John Voorhees

1037 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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Apple Music Is Now Available on the Amazon Echo

Although Amazon initially indicated that it would be out the week of December 17th, Apple Music support has begun to roll out on Amazon Echo devices today in the US.

To set up Apple Music on the Echo, open the Alexa iOS app and go to the Music section of the app’s Settings. You won’t see Apple Music listed as an existing service, so tap the ‘Link New Service’ button, which will list Apple Music along with several other services.

Once you’ve logged in with your Apple Music credentials, the Apple Music Skill is enabled, which allows you to say things like ‘Alexa, play my New Music Mix on Apple Music.’ You can separately set Apple Music as your default music service, which lets you use Alexa to request music without specifying ‘on Apple Music.’ When you make a request for music Alexa will let you know that playback is coming from Apple Music with a response like ‘Playing New Music Mix from Apple Music.’

Not all of the Apple Music features that work on a HomePod work with an Echo. For example, although Alexa will acknowledge your feedback if you say you like a song, that does not result in the songs being marked as ‘liked’ in Apple Music or iTunes. Nor can Apple Music be triggered through third-party Alexa apps like Astra. However, for basic playback of playlists, albums, and songs, the new integration works well.

At least one thing you cannot do with a HomePod is available on the Echo. With Apple Music activated, you can set alarms to play specific playlists as Zac Hall demonstrates on 9to5Mac, which is handy.

Overall, Apple Music’s integration with the Amazon Echo is about what you would expect. If you’re an Apple Music subscriber and use Echo devices, the option of using your Apple Music subscription is a nice addition, but it's also a development that has the potential to help drive consumer adoption of the Echo and Apple Music.


Apple Music’s Connect Feature Is Shutting Down

Apple Music Connect, which once had a tab to itself in Apple’s Music app, was a multimedia feed of artist-submitted posts that debuted with the company’s music streaming service. The feature never really got traction after an initial flurry of posts by artists, and in the latest versions of Apple Music and iTunes, it was buried at the bottom of the ‘For You’ section and on individual artists’ pages.

According to Zac Hall at 9to5Mac, artists were contacted by Apple today with news that the company is ending Connect, which is backed up by a support page also cited by Hall. As of today, artists can no longer post Connect content, and existing posts are no longer visible in the Music app or iTunes. However, Apple also told artists that previously-uploaded content would remain available until May 24, 2019, via search.

Connect content appears in the 'More' section of search results.

Connect content appears in the 'More' section of search results.

Based on searches of artists who I recalled having participated in Connect, it looks as though that content is included in the ‘More’ section of search results. Presented outside the context of an explanatory post, some of the material, like U2’s tour of its eXPERIENCE VR bus in the screenshots above, feels out of place. However, I’m glad Apple has chosen to preserve Connect content for the time being because it also included things like alternate versions of songs and other material that is valued by fans. Hopefully, the best of that content will surface elsewhere for fans to enjoy.

Connect wasn’t Apple’s first attempt to bring music fans and artists together. Ping, Apple’s attempt at a music-themed social network that NPR called one of the worst ideas of 2010, failed more swiftly than Connect. The third try may be the charm, however. With iOS 11, Apple introduced the ability to follow friends as a way to discover new music, which has been met with greater acceptance by users.


CARROT Weather Adds New Data Sources, Including Netatmo Weather Stations

One of the nerdy features of CARROT Weather I love is its support for personal weather stations as a data source. Not long ago, Federico explained on AppStories that the weather station down the street from him had shut down, so he could no longer use it as a source in CARROT. I suggested he get a Netatmo Personal Weather Station and connect it to Weather Underground’s network of stations, but at about the same time Weather Underground ended its support for the Netatmo device, which left us both without a hyper-local weather source. It wasn’t a huge deal, but there’s something fun about knowing that the temperature you’re seeing in CARROT is the precise temperature outside your window and not some weather station that may be miles away from your home.

With today’s update, CARROT has stepped in with direct support for the Netatmo weather station as well as other new data sources. For the Netatmo device, all you need to do is sign in using the same login you use for Netatmo’s dedicated app, and as long as you’re within two miles of your home, CARROT will include the data collected by the Netatmo device.

