John Voorhees

1651 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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Apple Announces Online Media Event for April 20, 2021

As first confirmed by Federico on Twitter, Apple has announced a media event for April 20, 2021 at 10:00 am Pacific. The event will be held online only.

In an unexpected twist, the date of the event was leaked by Apple’s digital assistant Siri as reported overnight by MacRumors. When asked about the date of the next Apple event, Siri responded that it would be April 20th at Apple Park.

Based on changes coming with iOS 14.5, Apple is expected to introduce AirTags for tracking personal items, which is expected to work like the third-party Find My network devices announced last week. There has also been widespread speculation that the company will introduce new iPad Pros, and with the recent discontinuation of the iMac Pro, we may see new M1 Macs too. In addition to hardware, Apple will likely make iOS and iPadOS 14.5, watchOS 7.4, tvOS 14.5, and macOS 11.3 Big Sur updates available soon after the event.


Spotify Announces Car Thing: Dedicated Audio Streaming Hardware for Drivers

Source: Spotify.

Source: Spotify.

Spotify has announced Car Thing, a dedicated Bluetooth-enabled audio controller for your car. Car Thing, which is Spotify’s first foray into hardware, is currently available by invitation only to Premium subscribers in the US.

Spotify’s new device is unique in that it isn’t a standalone product; it requires a mobile phone to work. The device itself is a touch screen with a handful of physical buttons and a big knob for navigating the service’s offerings. Data for streaming music or podcasts is provided by your mobile phone, which connects to Car Thing over Bluetooth. Car Thing doesn’t have a rechargeable battery or built-in speakers either. Power is provided by a USB-C to USB-A cable that must be plugged into a power source, and sound can be routed to your car’s audio system with a dedicated cable or over Bluetooth.

Source: Spotify.

Source: Spotify.

Car Thing, which also comes with dashboard mounting hardware, is controlled using its touch screen, programmable buttons along the top edge of the device, the knob, which allows drivers to scroll through the service’s content, and Spotify’s new ‘Hey Spotify’ digital assistant feature. Ashley Carman of The Verge had an opportunity to try Car Thing for a couple of days and had this to say about the device:

The voice controls mostly worked — for some reason it only got tripped up on a Kid Cudi request — but I grew frustrated with the steps it took to control music. When a song that I didn’t like played, it took longer to say, “Hey Spotify, skip” than it would have to just tap the skip button on my phone. I generally felt like I could more efficiently navigate Spotify just by using my phone at stop lights. The device does shine, however, when you ask the voice assistant to start a playlist, and it registered those commands easily.

Carman also notes that currently, Car Thing requires a data connection because it can only stream audio, although Spotify did not rule out a future update for accessing any downloaded content.

Source: Spotify.

Source: Spotify.

Car Thing is a fascinating product. Many users who already rely on features like Apple’s CarPlay and Android Auto will probably be content to continue to use those options, which offer other apps and services too. However, for drivers with older vehicles that don’t have built-in entertainment systems or ones that integrate with Spotify already and heavy Spotify users who like the idea of a dedicated Spotify interface, Car Thing is an intriguing option. I’m very curious to hear more about what it’s like to use in practice and get my hands on one myself.

If you live in the US and are a Spotify Premium subscriber, you can sign up to join the waitlist to receive the Car Thing. If you’re chosen, Spotify will send you a free Car Thing and only charge you $6.99 for shipping.


Quinn Nelson’s Approach to Home Automation

I’ve experimented with a lot of HomeKit devices over the past few years, and I often think about how I would set my home up if I were starting from scratch. That is exactly what Quinn Nelson of Snazzy Labs has done with his new home:

Nelson’s video shows off some fantastic HomeKit devices, but more important than the gear is his approach to home automation. There are a lot of important lessons in this video. However, the two that resonated with me the most based on my experience are the benefits of sticking with one platform to reduce complexity and the importance of having manual options for smart devices. More often than not, I’ve regretted it when I’ve lost sight of those two principles.

Like Nelson, I’m a big fan of the Lutron Caséta line of HomeKit lighting products. We installed a light switch in our living room about two years ago, and I haven’t had a single issue with it ever. Now I just need to try to resist the urge to see what it would cost to replace my bedroom shades with the fancy Lutron Serena shades Nelson also showed off.

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MacStories Unwind: Music and HomeKit App Reviews, an Update on the Epic Games Lawsuit, Arcade, and the Find My Network

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This week on MacStories Unwind:

MacStories

Club MacStories

  • MacStories Weekly
    • Federico shares a ‘smart append’ shortcut for plain text files
    • John shares some favorite movie tracker apps plus a shortcut for creating a ‘Watch Later’ playlist of videos using Downie

AppStories

Apple Arcade Update

Unwind


AppStories, Episode 212 – Music Part 1: How We Listen

This week on AppStories, we talk about Apple Arcade’s big expansion and the iOS component of John’s retro gaming project before beginning a new mini-series focused on music. For the first installment, we focus on hardware and services, covering our current setups, how we listen to music, and the services we use.

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Apple Court Filing Details ‘Project Liberty,’ Epic’s Plan to Free Itself of App Store Commissions

Just past midnight Pacific time today, Apple filed Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in its legal dispute with Epic Games. The document, a standard pre-trial filing, is designed to serve as a road map for the trial judge, explaining the facts Apple expects will be admitted into evidence at trial, how the law applies to those facts, and the decision Apple believes the court should reach. In other words, it’s a one-sided account of the disputes meant to persuade the judge that Apple’s legal positions are correct. Epic has filed a similar pleading in the case arguing its side of the story.

