John Voorhees

1334 posts on MacStories since November 2015

John, who is the managing editor of MacStories and Club MacStories, 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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Concepts

Where Ideas Take Shape


John Gruber’s Explanation of the Apparent Prime Video Deal Between Apple and Amazon

Yesterday, as reported by 9to5Mac and other publications, Amazon updated its Prime Video app to permit video purchases and rentals without using Apple’s In-App Purchase system in some circumstances. It wasn’t clear what was going on at first because some users saw what looked like an Amazon checkout process, while others got an Apple checkout flow. To add to the confusion, Apple issued a statement that said Amazon Prime is using “an established program for premium subscription video entertainment providers.”

John Gruber did some investigating and has an excellent explanation on Daring Fireball on how the deal between Amazon and Apple seems to work. As Gruber explains, If you’re signed in to the Amazon Prime app with an Amazon account and are a full Prime or Prime Video member, renting or purchasing video uses an Amazon checkout process. Otherwise, Apple’s In-App Purchase system is used, which interestingly, can also be used to sign up for a Prime Video subscription.

Gruber makes a compelling and detailed case for what seems to be going on:

So the deal seems to be this:

  • The Prime Video app supports every feature that makes a third-party subscription video service a first-class citizen in Apple’s multi-device TV ecosystem.
  • For users with existing Prime subscriptions, or new subscriptions made on Amazon’s website, Amazon now gets to bill them directly for movie rentals and purchases made in the app, giving Apple no cut of the transactions.
  • Users can subscribe to Prime Video in-app using an iTunes subscription, giving Apple a recurring cut, and leaving subscription management in Apple’s hands.
  • For users without a Prime subscription, or with a Prime subscription made through the app, Amazon now bills them for purchases and rentals through Apple’s In-App Purchase mechanism, giving Apple a cut.

Based on a few reasonable assumptions, Gruber concludes that the deal is a win for Apple, Amazon, and also consumers who get a first-rate app experience that includes the ability to buy and rent TV shows and movies in the Prime Video app for the first time.

I hope we see more deals like this. Having Prime Video available in Apple’s TV app where it’s included in the Up Next section of the app and being able to rent and buy content without resorting to a web browser makes for a much better overall experience for users looking for something to watch.

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The Mighty mini: Adapting Apple’s Diminutive Tablet to Work and Play

Make no mistake, whether it’s a Mac, iPhone, or an iPad, I prefer big screens. I think most people do. A big, bright screen makes reading easier, and a larger canvas for the apps you use is rarely a downside.

Still, there’s a reason we carry mobile phones when a tablet, laptop, or desktop could accomplish the same tasks: portability. Smaller is often better, even as the compromises start to pile up when you shrink a device.

Portability is why foldable phones have captured the imaginations of so many people. They promise the portability of a traditional smartphone with a screen that’s closer to a tablet’s.

Just over one year ago, in March 2019, Apple released two new iPads: a 10.5-inch iPad Air and the first new iPad mini in over three years. The 5th-generation mini was a big surprise, largely because the mini hadn’t been updated in so long, leading many people to write it off as dead.

Perhaps an even bigger surprise, however, was the mini’s hardware. The design didn’t change, but the 5th-generation mini upgraded the device to an A12 processor, the same chip in the then-current iPhone XR and XS. The update also added a Retina laminated screen with True Tone, P3 color support, and the highest pixel density of any iPad. The mini doesn’t support ProMotion, it only supports the first-generation Apple Pencil, and still relies on Touch ID for security. Still, in terms of raw horsepower, the mini is more similar to the 10.5-inch iPad Air than it is different, allowing it to hold its own in Apple’s iPad lineup despite its diminutive size.

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The previous fall, I had ordered a 2018 12.9-inch iPad Pro and fell in love with it for writing and other tasks. As much as I enjoy the iPad Pro’s big display, though, it’s not suited for every task. For example, the size of the iPad Pro makes it awkward for reading in bed. Also, although I love to play games on my iPad Pro with a connected controller, that only works well if the iPad is sitting on a table.

When the mini was introduced, I immediately wondered whether Apple’s smallest tablet could be the perfect complement to its largest iPad Pro: a powerful but tiny device that could work well where the Pro doesn’t. I also figured the mini could be a great ‘downtime’ device for activities like games, reading, chatting with friends, and watching TV, movies, and other video content. So, I sold some old gear I no longer used and bought a mini with 256GB of storage, so I’d have plenty of space for games and locally-downloaded video.