Dark Sky is the default data source for CARROT, but users have three other options. The first is The Weather Channel, which provides the most extended-range forecast (data covering the next 360 hours and 15 days), is available worldwide, and can access personal weather stations connected to the Weather Underground network. CARROT has also added AccuWeather and Aeris Weather as data sources. The Aeris Weather option includes PWSweather.com personal weather station data. Users have the option of including Dark Sky's short-term precipitation in CARROT even if The Weather Channel, AccuWeather, or Aeris Weather is their data source.

Personal weather stations connected to the Weather Underground system and PWSweather.com can be selected from a map allowing you to pick one closest to where you live. Other than the personal weather station access through the Weather Channel’s API though, Weather Underground data, which was previously a data source option in CARROT, has been removed because IBM, which owns Weather Underground, has discontinued its API.

CARROT Weather’s update includes a host of other smaller additions too:

  • Air quality index and pollen data are available in the current weather view if you use The Weather Channel or AccuWeather as sources
  • There are six new secret locations to discover
  • The location screen has a new ‘Recent Searches’ section, from which you can add previous searches to your saved locations by tapping the star icon next to them.

I’m glad Brian Mueller has expanded the data source options for CARROT Weather. The best source varies depending on where you are, and with more sources, CARROT should be a better option for more users going forward. I especially like the personal weather station integration. Whether you have a weather sensor yourself or want to piggy-back on another publicly-available station nearby, they’re an excellent way to track hyper-local conditions.

CARROT Weather is available as a free update to existing users on the App Store.


Apple Announces New Austin Campus and Broad Expansion Across the US

Apple has announced a significant expansion across the US, including an expanded presence in Austin, a city where it currently employs over 6,000 people. Over the next three years, Apple also plans to grow to more than 1,000 employees in Seattle, San Diego, Culver City and add hundreds of jobs in New York, Pittsburgh, Boulder, Boston, and Portland. The company is also expanding its data centers in places like North Carolina, Nevada, Iowa, and Arizona.

At the center of the announcement though is a new facility that will be located in North Austin not far from Apple’s current Austin campus. The new office will cost over $1 billion to build and sit on a 133-acre site, 50 acres of which will be set aside for open space. Initially, the Austin campus will house 5,000 employees, with the ability to expand to as many as 15,000. The new complex will run on 100% renewable energy too.

Regarding the new site and the company’s expansion plans across the US, Apple CEO Tim Cook said:

“Apple is proud to bring new investment, jobs and opportunity to cities across the United States and to significantly deepen our quarter-century partnership with the city and people of Austin,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “Talent, creativity and tomorrow’s breakthrough ideas aren’t limited by region or zip code, and, with this new expansion, we’re redoubling our commitment to cultivating the high-tech sector and workforce nationwide.”

Overall, Apple added 6,000 jobs in the US during 2018 to bring its total US employee count to 90,000.


Djay 3.0 Debuts as a Free, Universal App with a Subscription Option for Pro Features

During the October iPad Pro event in Brooklyn, New York, Apple briefly showed off an upcoming version of djay by Algoriddim. Today, djay 3.0 was released on the App Store as a universal app that’s free to download with premium features available as a subscription.

Previously, Algoriddim offered free and paid iPhone apps as well as separate paid iPad apps. Add-ons like audio effects and skins were available separately as In-App Purchases. Algoriddim also offered a video mixing app called vjay. Today’s launch of version 3.0 consolidates all of those apps into one with a simplified pricing model.

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The Electrodes Used by Apple’s ECG Watch App Enable Faster, More Accurate Heart Rate Measurements

On 9to5Mac, Zac Hall breaks down how the new electrodes work in the Apple Watch Series 4 based on details published by Apple when it updated watchOS last week with the new ECG app. For now, the ECG app is only available in the US, but that doesn’t mean that others can’t benefit from the hardware that it uses. As Hall explains:

According to Apple, putting your finger on the Digital Crown to capture a heart rate reading also measures faster and with more accuracy as it updates every second versus every five seconds while the measurement is active.

That’s because placing your finger on the Digital Crown completes a circuit between your heart and arms that allows the Watch to record electrical impulses across your chest.

It will take time for the ECG app to gain the approval of regulators worldwide. However, in the meantime, it’s nice to know that the hardware that makes the ECG app possible is enhancing heart rate capture for everyone.

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Google Maps Debuts ‘For You’ Recommendations in 40 Countries on iOS

Previewed in May, Google has added a ‘For You’ tab to its Maps iOS app that is rolling out in stages today to users in 40 countries. The Android version of the feature is debuting in 130 countries.

