John Voorhees

348 posts on MacStories since November 2015

John Voorhees is the creator of Blink: Better Affiliate Links, an iTunes affiliate linking app for iOS from Squibner, and co-host with Robb Lewis of the podcast Ruminate.

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AirPods Make Their Video Debut

Update: Apple has posted an additional video featuring the AirPods called 'Stroll,' which is a longer version of the Siri video described below. You can watch the video at the end of this article.


Apple posted three 15-second advertisements featuring AirPods. Each video is black and white, except for the screens of the iPhones that make an appearance in two of the clips. All three also features the single ’Down’ by Marian Hill.

Two of the videos start with a man walking down the street of a city. In the first spot, the lead character taps his AirPods twice to activate Siri and says ‘Play Marian Hill,’ which starts the music. The second spot opens with another person flipping open his AirPods case to pair his AirPods, then immediately cuts to him dancing down the street and horizontally along the side of a car. Both ads close with the taglines ‘AirPods on iPhone 7’ and ‘practically magic.’

The third ad substitutes musical notes on a staff with AirPods scrolling by as ‘Down’ plays. The clip concludes with AirPods emerging from their case and the pairing interface opening on an iPhone 7.

These are the first advertisements to focus on AirPods. The first two ads do a great job of quickly showing off a feature then focusing on the freedom of movement afforded by AirPods. The final spot that substitutes musical notes with AirPods is more focused on showing off the product, delightfully linking the AirPods with the music they play.


Game Day: Open Bar

The App Store is running a feature called ‘The best games you’ve never played,’ which is a nice way to promote games that may have slipped under your radar. One game in particular caught my eye: Open Bar by Gingear Studios, which was originally released in early 2016 and went on to win a PAX East Indie Showcase Award.

Open Bar is a classic iOS puzzle game involving color and shape matching on an irregularly-shaped grid. The goal is to form bars of matching colors that reach across the entire board. Bars cannot be finished with just the pieces on the board, however. You have to place pieces from the bottom of the screen onto the board too. What’s tricky is that when you move a piece that is already on the board to another spot, the next available piece on the bottom of the screen automatically takes the original position of the piece you moved.

That may sound a little complex, but it isn’t. Open Bar does an exceptional job of introducing each of the rules of the game gradually through a series of simple levels. If you get stuck, there’s a hint system built in that requires you to spend in-app currency. It isn’t currency bought with an In-App Purchase, though. Coins are earned by completing puzzles and can be used to buy hints or new color themes. Because the coins you earn are limited, it pays to keep some in reserve for when the levels get harder.

Open Bar’s design is excellent. The color schemes are loosely based on classic cocktails. Bubbles rise in the background of each level behind the board that seems to pop off the screen thanks to drop-shadows that create a layered effect among the game’s elements. The visuals are complemented by entertaining animations and sound effects that remind me a little of similar touches used in Letterpress.

Gingear Studios keeps Open Bar fun and low-stress by not telling you how many levels there are in the game. You can go back and retry levels, which is one way to earn coins for hints if you run out, but you can’t skip forward. Each level can be completed in just a few moves, so it’s also the kind of game that can be played in short sessions when you’re bored, which I also appreciate.

There are a lot of puzzle games on the App Store, but Open Bar strikes a unique balance between smart gameplay and a fresh design that makes it stand out from its peers. Open Bar is available on the App Store for $1.99.


After Retesting, Consumer Reports Recommends the MacBook Pro

Two days ago, Apple issued a statement disputing battery life tests run on the new MacBook Pro by Consumer Reports. Based on those tests, Consumer Reports concluded it couldn’t recommend the laptop. After retesting, Consumer Reports now recommends the MacBook Pro. In a new article explaining the retesting, the publication says:

Consumer Reports has now finished retesting the battery life on Apple's new MacBook Pro laptops, and our results show that a software update released by Apple on January 9 fixed problems we’d encountered in earlier testing.

With the updated software, the three MacBook Pros in our labs all performed well, with one model running 18.75 hours on a charge. We tested each model multiple times using the new software, following the same protocol we apply to hundreds of laptops every year.

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Tony Fadell Says Teams Did Not Compete to Design the iPhone

The conventional wisdom is that two teams competed inside Apple to build the original iPhone. One team's design was based on the iPod, and the other's was based on the Mac OS X. Those stories resurfaced with the tenth anniversary of the iPhone’s unveiling and a video showing what appears to be a prototype click wheel-based iPhone interface.

Tony Fadell, who was a key player in the development of the iPod and iPhone, spoke to Nilay Patel of The Verge to dispell the accepted belief that separate teams competed to design the iPhone:

So there were two different types of prototypes. There's one, a prototype for the UI team, and typically, because UI teams are using Director — back in the day — and quickly mocking things up on a screen. One team is doing it like it's an iPod, and another team is doing it like it was a touchscreen. The teams were working together. So it wasn't like there were two different people trying different things. And then there was the development board prototypes where we’d rewrite the UI on the hardware to try things like touchscreen and hardware buttons. So there were two tracks in hardware and software UI development running at all times. And so the thing that you're seeing [in that video] was just what the UI guys were doing, devoid of any hardware, doing it on a Mac.

According to Fadell, what is seen in the video is a Mac app that was later ported to an iPhone.

