John Voorhees

1288 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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Arcade Highlights: Pilgrims

Apple Arcade launched with a flurry of fantastic games. Not long after the first wave of titles hit the service, Czech studio Amanita Design turned heads with the unexpected release of Pilgrims, a traditional adventure game that borrows interaction elements from card-based games. The studio’s quirky, signature art style and sound design come together in a short but delightful game that encourages exploration and experimentation.

Amanita has been making iOS games since the earliest days of the App Store. It’s probably best known for Machinarium, which was released in 2009, but it has released a string of artful games that are fan favorites, including CHUCHEL, Samorost 3, and Botanicula.

Pilgrims dropped on Apple Arcade in October and is available on iOS, iPadOS, tvOS, and the Mac. I’ve played the game on all four platforms and found that it’s best experienced on the iPad, followed closely by the Mac.

The reasons Pilgrims succeeds so well on the iPad are threefold. First, the game is beautifully illustrated in a hand-drawn style that is reminiscent of a children’s storybook, which a big Retina iPad screen helps bring to life. Second, the iPad’s superior sound system makes it a great way to enjoy the game’s soundtrack, even without headphones. Finally, as I’ll explain in more detail below, Pilgrims relies on a card-based approach to gameplay that lends itself to touch, making direct interaction with the game’s cards and collectibles a natural fit.

The iPhone benefits from the same intimate interaction as the iPad, but the experience is diminished by the smaller screen and the iPhone’s inferior speakers when played without headphones. Pilgrims benefits from the even bigger screens of a Mac and TV, where I found that interacting with the game with a trackpad or mouse felt closer to the iPad’s touch experience than using the Apple TV’s Siri Remote or a game controller.

Pilgrims features a storybook-like feel, good humor, and a fun soundtrack.

Pilgrims features a storybook-like feel, good humor, and a fun soundtrack.

The premise of Pilgrims is simple: you start the game as a traveler who wakes up in his tent. You navigate around a map to various locations by tapping or clicking on them. Along the way, you collect items, interact with other characters, and solve puzzles. As you pass certain milestones, you’re joined by other pilgrims on your travels as you progress to the conclusion of the story.

The characters you befriend and the items you collect are represented by cards at the bottom of the screen. As you travel from point to point, your objectives will be clear: the thief wants potatoes, and the restaurant owner wants wine, for example. To obtain those items and unlock later stages of the game, you need to visit other locations on the map and through trial and error, collect items, trade for others, and interact with characters to advance the story.

Interactions in Pilgrims are primarily accomplished by dragging the cards of items you've collected and travelers you've befriended into each scene.

Interactions in Pilgrims are primarily accomplished by dragging the cards of items you’ve collected and travelers you’ve befriended into each scene.

Interactions are initiated by dragging cards into each scene and then watching how the story unfolds. The scenes are handled with an excellent sense of humor and whimsy that encourages you to experiment. In turn, that lends itself to a leisurely pace and provides a richer experience than doing the minimum necessary to reach the end of the game would suggest. It also makes Pilgrims a fun game to revisit because, although the environment may be familiar, testing different interactions with the characters you meet along the way makes repeat plays fun.

It’s the combination of storytelling and card-based play that makes Pilgrims such a perfect match with the iPad. Playing on a big Mac screen with a good set of speakers is a close second, but sitting back in a comfortable chair and exploring Pilgrims’ world from an iPad can’t be beaten. If you missed this release, which trailed the Apple Arcade launch by a few weeks, be sure to check it out now.

Pilgrims is available as part of Apple Arcade on iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, and Mac.


iA Writer 5.4 Adds New Export Options, Local Backups, and Hashtag Suggestions

Over the holidays, the iA Writer team released version 5.4 of its iOS, iPadOS, and Mac apps, which added improved export options. The iOS and iPadOS apps also gained local backups and hashtag suggestions.

