John Voorhees

1336 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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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.


Vote for Your Most-Loved Mac in 512 Pixel’s Mac Madness

I was immediately excited when Stephen Hackett told me a couple of nights ago about an idea he had. With bad news dominating the headlines, events canceled around the world, and people stuck at home with new-found time on their hands, he wanted to create a fun diversion for Mac fans. What he came up with is Mac Madness, a March Madness basketball tournament-inspired face-off among 32 beloved Macs.

Hackett has all the details on 512pixels.net where you’ll also find this video introducing the match-ups:

The initial matchups were chosen randomly, which adds to the fun because there are some very tough choices to make when you vote. Remember, the goal is to find the most-loved Mac, which doesn’t have to be what you’d consider the ‘best Mac.’

Round one voting closes tomorrow, March 20th, and the final winner will be announced on Friday, April 3rd. Along the way, Hackett will be live-streaming each bracket’s winners on the Relay FM Twitch channel and posting the videos later on 512 Pixels where he’s set up a special page to collect all the results. So, join in on the fun and vote now to see if your most-loved Mac takes home top honors.

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Apple Releases Faster MacBook Air with New Keyboard and Increased Storage Starting at $999 and Doubles Storage on Base-Model Mac minis

Apple has released a new, faster MacBook Air with an updated keyboard and more storage at a lower price. The company also released a minor update to the storage of base-model Mac minis.

According to a press release from the company, the new Air features a 1.2GHz quad-core Core i7 that, with Turbo Boost, can achieve speeds up to 3.8GHz. This is the first time the Air has included a quad-core processor. The laptop also features Intel Iris Plus Graphics, which Apple says are 80% faster than previous models.

The Air’s keyboard has been updated too with a scissor switch-based Magic Keyboard that has 1 mm of key travel and an inverted-T layout of the arrow keys.

The Air's keyboard now uses scissor switches and an inverted-T layout for its arrow keys.

The Air’s keyboard now uses scissor switches and an inverted-T layout for its arrow keys.

The Air, which is available in gold, silver, and space gray, starts at $999, a $100 drop from prior models. Thankfully, Apple has also increased the base storage of the entry-level model from 128GB to 256GB SSD storage, a capacity that will make it easier for users to store photos and other media locally without resorting to external solutions. The new Air can also be configured with up to 2TB of storage, which is twice as much as could be previously configured, and is equipped with Apple’s T2 Security Chip, which ensures a secure boot process and handles Touch ID information.

Apple’s press release highlights the following features too:

  • A three-mic array for more clear voice capture for FaceTime calls with friends and family.
  • The industry-best Force Touch trackpad for precise cursor control and multi-touch navigation.
  • Thunderbolt 3 ports for data transfer, charging and video output in a single connector.
  • Support for up to a 6K external display, a first for the MacBook Air.
  • Advanced stereo speakers for immersive, wide stereo sound for activities like watching Apple TV+ content or playing games in Apple Arcade.

The new Airs can be ordered on apple.com starting today.

Finally, the base configurations of the Mac mini received a small update today. The $799 model now comes with 256GB of storage and the $1,099 configuration has a 512GB SSD.

The MacBook Air has been difficult to recommend because of its previous-generation keyboard. With a new keyboard, increased storage, faster CPU and graphics, all at a lower price-point, the MacBook Air looks like the Mac that will meet most people’s needs.


Arcade Highlights: Roundguard

Roundguard by Wonderbelly Games is a delightful mashup of genres that I highly recommend. Like a lot of our readers, I’ve been looking for distractions. It’s easy to get sucked into the constant barrage of bad news delivered to our devices, which feeds an unhealthy stress loop. One effective way I’ve broken that cycle is with video games, and the more absorbing and lighthearted, the better.

Roundguard fits the bill perfectly. The game has been universally described as a combination of Peggle and a dungeon-crawler RPG. That’s a strange mix to be sure, but it’s absolutely true, and it works.

The mechanics of Roundguard are simple. You shoot your character out of a medieval-style cannon from the top of the screen at pots, potions, mana, enemies, and other items. When you collide with something, you bounce off pinball-style until eventually you reach the bottom of the screen, which ends your turn. The game requires skill and planning, but also a heavy dose of good luck as your character careens off items in unexpected ways.

Colliding with enemies, including goblins, spiders, and skeletons, causes both of you to take damage. At times, enemies can also poison you or will shoot arrows at you as you bounce around, adding elements of strategy and timing to the mix. Along the way there will be XP to earn, items to collect, abilities to acquire, and difficult boss levels like any good dungeon crawler. Of course, when your health runs out and you die, you have to start from the beginning too.

There’s a lot of depth to Roundguard. Early on, it’s fun to play the game like you would Peggle or an idle tapper game. Along the way, though, Roundguard pulls you in deeper with helpful tips without being overbearing. Before long, I found myself managing my inventory of items and planning my approach to levels in a way that was reminiscent of classic RPGs. It’s a gradual, evolutionary process that keeps the game interesting and engaging.

Source: wonderbellygames.com.

Source: wonderbellygames.com.