‘For You,’ which appears as a tab on the far right of the app’s toolbar, is a way to follow a restaurant news feed for particular geographic areas. According to Google’s The Keyword blog:

Simply follow neighborhoods or places you’re interested in to get updates and recommendations—everything from recent news about an opening or pop up, a new menu item, and even restaurant suggestions based on what you’re likely to enjoy. If you’re making a trip this holiday season, the For You can help you get a jump start on travel planning even before you take off.

The For You tab includes its own settings that suggest additional areas to follow based on your location history. You can also add regions manually by panning and zooming the map to show the location in which you are interested. Surprisingly, there is no search bar for finding areas to follow.

If the area you pick doesn’t include enough places to track, the app prompts you to zoom out. That’s not an issue in densely populated cities, but in the suburbs where I live, I had to zoom out to roughly a 10x10-mile square that included several towns before I could save the area. Even then, I had to scroll back about a week before I found any local news. Likewise, if the area you pick is too large (for example, the entire New York metropolitan area), you’ll be prompted to zoom in to a smaller area.

The For You tab overlaps with the Explore tab’s listings of area restaurants but focuses on recent reviews and other news aggregated from third-party sources instead of business listings. If you see a place you want to try, there’s tap the bookmark icon next to it to add it to your ‘Want to go’ list, another list you’ve created, or your ‘Short List’ for sharing with others, just as you can from the Explore tab.

In my limited testing, my recommendations were dominated by Chicago. That’s not a surprise, but there were only four nearby entries since the beginning of November, which is a pretty weak showing for suburbs just 25 miles outside of Chicago. It’s worth noting too that the For You tab is limited to restaurants, which I didn’t expect. Not including events feels like a missed opportunity. Despite the overlap with the Explore tab and limited content available, For You should be useful the next time I’m looking for a new restaurant to try in Chicago or visiting an unfamiliar city.

The For You tab is being released in stages and will show up in Google Maps without the need to update the app in the App Store. If you don’t see the feature yet, force quitting Google Maps and reopening it can cause the new tab to appear.


Electrocardiogram App and Irregular Heart Rhythm Notifications Available Today

At Apple’s September keynote the company introduced the Series 4 Apple Watch. Among the features announced was a preview of the ability to generate an electrocardiogram or ECG within thirty seconds by placing a finger on the Digital Crown. At the time, Apple said the ECG functionality would ship in a software update ‘later this year.’

Today, with the release of watchOS 5.1.2, Apple has shipped the ECG app. As we explained in the MacStories Series 4 overview, the ECG functionality is enabled by new hardware including a new titanium electrode built into the Digital Crown:

This electrode pairs with another electrode built into the bottom of the Series 4's new sapphire crystal back. When you place your finger over the top of the crown you form a closed circuit between your finger and the wrist of your other arm – where the back electrode is making contact.

Apple’s ECG sensor is notable because it’s the first of its kind available over the counter to consumers. ECG results taken with the Apple Watch are stored in the Health app, from which they can be exported as a PDF for sharing with your physician.

According to Apple's press release:

The ECG app’s ability to accurately classify an ECG recording into AFib and sinus rhythm was validated in a clinical trial of around 600 participants. Rhythm classification from a gold standard 12-lead ECG by a cardiologist was compared to the rhythm classification of a simultaneously collected ECG from the ECG app. The study found the ECG app on Apple Watch demonstrated 98.3 percent sensitivity in classifying AFib and 99.6 percent specificity in classifying sinus rhythm in classifiable recordings. In the study, 87.8 percent of recordings could be classified by the ECG app.

watchOS has also been updated to notify users of irregular heart rhythms:

the irregular rhythm notification feature will occasionally check the user’s heart rhythm in the background for signs of an irregular heart rhythm that appears to be AFib and alerts the user with a notification if an irregular rhythm is detected on five rhythm checks over a minimum of 65 minutes.

The irregular heart rhythm notification feature, which is available for the Series 1 Watch and later, was likewise tested in clinical studies:

In that sub-study, of the participants that received an irregular rhythm notification on their Apple Watch while simultaneously wearing an ECG patch, 80 percent showed AFib on the ECG patch and 98 percent showed AFib or other clinically relevant arrhythmias.

The new Apple Watch ECG app and irregular heart rhythm notification feature are available as part of watchOS 5.1.2, which can be downloaded from the Software Update section of the Watch app on your iPhone.