The plan was for my new mini to serve almost exclusively as my downtime iPad. What’s happened in practice during the past year is very different than I anticipated originally. My use of the mini has expanded far beyond what I’d expected, despite the compromises that come along with its small size. The iPad Pro remains the device I rely on for most of my needs, but as we approached the iPad’s first decade, the time felt right to consider how far the mini has come and how this unassuming device fits so neatly into the spaces between the other devices I use.

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Dark Sky Has Been Acquired by Apple and Its API Will Be Discontinued at the End of 2021

Dark Sky, the maker of the popular weather app by the same name, announced on its blog (and in its iOS app) that it has joined Apple.

In its post, the company said:

Our goal has always been to provide the world with the best weather information possible, to help as many people as we can stay dry and safe, and to do so in a way that respects your privacy.

There is no better place to accomplish these goals than at Apple. We’re thrilled to have the opportunity to reach far more people, with far more impact, than we ever could alone.

According to the company, its iOS app will continue to be made available on the App Store. However, the Android and Wear OS apps will be discontinued and the service will no longer work after July 1, 2020. Subscribers active at that time will receive a refund. Likewise, the weather forecast, maps, and embeds portions of the Dark Sky website will be discontinued after July 1, 2020.

Dark Sky is also the maker of an API that is used by many, many third-party weather apps. Dark Sky says it is no longer accepting sign-ups for the API and that it will be discontinued at the end of 2021. Although that’s a long way off, the change is going to impact many users’ favorite weather apps on iOS.

Dark Sky’s announcement comes as a surprise, but it certainly makes sense from Apple’s perspective. Weather data is notoriously expensive and Dark Sky has some of the most accurate forecast data for many parts of the world, which undoubtedly made it an attractive acquisition. It will be a shame to see their data disappear from third party apps.


AppStories, Episode 156 – iPad at 10: The History and Emerging Modularity of Apple’s Tablet

This week on AppStories, we kick off MacStories’ celebration of the 10th anniversary of the iPad’s launch with an episode that reflects on the device’s history, its place in Apple’s product lineup, and the iPad as a modular computing device.

Sponsored by:

  • Concepts – Where Ideas Take Shape
  • Direct Mail – Create and send great-looking email newsletters with Direct Mail, an easy-to-use email marketing app designed exclusively for the Mac.

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The iPad at 10: Emerging from the Shadow of the iPhone

The trouble with looking back over a long period is that time has a way of compressing history. The clarity of hindsight makes it easy to look back at almost anything and be disappointed in some way with how it turned out years later.

We certainly saw that with the anniversary of the introduction of the iPad. Considered in isolation a decade later, it’s easy to find shortcomings with the iPad. However, the endpoints of the iPad’s timeline don’t tell the full story.

It’s not that the device is short on ways it could be improved; of course, it isn’t. However, the path of the iPad over the past decade isn’t a straight line from point A to point B. The iPad’s course has been influenced by countless decisions along the way bearing consequences that were good, bad, and sometimes unintended.

The 10th anniversary of the iPad isn’t a destination, it’s just an arbitrary point from which to take stock of where things have been and consider where they are going. To do that, it’s instructive to look at more than the endpoints of the iPad’s history and consider what has happened in between. Viewed from that perspective, the state of the iPad ten years later, while at times frustrating, also holds reason for optimism. No single product in Apple’s lineup has more room to grow or potential to change the computing landscape than the iPad does today.

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Pixelmator Pro 1.6 Released with New Color Picker and Improved Way to Select Multiple Items

Pixelmator Pro 1.6 has been released with an all-new color picker that streamlines color management in the app, plus an improved way to select multiple objects in an image.

The lion’s share of Pixelmator Pro 1.6 is focused on the app’s new color picker that consolidates multiple tools in one place. The color square section of Pixelmator Pro’s color picker allows users to pick a hue, adjust its saturation and brightness, displays HEX and RGB values, provides for the creation of color swatch collections, and displays the six most recently used colors.

Pixelmator Pro features a brand new color picker.

Pixelmator Pro features a brand new color picker.

There’s also a dedicated color picker tool at the bottom of the tools on the right-hand edge of the app’s window. With the new tool open, the eyedropper remains active, improving the process of picking colors. The new color picker tool also keeps your swatches and color-picking settings available in the sidebar.

