John Voorhees

1233 posts on MacStories since November 2015

John, who is an editor for MacStories and the Club MacStories newsletters, joined MacStories in 2015. With Federico, he co-hosts AppStories, a weekly podcast exploring the world of apps, and Dialog, a seasonal podcast about the impact of technology on creativity, society, and culture. John also handles sponsorship sales for MacStories and its podcasts.

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This week's sponsor

Agenda

Date-Focused Note Taking


Mac Catalyst Isn’t Only for Bringing iPad Apps to the Mac for the First Time

So far, the most common path to releasing a Mac Catalyst app on the Mac App Store has been to adapt and release an existing iPadOS app as a first-time Mac app. However, that’s not the only route to the Mac App Store. Apple allows developers to use Mac Catalyst in a variety of ways, as Steve Troughton-Smith has demonstrated with HCC Solitaire, a Mac-only game built using Mac Catalyst. He and Brian Mueller, the creator of CARROT Weather, have also used Mac Catalyst to release new versions of Mac apps that were previously built with AppKit.

As Troughton-Smith’s HCC Solitaire confirms, developers are not required to have an iPad app on the App Store to release an app on the Mac App Store using Mac Catalyst.

The game is an implementation of classic solitaire that’s just $0.99 and displays no ads. Perhaps most interesting from a developer standpoint, though, is that you won’t find HCC Solitaire if you search for an iOS or iPadOS version on the App Store. Troughton-Smith built the game using UIKit and the tools provided as part of Mac Catalyst without also creating an iPadOS version.

Brian Mueller's CARROT Weather.

Brian Mueller’s CARROT Weather.

Mac Catalyst apps can also be swapped in for existing Mac apps. That’s what Brian Mueller did with CARROT Weather, which was launched the day macOS Catalina was released as version 4.13 of his existing AppKit app. Troughton-Smith took the same approach with SameGame, a color-matching game in which you earn points by eliminating contiguous blocks that are the same color, releasing version 2.2 shortly after Catalina’s release.

Steve Troughton-Smith's SameGame.

Steve Troughton-Smith’s SameGame.

I don’t expect either of these approaches to become the main way that Mac Catalyst apps are released, but I’m glad to see that it’s possible. Most developers will be bringing an iPadOS app to the Mac for the first time, but business models, developer backgrounds, the APIs used in an app, and many other variables play a role in the decision of whether to use Mac Catalyst. It’s encouraging to see Apple take a flexible approach and allow developers to experiment because that makes Mac Catalyst useful to more of them. However, as I noted in my Catalina review and elsewhere, that flexibility needs to be coupled with bug fixes, documentation, and rapid evolution of Mac Catalyst for it to become a viable option for a wider audience of developers.


MakePass: Create Your Own Apple Wallet Passes on the Mac

I often find myself reaching for my iPhone or iPad to do something that can’t be done at all or as quickly on my Mac. If I’m already working at my desk in front of my Mac, though, that requires a context switch that slows me down and often leads to being distracted by something else. One of the areas where this happens most frequently is with specialized, single-purpose utilities that are plentiful on iOS and iPadOS, but often unavailable on the Mac.

A terrific example that just debuted on the Mac as a Mac Catalyst app is MakePass, an app for generating Apple Wallet passes. Whether it’s a health club membership card, bus pass, grocery store loyalty card, or concert ticket, MakePass can turn them all into digital passes stored inside Apple’s Wallet app where they are organized and out of the way.

Several apps offer functionality similar to MakePass’ on the iOS and iPadOS App Store. However, my searches turned up none on the Mac App Store. That may be because Apple’s Wallet app is an iPhone-only app, but it’s handy to be able to make passes on your Mac too because that’s one of the places where codes come into your life.

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New Beats Solo Pro Headphones Featuring Apple’s H1 Chip Are Available for Pre-Order

Apple subsidiary Beats has announced a new version of the Beats Solo Pro noise cancelling headphones, which can be pre-ordered now and will begin shipping at the end of the month.

The new headphones, which retail for $299, feature Apple’s H1 chip that also powers the second-generation AirPods and Powerbeats Pro. The H1 chip enables hands-free ‘Hey Siri’ commands and the ability to share audio with someone using the Audio Sharing feature that Apple debuted with iOS and iPadOS 13. The headphones also have volume, track, and call controls on the right ear cup and a button for turning noise cancellation and their Transparency feature on and off on the left ear cup.

Unfolding and folding the Solo Pros turns them on and off.

Unfolding and folding the Solo Pros turns them on and off.

The Beats Solo Pros feature active noise cancellation to filter out external sound and what Beats calls Transparency that uses external microphones to allow some sounds through, so users remain aware of their surroundings when using the headphones. According to Beats, the headphones, which are turned on and off by unfolding and folding them, get 22 hours of battery life with noise cancellation and Transparency turned on. If those features are turned off, the company says the battery life lasts 40 hours. The company also says that a ten-minute charge provides up to 3 hours of battery life. The Solo Pros charge with a USB-A to Lightning cable for the first time too.

