John Voorhees

722 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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This week's sponsor

Spark

The Future of Email


Voice Control is Coming to the Alexa App Soon

Amazon is adding voice control support to its Alexa app on Android and iOS. According to TechCrunch:

The addition of voice commands means users can speak directly to their handset the way they would an Echo — to play music, trigger Alexa skills and the like. The update is being rolled out over the course of the coming days through Google Play and Amazon’s own Appstore. A similar update is also on the way for the iOS App Store, but its timing is still up in the air, likely due to Apple’s stricter vetting process.

Unlike Google and Apple, Amazon doesn’t have a smartphone platform for its smart assistant. That puts Amazon at a disadvantage because it precludes users from activating Alexa with a trigger word on Android phones and iOS devices. Still, the move feels like a natural extension of the services surrounding Alexa and Amazon’s Echo products.

There’s precedent for this sort of app on iOS too. Astra is a simple iOS utility that acts like an Echo device. It’s registered in the Alexa app alongside any Echo products you own. Pressing the microphone button lets you issue the same commands you can to an Echo. It remains to be seen what Amazon’s update to the Alexa app will mean for Astra, but in any event, it will be interesting to see where Amazon’s push into mobile leads.

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Mac and iOS App Store Web Preview Pages Get a Makeover

Apple has introduced new web preview pages for the App Store and Mac App Store. The new design more closely tracks the App Store changes debuted as part of iOS 11. Interestingly, the web previews for Mac apps share the same refreshed design despite the fact that the Mac App Store has barely changed since its introduction in 2011.

The new design features bigger images and more white space. Reviews are laid out horizontally as cards near the bottom of the page. Longer reviews open in a pop-over card that hovers above the page when the ‘more’ link is clicked. Mac apps include a ‘View in Mac App Store’ button near the top of the page too.

The new web previews are only accessible from search results loaded in the desktop version of Safari or another desktop browser. The mobile version of the browser offers to take you to the App Store when a link is tapped, even if you long press the refresh button and pick ‘Request Desktop Site.’ In my tests, the desktop search results that load in mobile Safari look more like their desktop counterparts, but DuckDuckGo and Bing still offer to open the App Store, whereas Google’s links are simply unresponsive.

I like the look of the new preview pages. The old ones were too closely tied to the design of the iTunes App Store, which was eliminated last fall.

The inclusion of Mac app previews is intriguing. It makes sense for both Stores to share a common design language, but the Mac App Store is in desperate need of love and attention for many reasons that extend beyond its design. Whether this is a sign that the Mac App Store will get that attention soon, Mac apps will be thrown in with iOS apps on the App Store, or something else will be interesting to watch.



Spark: The Future of Email [Sponsor]

Email robs you of precious time. Spark recovers those lost moments by knowing what’s important and organizing it for you neatly and automatically.

Spark’s smarts start with its inbox. Messages that arrive in Spark’s Smart Inbox are automatically categorized as Personal, Notifications, and Newsletters, which makes it easy to focus on what’s important and return what’s not later.

Intelligent search makes it simple to find messages no matter where they are. Spark’s natural language algorithm thinks like you do. Just ask for messages the way you would if you were asking a friend.

Email notifications are a problem that can spin out of control quickly. Spark uses Smart Notifications to filter out the junk and only notify you what you need to know now.

In addition, Spark features beautifully designed card-style calendar invitations that can be accepted with just one tap, the ability to send later and set up reminders for messages that don’t receive a reply, message snoozing, and Quick Replies that let you acknowledge a message with a single tap. Spark also has customizable gesture actions and works with Dropbox, Box, iCloud Drive, and more. You can even customize Spark's sidebar with favorite folders and saved searches.

As if that weren’t enough, soon Spark 2.0 will introduce Spark for Teams, which will change the way teams collaborate giving them the ability to do things like comment and discuss messages and write messages together.

The future is now. Download Spark today for free on iOS or on macOS and take control of your inbox.

Thanks to Spark for supporting MacStories this week.



Aquarelo: A Beautifully-Designed Mac Color Utility

There are a seemingly endless number of ways to represent colors. Whether you’re a professional designer or developer, or someone who just wants to update a website template, you’ve undoubtedly come across several. The trouble with so many different formats is that it guarantees that at some point, the color value you have won’t be the one you require. Aquarelo is a beautifully-designed new Mac app that cuts through the thicket of formats to help you find the colors you want and convert them to the format you need.

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Jamf Now: Easily Set Up, Manage and Protect Your Apple Devices [Sponsor]

For some people, IT is a task and not a career. Jamf Now helps you manage and secure your iPad, iPhone and Mac devices at work.

For example, when a business is first starting out, it’s pretty easy to keep track of a couple of Apple devices. But as a company grows and it start to buy more tech for employees, it gets harder to keep track of everyone’s Mac, iPhone, and iPad. Figuring out how to secure an iPad that an employee lost can be tough — especially if they work remotely.

Jamf Now makes that, and much more, easier. You can check real-time inventory, configure Wi-Fi and email settings, deploy applications, protect sensitive company data, and even lock or wipe a device from anywhere. Jamf Now helps manage your devices so you can focus on your business. There’s no IT experience needed.

MacStories readers can start securing their business today — by setting up the first 3 devices for free. Add more, for just $2 a month, per device. Create your free Jamf Now account today.

Thanks to Jamf Now for supporting MacStories this week.


Panic to Discontinue Development of Transmit iOS

Panic has announced that it will remove Transmit iOS from the App Store soon. In a blog post today, Cabel Sasser explains that the revenue generated by the paid-up-front app was insufficient to justify its continued development. Sasser doesn’t rule out a return of Transmit to iOS some day, and the move does not affect the company’s other iOS apps or Transmit 5 for the Mac, but adding features to the iOS app to match those debuted in the Mac version last year would make Transmit iOS ‘a guaranteed money-loser.’

This is not Panic’s first pull-back from the App Store. In 2016, Panic pulled the plug on Status Board, its widget-style app for tracking data through web APIs. Why Transmit wasn’t sustainable on iOS is unclear:

Was the use case for this app too edge-casey or advanced? Did we overestimate the amount of file management people want to do on a portable device? Should we have focused more on document viewing capabilities? Maybe all of the above?

Although Transmit will be removed from the App Store soon, Panic updated it with iPhone X support, and existing users will still be able to download it from the App Store and use it until some future change in iOS breaks the app.

I’m sad to see Transmit go. It’s a loss for the platform, but I don’t think it’s a bad omen for ’pro’ iOS productivity apps in general. Transmit failed to get the traction necessary to sustain its further development, but there are still many examples of productivity apps that have found success on the App Store. Hopefully, Panic will find a way to bring Transmit back to iOS one day.

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Track Hyper-Local Weather Conditions With the Netatmo Weather Station

For some people, weather apps simply answer questions like ‘Do I need a coat today?’ but their appeal is much broader. Weather apps are also about science and statistics. If you enjoy the geeky data side of tracking the weather, there’s no better way satisfy that interest than by collecting measurements yourself with a weather station like the one made by Netatmo.

Weather stations, like many gadgets, run from the simple to the complex. What I like most about the Netatmo Weather Station is that it’s easy to set up and modular. That means you can start with the core system that tracks basic weather data like temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and air quality, and later, add wind speed and precipitation gauges if you want to dive deeper into tracking the weather.

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