John Voorhees

1180 posts on MacStories since November 2015

John, who is an editor for MacStories and the Club MacStories newsletters, 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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Swapping Dongles for a Dock: The OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock

By limiting its laptops to Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C ports, Apple has been able to continue its relentless pursuit of thinness. That’s great when you’re on the go. However, if an Apple laptop is your primary computer, the number and lacking diversity of ports is problematic. When you’re back at home or work, connecting legacy USB-A devices, SD and microSD cards, and Ethernet and HDMI cables requires an array of often expensive dongles and cables that quickly fill up the available ports on your Mac.

When I commuted to downtown Chicago for work, I carried a 2016 MacBook Pro with me. At the end of the day when I returned home, I sat the laptop on my desk and plugged in a bunch of cables and dongles, which was a pain. Because I work from home now, I don’t use my MacBook Pro that way very often anymore, except in the summertime when that laptop becomes a testbed for the latest macOS beta. I’ve been trying to work on the macOS beta from a MacBook Pro as much as possible over the summer, and the experience has caused me to revisit the frustration of unplugging cables and dongles every time I want to leave my desk and work elsewhere.

I had been thinking about ways to improve my summertime beta setup when Other World Computing offered to send me its OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock to test. I took them up on the offer, and having used it for a while now, I love the convenience of being able to connect everything to my MacBook Pro with a single Thunderbolt 3 cable. It’s not an inexpensive solution, but compared to the cost of purchasing multiple over-priced dongles, it’s not as extravagant as it might seem at first.

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Sidecar in iPadOS 13 and macOS Catalina: Working Seamlessly Between an iPad and Mac

The core experience of using Sidecar is fantastic. Part of the reason is that running an iPad as a second display for a Mac with Sidecar is immediately familiar to anyone who has ever used multiple displays. The added screen real estate, portability, and functionality are part of the appeal too. Of course, there are differences that I’ll get into, but Sidecar is so close to a traditional dual-display setup that I expect it will become a natural extension of the way many people work on the Mac.

There’s more going on with Sidecar though, which didn’t dawn on me until I’d been using it for a while. One of the themes that emerged from this year’s WWDC is deeper integration across all of Apple’s platforms. As I’ve written in the past, SwiftUI is designed to accomplish that in the long-term across all the devices Apple makes. In contrast, Catalyst is a shorter-term way to tie the Mac and iPad closer together by bringing iPad apps to the Mac and encouraging developers to build more robust iPad apps.

Sidecar strikes me as part of the same story. Apple made it clear when they introduced Catalyst in 2018 at WWDC that it’s not replacing macOS with iOS. Some tasks are better suited for a Mac than an iPad and vice versa. Sidecar acknowledges those differences by letting an iPad become an extension of your Mac for tasks best suited to it. At the same time, however, Sidecar takes advantage of functionality that’s unavailable on the Mac, like the Apple Pencil. Combined with the ability to switch seamlessly between using Mac apps running in Sidecar and native iPadOS apps, what you’ve effectively got is a touchscreen Mac.

However, to understand the potential Sidecar unlocks, it’s necessary to first dive into the details of what the new feature enables as well as its limitations.

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AppStories, Episode 124 – CarPlay in iOS 13 and Vignette with Casey Liss

On this week’s episode of AppStories, John is joined by Casey Liss to dig into the big changes coming to CarPlay in iOS 13 and the story behind Vignette, Casey’s app for assigning profile pictures to contacts.

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Dialog Season 1 Finale, Writers and Writing: Wrap-Up

Today on Dialog, we conclude season one with a discussion of what we learned from each of our guests. Despite vastly different backgrounds, there were several themes that ran throughout our interviews with John Gruber, Frank Turner, John August, Carrie Patel, and Pierce Brown. To wrap up season one we revisit getting started as a writer, the impact and use of social media, influences and idea generation, getting past writer’s block, and the roles of hard work, luck, and privilege in succeeding.

Thank you for listening to season one of Dialog. We haven’t decided when season two will begin, but we’ll be back with an all-new set of guests and a different topic in the near future. In the meantime, if you missed any of previous interviews, go back and check them out. A big benefit of a show like Dialog is that the topics are evergreen and just as relevant today as they were when they were first published.

We also want to thank each of our guests for taking the time to chat with us about writing. Without the generosity of John Gruber, Frank Turner, John August, Carrie Patel, and Pierce Brown, this season wouldn’t have been possible. Thanks too to this season’s sponsors who believed in the show and supported it before we had even recorded the first episode.

You can find the final episode of season one here or listen through the Dialog web player below.