The Solo Pros come in six colors: light blue, red, dark blue, ivory, black, and gray. Although The Verge and other sites report that the new headphones will begin shipping on October 30th in the US, apple.com currently lists the ship date as October 29th during the pre-order checkout process.


AppStories, Episode 134 – Mac Catalyst and the First Wave of Apps Built with It

On this week’s episode of AppStories, we discuss Mac Catalyst, the technology for bringing iPad apps to the Mac, and round up some of our favorite Mac Catalyst apps that have been released so far.

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Agenda: Date-Focused Note Taking [Sponsor]

Agenda is the award-winning note-taking app for iOS, iPadOS, and the Mac with a focus on dates. Our lives are full of notes and dates, and it only makes sense to bring order to the chaos by integrating the two. Agenda, the winner of an Apple Design Award, does precisely that, ensuring that your notes are always at your fingertips when and where you need them most.

By tightly integrating your calendar and notes, Agenda becomes something more than either can offer on their own. By tying those notes you’ve been taking in advance of your next meeting to the event on your calendar, they are right there when you need them. You can use Agenda to track your team’s progress as you work on hitting milestones for a big project too. The app is also terrific for keeping a daily journal or simply expanding your to-do list with relevant reference material and notes to help keep you on track.

You can create and edit events without ever leaving Agenda too. Rather than competing with your calendar, Agenda complements it, working perfectly together.

Agenda is continually updated with the latest features for every platform. For instance, with the release of iPadOS 13, you can now use the Apple Pencil to handwrite notes or add sketches to your notes. Of course, Agenda also supports dark mode on every platform, Shortcuts, and is tightly integrated with Apple’s new Reminders app. You can even scan documents to create PDF attachments to notes on iOS and iPadOS.

Agenda is free to download and use forever. Premium features are available with an In-App Purchase that unlocks all current premium features and new ones introduced over the following 12 months.

To learn more, visit Agenda’s website, or just download Agenda now for free on the Mac App Store and on iOS and iPadOS.

Our thanks to Agenda for sponsoring MacStories this week.


The Important Role Design Plays in Building a Mac Catalyst App

There’s more to migrating an iPad app to the Mac than simply checking a box in Xcode. Although developers need to resort to AppKit APIs used to build Mac apps for some functionality, thoughtful design that respects the interaction model of the Mac is a significant part of the process too.

Vidit Bhargava is the designer behind the dictionary app LookUp and the cofounder of Squircle Apps. Bhargava, who we interviewed in the most recent issue of MacStories Weekly for Club MacStories, has written an in-depth look at how much of the process of bringing LookUp’s iPad app to the Mac was about design. As he explains:

I’m sharing this design document to highlight some of the design considerations I made for bringing LookUp’s iOS App to macOS. And while I did use fall backs to AppKit in certain situations (Even though I had no prior knowledge to AppKit, the APIs were relatively easy to get to), I still feel that a lot of apps can design a good experience without having to use them.

We’ve covered the iOS and iPadOS version of LookUp before and love it. On the Mac, there are dozens of little touches implemented throughout the app that make LookUp one of the best examples of an excellent Mac Catalyst app. What I find most fascinating is how familiar but also unmistakably Mac-like LookUp’s Mac design is, which is why it was one of a handful of apps that I spotlighted in my macOS Catalina review.

Bhargava’s full post is worth a read because it’s fully-illustrated with examples of the differences between the iPad and Mac designs, early prototypes, and the evolution of the app’s design.

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Despite Some Rough Edges, Twitter’s Mac Catalyst App Provides an iPad-like Experience That’s Better Than the Company’s Web App

Twitter is back on the Mac with an all-new Catalyst app. Twitter abandoned its Mac app early last year with a late Friday tweet:

Given the lack of support for the app leading up to that point, Twitter’s actions weren’t surprising. However, that left Mac users with only Twitter’s web app or third-party apps until yesterday, when the company released a Mac Catalyst version of their iPad app.

Twitter’s iPad app isn’t known for a strong design:

Four years have passed since Federico tweeted that and Twitter’s iPad client hasn’t gotten much better, which left me skeptical about what a Mac Catalyst version of Twitter’s app would look like. However, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well the port works on the Mac despite some rough edges.

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More than 200 New Emoji Coming Soon Are Now Available in iOS and iPadOS 13.2 Beta 2

It’s October, which means Apple’s latest crop of emoji is right around the corner. As usual, Jeremy Burge at Emojipedia has all of the details. As previewed earlier this year, Apple will release its version of Emoji 12.0 from the Unicode Consortium this fall in iOS and iPadOS 13.2 and in a future update of macOS Catalina and watchOS 6 too.

The release of the new emoji is a long process. The first step came in February when the Unicode Consortium announced the details of the emoji that it had approved for 2019. Apple, like other platform vendors, took the specifications from the Unicode Consortium and implemented its interpretation of each emoji, which the company previewed in July.