The new export feature adds the ability to share, export, print, and copy from the app’s Library using context menus. On iOS and iPadOS, each of those commands is available by long-pressing an item in your Library and picking from the popup context menu. The experience is similar on the Mac, where the same options are available when you right-click on an item in the Library. iA Writer’s release notes say that publishing is available via context menus too, but the MacStories WordPress setup doesn’t work with iA Writer, and I don’t use Ghost or Medium, so I haven’t tried that feature.

iA Writer includes a new Copy Markdown Action.

iA Writer includes a new Copy Markdown Action.

The alternatives for getting text out of iA Writer have been expanded too. The update’s Copy action has added a Copy Markdown option that makes it trivially easy to copy your work and drop it into another iOS or iPadOS app or paste it into a Mac app using Handoff.

Better yet, the Copy Markdown functionality includes content blocks to the copied text. That way, if you split a long document into multiple files, copying the Markdown of the main document will automatically incorporate the externally referenced files as content blocks. It’s an excellent way to assemble a long-form story and paste it into a content management system or another app with just a couple of taps. Together with the app’s existing copy, share, and export options, iA Writer has become one of the most versatile text editors when it comes to delivering your final text in the format you want and where you need it.

A local backup is saved as your document is edited.

A local backup is saved as your document is edited.

On iOS and iPadOS, iA Writer 5.4 has also added local backups, which are accessed from the action button in the toolbar, by swiping left on or long-pressing an item in your Library, or using Quick Search, which Federico covered in his review of version 5.3 of the app. Backups of your files are created as you edit them, and reverting to an older version is as simple as selecting the one you want and tapping ‘Restore.’ If you change the name of a document, the app keeps the older backups under the file’s original name. You can also navigate to the root level of your Library folder structure from the backups of the document you are currently viewing, allowing you to browse every local backup created by iA Writer on your device.

The strength of iA Writer’s backup feature is that the backups are local. iOS 13 has been a buggy release, and iCloud Drive continues to cause trouble for some users. By creating a local backup, iA Writer provides its users with a copy of their work on whichever device they’re using that isn’t affected by sync or other cloud-based issues.

In my testing, the new backup feature worked well and provided additional peace of mind that my work is safe, which I love. I did run into a bug when navigating back to the editor from the backup view when I entered it via the Library’s context menu. The editor lost the focus, so I had no cursor or keyboard, though it’s an issue that can be fixed by tapping into another document and then back to the one you’re editing. Hopefully, that will be fixed soon, but for now, the workaround is simple, and the issue is easily avoidable by not using the context menu to access backups for the time being.

iA Writer’s hashtag suggestions appear in the row above its custom keyboard.

iA Writer’s hashtag suggestions appear in the row above its custom keyboard.

Another iOS and iPadOS-only feature that’s new for version 5.4 is hashtag suggestions. Hashtags aren’t a feature of iA Writer that I use, but the update makes accessing hashtags more convenient by displaying the most recent three in the row above the app’s custom keyboard if your cursor is on an empty space. Alternatively, if the cursor’s inside a word, the top row offers to convert the word into a hashtag. It’s worth noting, however, that hashtag suggestions are not displayed when iA Writer’s custom keyboard is displayed as a popover on the iPad Pro.


In the broader scheme of iA Writer’s development, version 5.4 is a relatively minor update, though it does reinforce why the app was chosen as the MacStories Selects App of the Year. iA Writer has been a category-leading text editor for years, but it continues to receive regular updates that incorporate the latest technologies on every platform in ways that refine the experience for users and expand the app’s capabilities.

There’s an incredible amount of power tucked away behind iA Writer’s simple UI. That power is always just a tap or two away, but stays hidden until you need it, which is my favorite sort of pro app UI.

iA Writer 5.4 for iOS and iPadOS and for the Mac is available as a free update for existing users.


Sam Henri Gold Launches The Unofficial Apple Archive

Source: The Unofficial Apple Archive

Source: The Unofficial Apple Archive

Last summer, Sam Henri Gold uploaded hundreds of images, videos, and other historical Apple material to Google Drive from the company’s earliest days to present. The collection didn’t last long. The flood of people trying to download its contents slowed the archive to a crawl, and ultimately Gold took it down.

