John Voorhees

1090 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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Instagram Announces In-App Checkout Feature

Instagram has announced a new in-app checkout feature that will allow consumers to purchase items from brands they follow from within the app.

In a press release, Instagram explains that when you tap on a product from a participating brand, you’ll see a new ‘Checkout on Instagram’ button that displays options like colors and size when tapped. After any necessary selections are made, the app advances to a payment view where you enter billing and shipping information.

You’ll only need to enter billing and shipping information once. Instagram says it will store that information securely to make future checkouts faster. The new feature also tracks the progress of shipments from within the app itself providing alerts about status changes.

The advantage to Instagram and retailers is obvious. It will be easier for brands to make a sale if users don’t have to leave the Instagram app, which, of course, is in Instagram’s interest too. Currently, Instagram lists 23 brand-partners including companies like Nike, Prada, Zara, Michael Kors, H&M, Adidas, Burberry, Dior, and Warby Parker.

Instagram says the checkout feature is currently in closed beta and limited to the US Instagram users. The company hasn’t provided a launch date or indicated when it might be available in more countries.


The New 21.5 and 27-inch iMacs: The MacStories Overview

Today, Apple has updated its online store with improved iMacs. Although the iMac Pro models were updated in December 2017, the non-Pro version hadn’t seen an update since June 2017, the longest time ever between iMac revisions according to MacRumors. The new iMacs, which were announced via a press release, include new base models and custom-build options for the 21.5 and 27-inch models that will allow customers to configure an iMac that rivals the specs of the lower-end iMac Pro models.

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Stanford Medicine Presents Results of the Apple Heart Study

Over 400,000 people participated in the Apple Heart Study, which used the Apple Watch to collect irregular heart rhythm data from participants for eight months. When an irregular rhythm was detected and suggested the possibility of arterial fibrillation, the Watch sent the user a notification. Study participants who got the notification were contacted telephonically by a doctor and given an electrocardiogram patch for further monitoring.

This weekend, Stanford Medicine reported the results of the study at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session and Expo in New Orleans. The study showed that 0.5% of participants received irregular rhythm notifications putting to rest concerns in some quarters that the Apple Watch’s sensor would overburden health professionals with false positives. In a press release, Jeff Williams, Apple’s Chief Operating Officer said:

We are proud to work with Stanford Medicine as they conduct this important research and look forward to learning more about the impact of Apple Watch alongside the medical community. We hope consumers will continue to gain useful and actionable information about their heart health through Apple Watch.

We’re still in the early days of the potential healthcare benefits of wearable devices like the Apple Watch, and it’s encouraging to see results like these, which show the potential good that can come from arming people with information to help them get the care they need.


Apple Responds to Spotify’s Claims of Anticompetitive Behavior

In a lengthy response, Apple has addressed many of the allegations leveled against it by Spotify earlier this week. As we reported, Spotify has filed a complaint with the European Commission alleging that Apple’s treatment of the music streaming service is unfair and anti-competitive. Today, Apple fired back with a response to many of Spotify’s contentions.

Apple denies it has blocked access to its products and updates. To the contrary, the company says it has approved over 200 updates to Spotify’s app and reached out to inquire about the adoption of features like Siri and AirPlay 2. Apple says the only time it has requested changes to Spotify’s apps is when the company ‘has tried to sidestep the same rules that every other app follows.’

Apple also takes issue with what it characterizes as Spotify’s desire for the benefits of a free app without being free. Long gone are the days when apps were either free or paid. Spotify, like many other apps, offers a free music streaming tier. Spotify doesn’t pay Apple anything for those free users or users that sign up for streaming through other channels like mobile carriers. For Spotify’s paid subscribers, Apple receives 30% in year one and 15% after that for access to its platform and payment system, which the company says Spotify is unfairly trying to sidestep.

Finally, Apple claims that Spotify’s complaints against it are just one facet of a pattern of actions that are in Spotify’s economic interests but are damaging to musicians and the music industry. As evidence of this, Apple raises recent moves by Spotify against songwriters after the US Copyright Royalty Board required Spotify to increase royalty payments.