That context is important to keep in mind because until the judge issues a ruling, filings like these remain legal posturing. That doesn’t mean that Apple’s filing doesn’t contain facts that may be found to be true through the trial process, but until that trial happens, it’s best to approach these sorts of pleadings with skepticism.

That said, the document Apple filed includes some interesting revelations that the company backs up with reference to the documents and other evidence gathered during the pre-trial discovery phase of the litigation. Perhaps the most interesting tidbit is the additional backstory about something Epic called Project Liberty, a plan that Apple says was hatched by Epic in 2019 to free itself from App Store commissions and that Epic’s CEO Tim Sweeney recently mentioned in an interview with CNN.

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Apple Announces Find My Network and Three Initial Accessory Maker Partners

Today, Apple updated the Find My app to allow third-party products to take advantage of its network of devices to locate lost and stolen belongings from the app’s new Items tab. According to Apple’s press release:

“For more than a decade, our customers have relied on Find My to locate their missing or stolen Apple devices, all while protecting their privacy,” said Bob Borchers, Apple’s vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. “Now we’re bringing the powerful finding capabilities of Find My, one of our most popular services, to more people with the Find My network accessory program. We’re thrilled to see how Belkin, Chipolo, and VanMoof are utilizing this technology, and can’t wait to see what other partners create.”

The Find My network program, which is part of Apple’s Made For iPhone program, allows accessory makers to hook into Apple’s Find My network to locate belongings securely and privately. Apple also said it is publishing a draft specification for chipset makers later this spring, so they can take advantage of the precise, directional capabilities of Apple’s short-range U1 chip.

Apple announced three initial partners who are incorporating Find My into their products. VanMoof is integrating the feature into its S3 and X3 e-bikes, Belkin is including it in its SOUNDFORM Freedom True Wireless Earbuds, and Chipolo is using Find My in its ONE Spot item finder. Find My’s integrations with these third-party products will work just like it does with Apple devices allowing users to do things like play a sound, locate items on a map, and put them in Lost Mode to lock them. Apple says all three partners’ products will be available next week, with more partnerships to rolling out soon.


Albums 4.0: A Must-Have App for Music Lovers

Albums 4.0 is a beautifully designed, feature-rich app with more filtering and discovery tools than any other music app I’ve tried. The app is also opinionated, favoring album playback over individual songs or playlists. It’s the sort of focused, deep approach to music that Apple’s Music app doesn’t offer because it’s designed to appeal to a wider audience.

If you’re an albums-first music fan, you’ll love Albums. However, even if you prefer singles, playlists, and jumping around the Apple Music catalog as I do, Albums is worth checking out. The app’s powerful filtering opens up brand new ways to enjoy your music collection that any music fan can appreciate.

It just so happens that Federico and I are in the midst of an AppStories miniseries on music. This week we discussed how we listen to music and how it influences the services we use. Next week, we’ll cover third-party apps including Albums and many more. You can check out this week’s episode here:

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HomePaper: A Handy Utility for Creating Beautiful Home App Wallpapers

Aaron Pearce, the developer behind some of my favorite HomeKit apps like HomeRun, HomeCam, and HomePass, has a new utility that is out today for the iPhone and iPad called HomePaper that solves a very specific problem: boring Home app wallpapers. The room and home settings of Apple’s Home app let you assign a photo or one of nine colorful backgrounds as wallpapers. The trouble is that photos of a room in your home are often too distracting to serve as wallpapers, and Apple’s other choices are too limited and similar to each other. That’s where HomePaper comes in.

The Home App's wallpaper choices are limited.

The Home App’s wallpaper choices are limited.

Pearce’s app combines the best of both kinds of default Apple wallpapers by taking a photo, desaturating it, and overlaying a colorful gradient. You could do something similar in a photo editor, but HomePaper automates the process with a simple app that lets you experiment with different looks, arriving at one you like quickly and easily, the hallmark of a great utility. The result is an image that helps visually differentiate homes and rooms from each other like a standard photo would but with an additional burst of color and style.

HomePaper provides many pre-built gradients as well as the ability to create your own.

HomePaper provides many pre-built gradients as well as the ability to create your own.

HomePaper makes creating great-looking wallpapers effortless with a huge set of pre-built gradients that you can pair with an image in your photo library or by taking a picture with your iPhone or iPad’s camera. You can also pick the two colors for the gradient yourself using the iOS system color picker. When you’ve chosen or created a gradient you like, tap the download button in the bottom left corner of the screen to save it to your iCloud Photo Library, where it’s available to add to the Home app.

HomePaper is by far the simplest of Pearce’s apps, but it’s no less useful. I had settled on a single generic Apple-provided background that was the same for all my rooms because the choices didn’t inspire me to mix them up, and there was too much friction involved in creating my own. With HomePaper, though, I spent a few minutes snapping photos around my house and then applying gradients, achieving results that look great with minimal effort. The Home app looks nicer now when I open it, but it’s also easier to tell one room from another at a glance, which makes HomePaper a wonderful addition to my HomeKit apps.

HomePaper is free to download, allowing you to make one wallpaper. A $0.99 In-App Purchase unlocks the creation of unlimited wallpapers.