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Terminology: A Comprehensive Research Tool for Words

I've been a fan of Terminology by Agile Tortoise since it debuted in 2010. There are a lot of dictionary apps on the App Store, but most are bloated messes that foist multimedia experiences and games on me when all I want is a definition or synonym. Terminology has alway been just about words. With today's update, the app has been redesigned from the ground up with new features that make it a must-have research tool for anyone who writes.

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The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth Released on iOS

The long-anticipated iOS version of The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is now available on the App Store roughly one year after it was rejected by Apple. Isaac is a rogue-like, dungeon crawler game that was originally released in 2014 by indie game studio Nicalis. Apple rejected the iOS version of Isaac in early 2016 for depicting violence against children. Late yesterday, the game appeared on the App Store with a 17+ rating.

Apple isn't the first platform owner to reject Isaac. In 2012, Nintendo initially blocked Isaac from its 3DS eShop, but ultimately relented, publishing the game for the 3DS and Wii U.

The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth is available on the App Store for $14.99.


Chris Lattner Is Leaving Apple

Update: Chris Lattner has landed at Tesla Motors according to this Tesla blog post and the following tweet from the official Tesla account:


Chris Lattner designed and built most of LLVM as a graduate student. In 2005, he joined Apple where LLVM was integrated into Apple’s developer tools. Beginning in 2010, Lattner designed and built much of Swift, which was introduced to the world by Apple at WWDC in 2014.

Today, Lattner announced on the Swift mailing list that he is leaving Apple:

Since Apple launched Swift at WWDC 2014, the Swift team has worked closely with our developer community. When we made Swift open source and launched Swift.org we put a lot of effort into defining a strong community structure. This structure has enabled Apple and the amazingly vibrant Swift community to work together to evolve Swift into a powerful, mature language powering software used by hundreds of millions of people.

I’m happy to announce that Ted Kremenek will be taking over for me as “Project Lead” for the Swift project, managing the administrative and leadership responsibility for Swift.org. This recognizes the incredible effort he has already been putting into the project, and reflects a decision I’ve made to leave Apple later this month to pursue an opportunity in another space. This decision wasn't made lightly, and I want you all to know that I’m still completely committed to Swift. I plan to remain an active member of the Swift Core Team, as well as a contributor to the swift-evolution mailing list.

Working with many phenomenal teams at Apple to launch Swift has been a unique life experience. Apple is a truly amazing place to be able to assemble the skills, imagination, and discipline to pull something like this off. Swift is in great shape today, and Swift 4 will be a really strong release with Ted as the Project Lead.

Note that this isn’t a change to the structure - just to who sits in which role - so we don’t expect it to impact day-to-day operations in the Swift Core Team in any significant way. Ted and I wanted to let you know what is happening as a part of our commitment to keeping the structure of Swift.org transparent to our community.

Lattner’s contribution to Apple’s developer tools has been enormous. His departure is a big loss for Apple.

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Apple Issues Statement Regarding Consumer Reports’ Battery Tests

Shortly before the winter holidays, Consumer Reports announced that the new MacBook Pro had failed to earn its ‘recommended’ rating due to poor battery life caused by Safari. Apple disputed the testing done by Consumer Reports and worked with it over the holidays to track down the discrepancy between its testing and Consumer Reports’ results. Today, Apple released the following statement to a handful of outlets, including iMore and The Loop:

"We appreciate the opportunity to work with Consumer Reports over the holidays to understand their battery test results," Apple told iMore. "We learned that when testing battery life on Mac notebooks, Consumer Reports uses a hidden Safari setting for developing web sites which turns off the browser cache. This is not a setting used by customers and does not reflect real-world usage. Their use of this developer setting also triggered an obscure and intermittent bug reloading icons which created inconsistent results in their lab. After we asked Consumer Reports to run the same test using normal user settings, they told us their MacBook Pro systems consistently delivered the expected battery life. We have also fixed the bug uncovered in this test. This is the best pro notebook we've ever made, we respect Consumer Reports and we're glad they decided to revisit their findings on the MacBook Pro."

There have been reports of battery life issues with the MacBook Pro that are unrelated to Safari, but this should put the Safari issues raised by Consumer Reports to rest.


Tony Fadell Reflects on the Development of the iPhone

Before an iPhone was lost in a bar in San Francisco, there was Tony Fadell's moment of panic:

He'd just got off a plane, felt his pockets, and... nothing.

"I was walking through every scenario thinking about what could happen," he told me. None of them ended well.

After two hours, relief - thanks to the efforts of a search party that didn’t know what it was trying to find.

"It fell out of my pocket and it was lodged in between the seats!"

Fadell, who was a key player in the development of the iPod, was part of the team that developed the original iPhone. In an interview with the BBC, Fadell argues that the fact that Apple started development from the perspective of the iPod that was important to the iPhone's success because:

While competitors like Microsoft were trying to shrink the PC into a phone, Apple was looking to grow the iPod into something more sophisticated.

At the same time, focusing on the iPod's click wheel had its downsides too:

"We were turning it into a rotary phone from the sixties," Fadell remembered. "We were like, 'This doesn’t work! It's too hard to use'."

Fortunately, another group within Apple was working on a ping-pong table-sized touchscreen that they were able to shrink down to a size that could be used for the iPhone.

The BBC's interview with Fadell is full of interesting anecdotes about the years leading to the announcement of the iPhone and is required reading for iPhone history buffs.

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