I’ve been playing Roundguard on a variety of devices, including my iPhone 11 Pro Max, iPad mini, iPad Pro, and even the Apple TV, and it’s hard to say which I like best. The game features excellent controller support, which I’ve been using with my iPad Pro and Apple TV. Bigger screens add dimension to the fun artwork and sound effects of the game, which gives them the edge over my iPhone. Even so, Roundguard is a truly mobile game at heart, which makes it fun to play in short bursts on the iPhone, where the rich colors really stand out too. As a result, I expect to continue to play across all of my devices, which is seamless because my progress is synced between them.

Facing a Roundguard boss.

Facing a Roundguard boss.

Stepping back, Apple Arcade feels like it is starting to really come into its own with games like Roundguard. The service started out with an extensive catalog of excellent games, but many felt like they were modified free-to-play games or were adaptations of games previously released on other platforms.

In contrast, Roundguard was released on Arcade, Switch, Xbox One, and Steam simultaneously, and it shows. Instead of feeling like it’s been retrofitted for Apple’s platforms, Roundguard was clearly developed with touch in mind from the start. The pace of new releases on Arcade has slowed considerably since its launch, but if that means more games like Roundguard and the recently released Crossy Road Castle, that’s fine by me.

It’s always a good sign when I struggle to finish a game review because every time I launch it to test something, I get sidetracked and wind up playing longer than I intended. That has absolutely been the case with Roundguard. There’s a depth of gameplay, personality, and good humor here that has made it one of my favorite Arcade titles yet. If you subscribe to Apple Arcade, Roundguard is a fun distraction you don’t want to miss.



Updated Powerbeats Earphones Coming Wednesday for $149

Over the past few days a new version of Powerbeats began showing up in retail locations and online. Today, Apple subsidiary Beats made the update official on its website with additional details.

The new Powerbeats, which replace the Powerbeats3, feature 15 hours of battery life (a 3-hour increase) and the latest H1 chip used in the AirPods Pro. With the addition of the H1 chip, the new Powerbeats support hands-free Siri, fast Bluetooth pairing, extended range, and audio sharing. The Powerbeats charge via a Lightning connector and include a ‘Fast Fuel’ feature that provides up to 1.5 hours of battery life from a 5-minute charge.

The design of the Powerbeats has been changed too. The new model resembles the Powerbeats Pro, and unlike the Powerbeats3, the cord connecting the two earphones emerges from the ear hook that sits behind your ear instead of from the front of the earphones. As with the previous model, this update is sweat resistant too. The Powerbeats are available in red, black, and white at launch.

Beats has reduced the retail price of the new Powerbeats to $149, which is $50 less than the previous model. Although they are not yet listed on apple.com or available for purchase on Beats’ website, The Verge says the new Powerbeats will be available this Wednesday, March 18th from Apple, Best Buy, and other Beats retailers.


Apple Releases Guidance on Apps Related to COVID-19 and Explains How to Expedite Their Review

Today, on its developer site, Apple announced how its App Review team is evaluating apps related to COVID-19 to ensure that users can depend on such apps. Apple says:

The App Store should always be a safe and trusted place for users to download apps. Now more than ever that commitment takes on special significance as the world fights the COVID-19 pandemic. Communities around the world are depending on apps to be credible news sources — helping users understand the latest health innovations, find out where they can get help if needed or provide assistance to their neighbors.

To help fulfill these expectations, we’re evaluating apps critically to ensure data sources are reputable and that developers presenting these apps are from recognized entities such as government organizations, health-focused NGOs, companies deeply credentialed in health issues, and medical or educational institutions. Only developers from one of these recognized entities should submit an app related to COVID-19. Entertainment or game apps with COVID-19 as their theme will not be allowed.

Apple also encouraged developers of apps related to COVID-19 to select the ‘Time-Sensitive Event’ option when submitting an expedited review request, so their apps will be prioritized by App Review.

Overnight, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced that retail stores outside Greater China will be closed until March 27th and shared details on the steps Apple is taking to protect the physical health of its employees and retail customers. With this latest announcement, Apple is tackling the pernicious effects of misinformation by pledging to keep it out if the App Store, so customers know they can rely on the apps they download.


Apple Closes Retail Stores Outside Greater China Until March 27th and Outlines Steps It Is Taking to Protect Employees

Apple has released a statement from CEO Tim Cook about the company’s response to COVID-19. Among other things, the company is closing all of its retail locations outside Greater China until March 27, 2020. Cook said:

We will be closing all of our retail stores outside of Greater China until March 27. We are committed to providing exceptional service to our customers. Our online stores are open at www.apple.com, or you can download the Apple Store app on the App Store. For service and support, customers can visit support.apple.com. I want to thank our extraordinary Retail teams for their dedication to enriching our customers’ lives. We are all so grateful to you.

Apple is also moving to flexible work arrangements for employees outside of Greater China, extending leave benefits, and paying hourly workers in line with business as usual operations.

Apple’s retail stores are often crowded, especially on weekends, so it’s good to see the company take these measures for the safety of its customers and employees.