affect iOS and Mac users. Below are the highlights of those early announcements. We’ll follow up with another roundup later this week collecting additional products showcased at CES.

It’s worth noting that CES announcements rarely indicate the countries in which new products will be available, so it’s worth keeping an eye out for additional details if you see something that interests you.

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AppStories, Episode 93 – 2019 Themes from Our Must-Have iOS and Mac Apps

On this week's episode of AppStories, we discuss the themes that run throughout our 2018 iOS and Mac must-have apps and what they mean for 2019.

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Apple Updates AirPlay 2 Page with Upcoming TV Features Including Siri Control

On the heels of the announcement that Samsung Smart TVs are gaining an iTunes Movie and TV Shows app and AirPlay 2 support, Apple has updated its AirPlay 2 page to highlight additional features that are coming to AirPlay 2.

AirPlay 2-Enabled TVs: Samsung may have been the first to announce support for AirPlay 2, but Apple's webpage indicates that the feature is coming to 'leading manufacturers,' so expect more announcements at CES and beyond. In addition to using AirPlay 2 to send video from an iOS device or Mac to a compatible TV, consumers will be able to play music on their TVs and sync it with other AirPlay 2-compatible devices in their homes.

Control Your TV with Siri: Perhaps the most interesting feature is the ability to use Siri on your iPhone to send video to your TV. Because the new feature works in tandem with HomeKit, if you have multiple AirPlay 2 TVs, you'll be able to specify the room in which you want the video to play.

Remote Control: Apple also indicates that remote control features are coming soon:

Convenient built-in controls appear in apps, on the Lock screen, and in Control Center. So you can easily play, pause, fast-forward, rewind, and adjust the volume on your TV.

Controlling the volume of a TV via AirPlay 2 would be new, and perhaps there's something coming related to Apple's reference to "built-in controls... in apps,' but playback controls on the Lock screen and in Control Center already exist.

Apple is clearly using the days leading up to CES to implement the first moves in its video strategy. Observers have long wondered how Apple planned to extend the reach of a video service beyond the relatively small number of Apple TV owners. By cutting deals with TV manufacturers, Apple is moving down a path that is similar to the one Google has taken with the Chromecast and will be able to reach many more consumers. I wouldn't be surprised if we see these new AirPlay 2 features begin to appear when Apple ships its first iOS 12.2 betas.


Samsung Announces iTunes Movies and TV Shows App and AirPlay 2 Support for Its Smart TVs

In a first among TV manufacturers, Samsung has announced that its 2019 TVs will ship with an iTunes Movies and TV Shows app in over 100 countries as well as AirPlay 2 support in 190 countries. 2018 models will receive the same support via a firmware update.

With the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas just around the corner, Samsung's US newsroom site issued a press release stating:

With the new iTunes Movies and TV Shows app on Samsung Smart TVs, Samsung customers can access their existing iTunes library and browse the iTunes Store to buy or rent from a selection of hundreds of thousands of movies and TV episodes — including the largest selection of 4K HDR movies. iTunes Movies and TV Shows will work seamlessly with Samsung’s Smart TV Services, such as Universal Guide, the New Bixby and Search, to create a consistent experience across Samsung’s platform.

With AirPlay 2 support, Samsung customers will be able to effortlessly play videos, photos, music, podcasts and more from Apple devices directly to Samsung Smart TVs, including QLED 4K and 8K TVs, The Frame and Serif lifestyle TVs, as well as other Samsung UHD and HD models.

The press release also reports Apple's Eddy Cue as saying:

We look forward to bringing the iTunes and AirPlay 2 experience to even more customers around the world through Samsung Smart TVs, so iPhone, iPad and Mac users have yet another way to enjoy all their favorite content on the biggest screen in their home.

Apple's partnership with Samsung, one of the largest global TV manufacturers, is particularly notable given Apple's efforts to amass a stable of original content for a long-rumored video streaming service. By making existing and future content available directly within Samsung's Smart TV system and providing a means for iOS device and Mac owners to easily play content on Samsung TVs, Apple greatly expands the potential viewership for the content it offers.


Apple Revises Q1 Financial Guidance Following Poor iPhone Sales

In a letter to investors, Apple CEO Tim Cook has stated that the company has revised its financial guidance for the holiday fiscal quarter that ended on December 29th as follows:

  • Revenue of approximately $84 billion
  • Gross margin of approximately 38 percent
  • Operating expenses of approximately $8.7 billion
  • Other income/(expense) of approximately $550 million
  • Tax rate of approximately 16.5 percent before discrete items

We expect the number of shares used in computing diluted EPS to be approximately 4.77 billion.

Here's the guidance that Apple gave November 1, 2018 when it reported its fourth quarter 2018 results:

  • revenue between $89 billion and $93 billion
  • gross margin between 38 percent and 38.5 percent
  • operating expenses between $8.7 billion and $8.8 billion
  • other income/(expense) of $300 million
  • tax rate of approximately 16.5 percent before discrete items

That's a miss of $5-9 billion in revenue. Cook's letter is lengthy, but the lion's share of the problem comes down to lower than expected iPhone revenue:

Lower than anticipated iPhone revenue, primarily in Greater China, accounts for all of our revenue shortfall to our guidance and for much more than our entire year-over-year revenue decline. In fact, categories outside of iPhone (Services, Mac, iPad, Wearables/Home/Accessories) combined to grow almost 19 percent year-over-year.

While Greater China and other emerging markets accounted for the vast majority of the year-over-year iPhone revenue decline, in some developed markets, iPhone upgrades also were not as strong as we thought they would be. While macroeconomic challenges in some markets were a key contributor to this trend, we believe there are other factors broadly impacting our iPhone performance, including consumers adapting to a world with fewer carrier subsidies, US dollar strength-related price increases, and some customers taking advantage of significantly reduced pricing for iPhone battery replacements.

Although there have been rumors of lackluster iPhone sales for weeks based on supply chain leaks, a miss of this magnitude caused by falling iPhone revenue is still a big surprise, which is no doubt why Apple chose to address the issue before its next earnings report is released.