I don’t know whether Apple’s actions constitute unfair and anti-competitive behavior under EU law. Separate and apart from the legalities of the situation though, Spotify’s complaints have struck a chord because they come at a time when new online app stores are taking a significantly smaller cut of revenue. Spotify has other legitimate complaints, like its frustrations with App Review, but what seems to really be driving the dispute is how much Apple charges for access to the App Store and its payment system. Now more than ever, Apple’s 30% cut looks like a bad deal even when that cut is reduced to 15% for the second year of subscriptions.

What makes this dispute unique is that Spotify competes with Apple Music and is big enough to grab public attention and raise the stakes for Apple by getting European regulators involved. Usually, this sort of fight would play out privately, but by making their disagreement very public and involving regulators, Spotify may have taken the outcome out of its and Apple’s control.


Apple Illustrates iPhone Privacy with Real-World Analogs

Finding a way to convey the benefits of privacy isn’t easy, which is why I like Apple’s ‘Privacy on iPhone – Private Side’ video so much.

The video, which runs under a minute, opens with images of several ‘No Trespassing,’ ‘Keep Out,’ ‘Beware of Dog,’ and other signs. In a series of quick cuts, the video shows two people who pause an intense conversation when interrupted by a waiter as well as people locking file cabinets, closing blinds, locking doors, shredding documents, and more. Near the end, a woman rolls up the window of a car when she sees someone nearby watching her put on makeup.

As Apple’s description of the YouTube video says:

Your privacy matters. From encrypting your iMessage conversations, or not keeping a history of your routes in Maps, to limiting tracking across sites with Safari. iPhone is designed to protect your information.

Every clip of the video, which adds a bit of levity to an otherwise serious topic, reinforces the closing message that ‘If privacy matters in your life, it should matter to the phone your life is on.’

The video is an effective rebuttal of the ‘I have nothing to hide’ argument against privacy. Even the mundane aspects of day-to-day life aren’t something that you necessarily want to broadcast to the world, which this video is very effective in conveying.

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A Remastered Version of Rolando Is Returning to the App Store April 4th as Rolando: Royal Edition

Rolando was one of the earliest break-out games on the App Store when it debuted in 2008. Millions of fans downloaded the game, which featured colorful round characters that you maneuvered through four worlds with the help of the iPhone’s accelerometer. However, as Federico highlighted in his story on app preservation last summer, the ngmoco-published title disappeared in 2017 when it wasn’t updated to support Apple’s 64-bit architecture.

Today though, Rolando’s developer, HandCircus, announced that Rolando is coming back on April 4th as Rolando: Royal Edition. According to a report by TouchArcade, the game is a remaster of the original title:

…beyond a beautiful overhaul with the brilliant 2.5D aesthetic of the game’s sequel, as well as the expected graphical polish to seamlessly fit into the 2019 App Store, HandCircus have actually overhauled a lot of the levels, interactions and mechanics across the game.

Today’s news comes close on the heels of the launch of GameClub, a startup that plans to bring unavailable classic iOS games back to the platform starting with Hook Champ. TouchArcade’s former Editor-In-Chief Eli Hodapp is GameClub’s VP of Business Development.

Federico’s closing commentary from last summer’s story sums up the state of game and app preservation and his hopes for the future well:

It doesn't have to be this way. I want to believe that, over the next decade, Apple and third-party developers will learn to appreciate the history of the App Store. And that they will treat its back catalogue as something more than a nuisance with an expiration date. Because sometimes it can be useful, and perhaps even fun, to marvel at how far we've come by looking back at how it all began.

I couldn't agree more. So many classic iOS games have fallen by the wayside and are now unplayable that it was heartening to see that HandCircus is bringing back Rolando and learn more about GameClub’s efforts. Two announcements isn’t a trend, but I hope it’s a sign that momentum is building behind preservation in the iOS game and the broader app industry. The time feels right to revisit these classics.

Rolando: Royal Edition is available to pre-order on the App Store for $1.99 and comes with iMessage stickers that are available today.



Apple Announces March 25th Event at the Steve Jobs Theater

Today Apple announced a special event at the Steve Jobs Theater for March 25, 2019, at 10:00 am Pacific time. Matthew Panzarino of TechCrunch posted an image of the press invitation to Twitter:

According to Panzarino’s tweet, the email invitation, which says simply 'It's show time,' played a short film reel countdown animation, which suggests the event will be used to announce Apple’s much-anticipated video streaming service. In addition to a video service, there have been rumors that the company will use the event to announce a magazine service that will expand on its existing Apple News product.