John Voorhees

1462 posts on MacStories since November 2015

John, MacStories’ Managing Editor, has been writing about Apple and apps since joining the team in 2015. He also co-hosts MacStories’ podcasts, including AppStories, which explores of the world of apps, MacStories Unwind, a weekly recap of everything MacStories and more, and MacStories Unplugged, a behind-the-scenes, anything-goes show exclusively for Club MacStories members.

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AirPods Firmware Updated with Spatial Audio for Pro Models and Automatic Device Switching for All AirPods

AirPods Pro firmware version 3A283 is currently rolling out to users with two new features: spatial audio and automatic device switching.

You can check the firmware version of your AirPods by connecting them to an iPhone or iPad and going to the Bluetooth section of the Settings app. Tap on the blue info button next to the entry for your AirPods, and scroll down to the Version number near the bottom of the view. There’s no known reliable way to force a firmware update, but my AirPods were sitting on a Qi charger with the case closed in close proximity to my iPhone for what it’s worth.

First announced by Apple at WWDC, spatial audio creates the illusion of sound coming from your iPhone or iPad as you move your head. Apple describes the feature on its iOS 14 preview page as follows:

Spatial audio with dynamic head tracking brings the movie theater experience right to your AirPods Pro.11 applying directional audio filters and subtly adjusting the frequencies each ear receives, spatial audio can place sounds virtually anywhere in space, creating an immersive surround sound experience. Using the gyroscope and accelerometer in your AirPods Pro and your iPhone, spatial audio tracks the motion of your head as well as your device, compares the motion data, and then remaps the sound field so that it stays anchored to your device even as your head moves.

I tested the feature with my iPhone 11 Pro Max and 12.9” iPad Pro, and it worked with both, even though Apple only mentions iPhone models on its iOS 14 preview page. In my tests, I played the latest episode of Ted Lasso, a TV+ show that supports multi-channel audio. I also tried HBO’s Game of Thrones. It’s going to require more testing, but the feature seems to support any multi-channel audio source, regardless of the video streaming provider.

As Ted Lasso played, I turned in my chair and got up, and walked around my office. With spatial audio turned on, which you can do by long-pressing the volume slider in Control Center in the iOS or iPadOS 14 betas, the source of the sound seemed to come directly from my iPad that was sitting on my desk. Next, I switched to watching on my iPhone and moved it as I walked around my office. The entire time the sound seemed to be coming directly from the iPhone.

While testing spatial audio, I moved around far more than I normally would when I watch a show. Even with exaggerated movement, though, the effect felt incredibly real as though the sound were coming from the speakers of the device playing the video. The effect is so well done that I expect in everyday use, like shifting your iPhone from one hand to the other or turning your head for a moment, I’ll forget spatial audio is even engaged.

The update also enables AirPods Pro and second-generation AirPods to switch between devices automatically. When I switched from watching Ted Lasso on my iPad to my iPhone, which was sitting less than a meter from the iPad, my AirPods switched as soon as I opened the TV app. It’s a small touch, but it felt like magic and I can tell it will make a big difference as I switch between devices throughout the day. Apple says the feature allows switching among iPhones, iPads, iPod touches, Macs, and Apple Watches.


Club MacStories Turns 5: A Month-Long Thank You to Members Featuring Exclusive Discounts and Many More Perks

Today marks the fifth anniversary of Club MacStories. For the past five years, the Club has grown to become an integral part of what MacStories is. It’s the fuel that has allowed us to do more on the site, add new perks for Club members, and expand into podcasts.

Thank you to all of our Club members, past and present. You’re a big part of what allows us to do what we love, and we truly appreciate it. A special thanks to those of you who have been along for the ride for all five years too. There are quite a few of you, and your loyalty is humbling.

To celebrate this year’s anniversary, we’ve got a lot planned over the next four weeks:

  • App, Service, and Hardware Discounts: Below are discounts from developers of some of our favorite apps, services, and hardware.
  • App Giveaways: We periodically do app giveaways in MacStories Weekly, one of the Club’s email newsletters, but we’re taking that to a whole new level over the next four weeks, as you’ll begin to see in this Friday’s issue.
  • eBooks: When Federico’s iOS and iPadOS 14 review is published, and we’ve concluded our Summer OS Preview series, both will be available as eBooks exclusively to Club members.
  • Shortcuts and Automations: Alongside his review, Federico will share a set of advanced iOS 14 shortcuts and automations in MacStories Weekly.
  • ’Making Of’ the iOS 14 Review: When Federico’s review is published, we’ll have a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the review in MacStories Weekly.
  • MacStories Unplugged: We’ll also publish special episodes of MacStories Unplugged, our Club podcast, covering the nerdy, behind-the-scenes details of Federico’s review and our favorite iOS and iPadOS 14 apps.
  • Surprises: Of course, it wouldn’t be a MacStories celebration without a few surprises, so keep an eye on MacStories Weekly for more details in the coming weeks.

Read more


MacStories Unwind: A New App for Focused Work, an Upcoming Apple Event, and Oprah’s Podcast

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Sponsored by: Textastic – The code editor for your iPad and iPhone

This week on MacStories Unwind:

MacStories

Club MacStories

  • MacStories Weekly
    • A grab bag of iOS games
    • Ryan’s iOS 14 widget and Home screen setup
    • How to quick-launch files and folders on iOS and iPadOS 14
    • Reader Q&A
    • Lots of new apps
  • MacStories Unplugged:
    • A Club MacStories 5th anniversary preview
    • Burned burrito follow-up
    • Teaching Ticci: The Italian beef sandwich
  • Join Club MacStories

AppStories

Unwind


Apple Updates Multiple App Review Guidelines Addressing Game Streaming Services, In-App Purchases, Advertising, and More

Today Apple released an update to its App Review Guidelines that address many of the gray areas surrounding them that have been the subject of multiple controversies in recent weeks.