Today, those emoji, plus a few that weren’t previewed on World Emoji Day in July, have been added to the iOS and iPadOS 13.2 betas. The new emoji should be shipped to the broader public as the official iOS and iPadOS 13.2 release soon. Among the new emoji are people in wheelchairs, skin tone support for people holding hands, a sloth, a waffle, a yawning face, a skunk, garlic, a yo-yo, and a flamingo.

For the first time today, Apple also revealed its emoji for an otter, a pinching hand, a beverage box, and a ringed planet. Also added to iOS and iPadOS 13.2 is a new emoji keyboard interaction for picking the skin tone for emoji that depict multiple people.

Emoji have become a significant driver of OS updates for Apple, and I expect this year will be no different. With the explosion of choices, though, I do wish Apple would implement an emoji search mechanism on iOS and iPadOS and improve the search functionality on the Mac.

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RSS Client Lire Arrives on Mac App Store with One of the Best Early Catalyst Implementations

In June I wrote about my hopes for Catalyst, the technology that allows iPadOS developers to bring their iPad apps to the Mac. At the time, I said that RSS clients were one of the categories of apps I wanted to see brought from the iPad to the Mac first. That wasn’t because there are no options on the Mac. For instance, I recently reviewed NetNewsWire, which is excellent. However, there are very few options if you want an app that’s available on the Mac, iOS, and iPadOS, supports a rich set of features, and is actively maintained. That’s why I was pleased to see that lire, one of my favorite RSS readers on iOS and iPadOS, was released this week on the Mac using Catalyst.

If you’ve used lire on an iPad, you’ll immediately feel at home when you open the app on the Mac for the first time. The layout is similar to the iPad version, with one notable exception: instead of the two columns you see on the iPad, lire displays three columns on the Mac. This means you can view your list of subscriptions, articles, and a selected article simultaneously. On the iPad, the article view is separate from your subscriptions and article list. It’s a small design change that makes a lot of sense on the Mac, where screens are usually larger than the iPad. I would, however, like to have the option of hiding the first two columns, which is not currently possible, though they can be resized.

If you use lire with an RSS syncing service like I do, once you log in you can browse sources in the first column by subscription and tag. Like the iOS and iPadOS versions, the first column also includes Discover and Folders sections. Discover collects Hot Links, which are URLs that frequently appear among your feeds, Calm Feeds for sites that don’t publish often, linked list articles, posts organized by author, and articles published recently, which you can define in the app’s preferences. As you’d expect, folders are user-defined sets of feeds.

Articles and images can be opened in separate windows.

Articles and images can be opened in separate windows.

The article list can be filtered in nine different ways, and there’s a toolbar button to mark everything as read. Right-clicking an article summary provides options to open it in a separate window, mark it as read or unread, star it, mark the articles above or below it as read, mark everything as read, send it to a read-later service, or share it via the system share sheet or lire’s custom share options. The many options make the article list a fantastic way to filter and scan through a large number of articles and manage the ones you want to follow up on and share with other apps.

There are separate appearance settings for article view, which is a nice way to manage the amount of information available independently from the subscription and article list. The article view also includes buttons for marking the currently-viewed article as unread, starring and tagging it, navigational arrows, and a share button that includes share options supplied by the macOS share system as well as custom ones like ‘Copy Link,’ ‘Pin Author,’ ‘Download as EPUB,’ and more.

I’ve used a lot of different RSS readers, and lire has always stood out because it can be customized in so many different ways. The app also does a better job than most other RSS clients of pulling the full text of an article from an RSS feed that offers truncated versions of its articles only. Although some features of the iOS and iPadOS apps aren’t available on the Mac yet, such as theming, I’ve been impressed with the level of customization that’s been brought over so far.

Unlike many other Catalyst apps, lire includes a separate preferences window.

Unlike many other Catalyst apps, lire includes a separate preferences window.

However, what makes lire one of the best Catalyst adaptations of an iPad app that I’ve seen so far is its attention to detail on the Mac. It’s a collection of smaller touches that make the app feel more at home on the Mac than most other Catalyst apps. For example, lire includes tooltips when you hover the pointer over the buttons in its toolbar. That’s something that isn’t automatically available to Catalyst apps, so few apps have adopted it so far. Lire has also implemented custom right-click context menus throughout the app to access share, view, mark as read, and other options. The app also makes extensive use of keyboard shortcuts and allows for links to be opened in your default browser in the background, something that far too few AppKit apps offer. I also appreciate that lire uses a separate Preferences window instead of a popup view that hovers over but is still part of the app’s main window, which many Catalyst apps do.

lire makes extensive use of context menus throughout.

lire makes extensive use of context menus throughout.

RSS feeds have benefitted from the healthy app competition found on iOS and iPadOS, pushing power user features forward at a rapid pace. The Mac’s RSS scene hasn’t been nearly as active in the past, but with the addition of lire and Fiery Feeds, which also launched on the Mac App Store for the first time this week, my hope is that we’ll see a resurgence of RSS readers on the Mac App Store with innovative new features.

Lire is available on the Mac App Store for $19.99.