The archive is back now at applearchive.org as an ad-free website organized by decade. The collection, which Gold has dubbed The (Unofficial) Apple Archive, includes a wide range of materials from press photos and keynotes to TV ads and Mac wallpapers. There is even a healthy collection of unreleased materials, like this unreleased social media ad for AirPower.

The site includes search functionality that makes it easier to find something specific among the hundreds of items or browse an entire product category. Images can be downloaded from the archive, but to deter downloading of videos, Gold is using a restrictive embedded Vimeo player. The desire to stop downloads is understandable, but it also means that the videos cannot be embedded by others writing about them elsewhere, which is a shame.

Between a Vimeo Pro account and Squarespace, Gold says the Apple Archive costs him about $456/year. Because the site is ad-free, Gold is accepting donations to help defray the costs here. To learn more about the Apple Archive project and the story behind it, check out Michael Steeber’s interview with Gold on 9to5Mac.


Apple Shows Off Daisy the Recycling Robot

We’ve covered Apple’s recycling robot Daisy, and its predecessor, Liam, before. Both are part of Apple’s efforts to become a ‘closed-loop’ manufacturer that doesn’t rely on the mining industry for the materials that make up its products.

Apple gave Reuters a tour of the warehouse in Austin, Texas that houses Daisy recently. According to the story:

Daisy, less than 20 yards in length, uses a four-step process to remove an iPhone battery with a blast of -80 Celsius (-176 Fahrenheit) degree air, and then pop out screws and modules, including the haptic module that makes a phone vibrate.

From the process, Apple is able to remove 14 minerals from 200 iPhones per hour that are sent to recyclers for extraction and refinement.

The company’s recycling effort has its skeptics as outlined in the Reuters story, but it’s commendable nonetheless. Be sure to check out the full story for images of Daisy and the components it removes from iPhones.

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CES: A Tour of the Most Interesting (and Strange) Tech Announcements

CES has been going strong all week with announcements of new gadgets: home automation gear, TVs, computers, and lots more. Many mobile phone makers and some big industry players sit out CES, but there is still plenty of news from companies big and small with new products and technologies to show off.

A lot of what gets hyped at CES is prototypes and concept devices that will never ship or will get delayed. Still, every year I find that CES is fascinating to study for the industry trends it reveals and the handful of gadgets I discover that I’d like to try.

After combing through hundreds of headlines and press releases, I’ve compiled a roundup of some of this week’s most compelling announcements. Feel free to skip around to the categories that you find most interesting using the table of contents below.

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Apple Announces Night Mode Photography Contest

About this time last year, Apple announced its first-ever ‘Shot on iPhone’ photography challenge judged by a panel of professional photographers and Apple employees. Apple is back with a new contest app this year asking users to submit their Night mode photos.

Through January 29th, Apple is taking submissions on Instagram, Twitter, and Weibo. To qualify, post your photos on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #ShotoniPhone and #NightmodeChallenge and Weibo using #ShotoniPhone# and #NightmodeChallenge#.

Five winners will be picked by a panel of judges that include:

plus the following Apple executives and employees:

  • Phil Schiller
  • Kaiann Drance
  • Brooks Kraft
  • Jon McCormack
  • Are Duplessis

The five winning photos will be announced on March 4th on the Apple Newsroom. Apple says the images may also be used in digital campaigns, at stores, on billboards, and in photo exhibitions.

Night mode photography was a big part of Federico’s story on iPhone 11 Pro photography called Eternal City, Modern Photography: The iPhone 11 Pro in Rome. Here’s an outtake from that story that Federico submitted for the challenge:

For more on the contest and tips on shooting Night mode photos, check out Apple’s press release.


Apple Details 2019 App Store Stats and Recaps Other Services

Source: Apple.

Source: Apple.

In a press release today, Apple shared App Store revenue numbers for the 2019 holiday season, which set an all-time record for single day sales on New Year’s Day:

Since the App Store launched in 2008, developers have earned over $155 billion, with a quarter of those earnings coming from the past year alone. As a measure of the excitement going into 2020, App Store customers spent a record $1.42 billion between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, a 16 percent increase over last year, and $386 million on New Year’s Day 2020 alone, a 20 percent increase over last year and a new single-day record.