Sponsored by:

  • Astropad Studio – Turn your iPad into a professional graphics tablet. Get started today with a 30-day free trial.
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CarPlay in iOS 13: A Big Leap Forward

CarPlay fascinates me because it’s a relatively rare example of a successful Apple software product that isn’t tightly integrated with the company’s hardware. Of course, CarPlay runs from an iPhone, but it also relies on automaker media systems to deliver its experience to users in their cars. This lack of integration shows in cars with slower media systems; however, even when automakers’ hardware provides a subpar experience, CarPlay’s simplified but familiar interface and access to content already on users’ iPhones is superior. So much so in fact that Apple says CarPlay has managed to capture 90% of the new car market in the US and 75% worldwide.

I first tried CarPlay three years ago, when I leased a Honda Accord. As I wrote then, Honda’s entertainment system was slow, but the experience was nonetheless transformative. Easy access to the music and podcasts I love, multiple mapping options, and access to hands-free messaging all played a big part in winning me over.

When my lease was up earlier this year, CarPlay support was at the top of the list of must-have features when we began looking for a new car. We wound up leasing a Nissan Altima, which has a faster entertainment system, larger touchscreen, and better hardware button support for navigating CarPlay’s UI. The hardware differences took a system I already loved to a new level by reducing past friction and frustrations even though the underlying software hadn’t changed.

Just a few weeks after we brought the Altima home though, Apple announced that it would update CarPlay with the release of iOS 13 this fall. In a jam-packed keynote, CarPlay got very little stage time, but I was immediately intrigued by the scope of the announcement. CarPlay hasn’t changed much since it was introduced in 2014, but with iOS 13, iPhone users can look forward to not only significant improvements in its design, but a new app and other features that make this the biggest leap forward for CarPlay to date.

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Apple ASMR: A Shot on iPhone Series Shot and Recorded on iPhones

Apple’s Shot on iPhone series has highlighted photos and video taken with iPhones for several years now. Today, the company published a new series of four videos titled ‘Apple AMSR’ that were shot on the iPhone XS and XS Max. The videos, which the company suggests watching with headphones for the full auditory experience, are longer than ones produced in the past ranging from about 6 to over 10 minutes long. Each video features a different sound: rain at a campground, the crunching sound of someone walking on a hiking trail, the scraping of wood in a woodworking shop, and whispering in the Neskowin Ghost Forest in Oregon.

These videos are some of the strangest that Apple has published on YouTube, but they certainly do a good job of showcasing the iPhone’s ability to shoot video and record sound. There may be more coming too based on the fact they’re collected as a playlist on Apple’s YouTube channel that is labeled ‘Season 1.’ You can check all of them out below:


PDF Expert Moves to Annual Subscription Business Model

Readdle launched PDF Expert 7 today with a few new features and an all-new business plan. The app was previously paid-up-front with an In-App Purchase for advanced features. With the launch of version 7 though, Readdle has moved the features that were previously part of PDF Expert’s In-App Purchase and some of what were part of the base paid-up-front app to a PDF Expert Pro subscription that costs $49.99/year with a 7-day free trial. Despite the change, however, existing PDF Expert 6 customers will retain the features they purchased under the old model.

The free version of PDF Expert allows users to access and manage PDFs from cloud services, read and annotate PDFs, and fill out PDF forms. In addition to the other PDF Expert 6 features that are now part of PDF Expert 7’s Pro subscription, Readdle has added three features: conversion of Word, Excel, and image files to the PDF format, PDF compression to reduce file sizes, and customizable app toolbars. For a complete breakdown of free and subscription-only features, be sure to check out Readdle’s blog post about the update, which also lists which features existing customers will retain.

The move by Readdle to a free app plus a subscription is an interesting one that we’ve seen before with other apps, including in the PDF app market. It’s a model that makes a lot of sense for a category where users’ needs vary widely from extremely simple to complex. Whether the price point and feature bundle Readdle has chosen is attractive to enough users to sustain the app’s subscription will be up to the market to decide, but I expect this is a trend we will continue to see with feature-rich apps like this.

PDF Expert 7 is available as a free download from the App Store with an optional $49.99/year subscription for advanced features, which users can try free for 7 days.


Creating the World of Red Rising with Author Pierce Brown (Part 2)

Today on Dialog, we conclude our conversation with New York Times best-selling author Pierce Brown, the creator of the Red Rising series of novels. In the second part of our two-part interview, we talk about Brown’s writing process, the usefulness of typewriters and deadlines, the challenges of writing dialogue and multiple points of view, Iron Gold, Dark Age, and the tools used to write it.

You can find the episode here or listen through the Dialog web player below.

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  • Astropad Studio – Turn your iPad into a professional graphics tablet. Get started today with a 30-day free trial.
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AppStories, Episode 123 – Is Competing with Apple’s iOS Apps Getting Tougher?

On this week’s episode of AppStories, we consider the state of Apple’s built-in apps and whether it’s getting harder for third-party developers to compete with them.

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