The guidelines are effective as of today, but Apple says they want to work with developers to give them as much time as possible to implement these changes, which should provide developers some time to make any necessary adjustments.

The changes today include the following:

Game Streaming Services

Under section 3.1.2(a), games offered via game streaming services must be downloadable from the App Store. Unless changes are made to the services, this precludes apps that would allow console games to be streamed to iPhones and iPads using services like Google’s Stadia or Microsoft’s xCloud, but it would not change the status of game subscription services like GameClub. Services should also be designed to avoid duplicate payment by subscribers and should not disadvantage non-subscribers.

Guideline 4.9 provides that game streaming services must also comply with the same requirements as apps downloadable from the App Store including app review, providing metadata for search, and In-App Purchases must be used to unlock features an functionality. Each game that is part of a streaming service must be submitted to the App Store as a separate app, so it has a product page on the Store and is subject to the same guidelines as other apps. Section 4.9.2 further clarifies that game streaming services can provide a catalog app to assist users with signup and finding games if they comply with app review guidelines including using In-App Purchases to pay for subscriptions and Sign In with Apple. According to Apple, the requirements of Section 4.9 would allow a streaming service to offer the game as a download on the App Store with basic functionality with additional levels and gameplay streamed to a player’s device.

The rules also clarify in Section 2.3.1 that games cannot include hidden, dormant, or undocumented features and that the functionality must be clear to users and App Review, an addition clearly prompted by Apple’s recent dispute with Epic Games.

Person-to-Person Experiences

Section 3.1.3(d) of the guidelines clarify that the use of In-App-Purchases is not necessary for one-to-one experiences like tutoring or fitness classes but must be used for one-to-few or one-to-many services.

App Clips, Widgets, Notifications, and Extensions

According to new guideline 2.5.16, App Clips, widgets, notifications, and extensions cannot include advertising, must be included in the app’s binary, and their functionality must be related to the content and functionality of their app. Nor should ads be placed in third-party keyboards or Watch apps, according to guideline 3.1.7.

Personal Loans

Section 3.2.2(x) requires apps that offer personal loans to clearly identify the terms of the loans and provides some specific guidelines regarding certain loan terms.


There are other modifications to the App Review Guidelines including a few very narrow exceptions to the requirements that developers use In-App Purchases, but it’s clear from the changes that the primary goal of them is to clarify Apple’s stance on game streaming services. While not precluded outright, the requirement that they include a separate App Store app puts substantial requirements on service providers that many may not be able to comply with our for technical or practical reasons.



Apple Announces Fall Event

As first reported by Rene Ritchie on Twitter, Apple has announced a media event for September 15, 2020 at 10:00 am Pacific.

Based on widespread speculation, Apple is expected to introduce its new lineup of iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches. Rumors also point to the possibility of headphones and so-called AirTag location trackers. It’s also possible Apple will take the opportunity to preview upcoming Apple Silicon-based Macs, which the company said at WWDC are coming before the end of the year.

In addition to hardware, Apple is expected to announce release dates for updates to its operating systems, including iOS and iPadOS 14, macOS 11.0 Big Sur, and watchOS 7. As in the past, Apple should release a Gold Master of the OSes shortly after the event with a public release date within approximately 10 days.


Apple Launches Oprah’s Book Club Podcast Featuring 8-Part Series on Isabel Wilkerson’s “Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents”

Last month, Oprah Winfrey declared Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson one of her most important Book Club selections ever and announced several related tie-ins with Apple services, including Apple News, Books, Music, and Podcasts. In the announcement, Winfrey commented that:

“This might be the most important book I’ve ever chosen for my book club,” said Oprah Winfrey. “‘Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents’ provides a new way of seeing racial inequality, giving rise to countless aha moments and helping us truly understand America as it is now and how we hope it will be.”

Today, Apple and Winfrey extended coverage of Caste even further with an eight-episode podcast series hosted by Winfrey and Wilkerson that will “take listeners through the 8 Pillars of Caste.” A trailer and the first episode are available now. Episode one covers “what called [Wilkerson] to write Caste, how society needs a new way to talk about racism and why Oprah says Caste is one of the most profound books she’s ever read.”

Apple’s relationship with Winfrey dates back to June 2018 when she and the company announced a multi-year partnership to create original programming for Apple’s platforms. Oprah’s Book Club was launched in 2019 as a cross-over project that integrates Apple Books and TV+. With Caste, Apple and Winfrey are flexing their ability to leverage several services at once like never before, providing customers with a wide variety of ways to learn more about the book and its important subject matter, which is something I expect we’ll see more of in the future from Apple.

The Oprah’s Book Club podcast is available as a free download in the Apple Podcasts app and other podcast players.


MacStories Unwind: A Fitness App Preview, Bear Extends Its Linking Feature, and iPad Software Keyboard Frustrations

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Sponsored by: Sidequest – Helpdesks and personal task inboxes that teams love, 100% inside Slack

This week on MacStories Unwind:

MacStories

Club MacStories

  • Monthly Log
    • Ryan’s fall hardware wishes
    • Stephen on considerations for a Work From Home Mac setup and how Apple could improve it
    • John reviews the Powerbeats Pro
  • Unplugged:
    • Bad design leads to a burned burrito
    • Widget and sidebar app wishes plus an App Clip diversion
  • Join Club MacStories

AppStories

Unwind