Pixelmator Pro 1.6 includes a number of other refinements too. Among them, multiple objects can also be selected now simply by dragging over them, and there’s a new tool for replacing missing fonts in a project more easily.

I’ve only spent a short time with Pixelmator Pro 1.6 so far, but even with my limited use, the new color tools a clear improvement. By consolidating everything into a custom picker, selecting and managing colors is vastly simpler than in the past. To learn more, check out the Pixelmator team’s post that additional details about the update.

Pixelmator Pro is available as a free update on the Mac App Store.


Apple Releases Free COVID-19 App and Website

Apple has launched a new app developed in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency called Apple COVID-19. The company released the app with a press release:

Apple today released a new screening tool and set of resources to help people stay informed and take the proper steps to protect their health during the spread of COVID-19, based on the latest CDC guidance. The new COVID-19 website, and COVID-19 app available on the App Store, were created in partnership with the CDC,1the Coronavirus Task Force and FEMA to make it easy for people across the country to get trusted information and guidance at a time when the US is feeling the heavy burden of COVID-19.

Apple's COVID-19 website.

Apple’s COVID-19 website.

In addition to a coronavirus screening questionnaire, the app and website include other resources from trusted information sources:

The app and website also offer access to resources to help people stay informed and get the support they need. Users will receive answers to frequently asked questions about COVID-19, including who is most at risk and how to recognize symptoms. In addition, they will learn the most up-to-date information from the CDC like best practices for washing hands, disinfecting surfaces and monitoring symptoms.

Users can also ask Siri “How do I know if I have coronavirus?” to access further resources and a collection of telehealth apps on the App Store.

The Apple COVID-19 app is available as a free download on the App Store, and the website is located at apple.com/covid19.


Universal Purchases for Mac Apps Are Now Available to Developers

Universal purchases, which will allow developers to offer an app across Apple’s platforms, are now available for Mac apps. In a short notice posted to Apple’s developer news site, the company said:

The macOS version of your app can now be included in a universal purchase, allowing customers to enjoy your app and in‑app purchases across iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS by purchasing only once. Get started by using a single bundle ID for your apps in Xcode and setting up your app record for universal purchase in App Store Connect.

The feature began appearing for some developers on App Store Connect a little earlier in the day:

Prior to universal purchase, Mac apps were treated as separate products by Apple’s stores, which meant developers had to either charge separately for apps and, in some cases, jump through complex receipt-checking hoops to bundle their apps. This change should make the process of charging a single price or signing up for one subscription for apps across the Mac, iOS, iPadOS, watchOS, and tvOS much simpler and will enable cross-platform In-App purchases too.


Apple Podcasts Adds Curated Collections to Help Listeners Stay Informed, Calm, and Entertained During the Coronavirus Pandemic

As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads worldwide, there’s a lot of information coming at everyone all day long. It’s a stressful time, and it doesn’t help that people are stuck at home with more time than usual on their hands, and often, kids to entertain.

To help people cope, the Apple Podcasts editorial team has put together curated collections of podcasts. The ‘Coronavirus: Stay Informed’ collection draws on shows from respected, reputable news sources like CNN, NPR, the BBC, and ABC News. The shows spotlighted are excellent resources staying on top of the latest news.

However, because dealing with stressful times extends beyond keeping up-to-date with the developments, Apple Podcasts has three other collections too:

  • ‘Cultivating Calm,’ which is designed to help listens cope with current events and includes shows like Oprah Winfrey’s SuperSoul Conversations and On Being with Krista Tippett
  • ‘Boredom Busters,’ which features absorbing shows like This American Life and Jungle Prince from The New York Times
  • Shows for Kids,’ which has shows to help kids explore and cultivate their natural curiosity and includes NPR’s Wow in the World, Ologies with Alie Ward, and many others

Each collection is available in the Browse tab of the Apple Podcasts app on all of the company’s platforms.

I’ve had most of my whole family at home all week, and it’s been an adjustment for everyone. My work life hasn’t changed much, but it has been a new experience for my wife and two of our kids who are working and going to school alongside me every day now. Despite those obligations, staying at home has meant that everyone has more time on their hands, which is why it’s terrific to see Apple promoting a wide range of podcasts to help people stay informed, calm, and entertained through these difficult times.