In addition to apps, Apple recapped its other services:

  • Apple Music, which added a time-synced lyrics feature that more than 50% of iOS 13 users have tried
  • TV+, which is available in over 100 countries
  • The TV app, which is available on Apple TV hardware, third-party TVs, and features over 30 channels
  • Apple Arcade
  • Apple News, which the company says has over 100 million monthly active users
  • Podcasts
  • Apple Card
  • Apple Pay
  • iCloud

More than 10 years later, the growth of the App Store is a story that is often overlooked. It’s remarkable to think that holiday sales are still setting records this long after the introduction of the App Store and after the pace of new device sales has slowed.


AppStories, Episode 144 – Getting More Out of Safari for iPadOS

This week on AppStories, we discuss the sort of sophisticated web apps that can be used with Safari on iPadOS 13 and share a bunch of tips and tricks based on Apple’s latest updates to Safari.

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Desktop-Class Safari for iPad: A Hands-On Look at the Difference the iPadOS Update Makes to Apple’s Browser

For about four years, I’ve sat down at my Mac to produce Club MacStories’ two newsletters using Mailchimp. There’s a lot I like about Mailchimp, but that has never included the company’s web app. Mailchimp relies heavily on dragging and dropping content blocks in a browser window to build an email newsletter, which abstracts away the raw HTML and CSS nicely, but didn’t work well or reliably on iOS.

That finally changed with iPadOS 13, which brought one of the most extensive updates to Safari ever. The result has been that roughly half of the issues of the Club’s newsletters have been produced on my iPad Pro since October. Before iPadOS, that simply wasn’t possible. Whenever I tried to assemble a newsletter on my iPad, I ran into a show-stopping roadblock at some point.

If you’re wondering why this matters, the answer is flexibility and choice. Whether I’m traveling to another city for several days or just sitting in a local coffee shop for a few hours, I know I can rely on a stable mobile data connection on my iPad. I don’t have to worry about whether WiFi will be available for my Mac or fiddle with tethering. I just open my iPad and start working. As a result, I prefer my iPad to my MacBook Pro when I’m away from my desktop Mac.

I also enjoy the freedom of picking the platform I use for a task. Some days that’s my Mac, but just as often it’s my iPad. Sometimes that’s driven by the platform I’m working on at the time, and other days it’s nothing more than the device I feel like using that day. Until iPadOS 13, though, if that day was a Friday and I had a newsletter to produce, nothing else mattered. I had to have a Mac, and if I was traveling for more than a couple of days, that often meant I brought both devices along.

This isn’t a tutorial on how to use Mailchimp on an iPad. Few people need that, and if you’ve built a newsletter in Mailchimp on a Mac, you already know how to do it on the iPad. That’s the whole point. Safari in iPadOS has become a desktop-class browser. There remain differences between it and its desktop sibling, but the gap has been dramatically narrowed and the differences that remain purposefully leverage the distinctions between the Mac and iPad. The result has transformed frustrating experiences with web apps that simply didn’t work before on the iPad into a productive environment for accomplishing tasks that once required a Mac.

I don’t know that I’ve ever used a web app that I prefer to something native to the Mac or iOS, but the reality of contemporary computing is that many people rely on a collection of web apps in their work and personal lives. The changes to Safari in iPadOS are an acknowledgement of that reality. The experience isn’t perfect, but the latest iteration of Safari is a major step forward that eliminates hurdles that make the difference between getting work done and not.

If you’ve run into roadblocks with web apps in the past, it’s worth revisiting them in the wake of iPadOS 13. For me, the updates to Safari in iPadOS have been a tipping point in the way I work that has opened up new options I didn’t have before. I suspect the same is true for others who are looking for the same sort of workflow flexibility, which is why I want to share my experience and thoughts on producing the Club MacStories newsletters using Mailchimp on my iPad Pro.

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