John Voorhees

907 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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Apple Rolling Out New Friends Mix to Apple Music Subscribers

Source: @CristianRus4 on Twitter

Source: @CristianRus4 on Twitter

Apple Music subscribers on Twitter and Reddit are beginning to report that a new algorithmic mix has begun showing up in the ‘For You’ section of Apple Music. First noticed on the r/AppleMusic subreddit, the mix includes a collection of songs to which people you follow through Apple Music’s Friends feature are listening.

Further details emerged on Twitter, where it’s been reported that the Friends Mix includes 25 songs and is updated every Monday.

As of the publication, the new mix is propagating through Apple’s system so you may not see it in the For You section just yet. 9to5Mac says that the mix is not tied to iOS 12 or macOS Mojave, which is in line with past rollouts of Apple Music mixes.



Castro Adds iCloud Drive Sideloading and Chapter Playback Pre-Selection

Supertop has released another solid update to its podcast player, Castro. In today’s update, Castro adds file sideloading for Plus subscribers, significantly adding to the app’s utility as general purpose audio player. Subscribers can also pre-select the chapters of a podcast they want to play too.

For plus subscribers, the update adds a ‘Castro’ folder in iCloud Drive. Add an MP3 or AAC file into the ‘Sideloads’ folder, and it shows up in your Castro inbox (or wherever else you designate in settings) ready for playback.

Adding audio to Castro is equally simple on a Mac or iOS device. On a Mac, open the Finder and drag in the audio files you want to add. On iOS, use the Files app to add files to your Sideloads folder from any file provider like Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive.

Once added, audio files show up in your Castro Inbox by default where they can be added to your listening queue like any podcast to which you subscribe. Instead of your Inbox, you can also add sideloaded audio to the front or back of your Queue or Castro’s Archive from the app’s settings.

Sideloading opens up exciting possibilities, especially when combined with other apps. For example, you can add DRM-free audiobooks, audio from lectures or conferences recorded from YouTube or other sources using an app like Audio Hijack, or add downloaded bonus podcast episodes like the AppStories Unplugged episodes that we’ve created for Club MacStories members. Podcasters can also use sideloading as a way to listen to draft episodes before publishing them. With one straightforward feature, Castro has become a far more flexible, general-purpose audio player.

Overcast has a similar feature for subscribers, but it’s web-based and limited to 2 GB of storage. Overall, I prefer Castro’s implementation, which doesn’t require navigating to a website. Though Overcast’s 2 GB limit hasn’t been an issue for me, the lack of a cap in Castro is a definite advantage for anyone who wants access to lots of sideloaded audio.

Sideloading a draft episode of AppStories and deselecting chapters for playback.

Sideloading a draft episode of AppStories and deselecting chapters for playback.

The second feature added to Castro is what Supertop calls Chapter Pre-Selection. In Castro, if you tap on the current chapter in a podcast episode, it displays a list of all the chapters so you can skip around inside the episode. With today’s update, Castro adds checkboxes to each chapter. By default, all of the chapters are selected. If there are chapters in the list to which you don’t want to listen, tap the checkmark icon to deselect the chapter, and only the selected chapters will play.

The convenience of selecting chapters in advance is greater than I had imagined. By pre-selecting chapters, I can, for example, head out for a run or walk without having to fiddle with skipping chapters on the go, which means fewer distractions and opportunities to drop my iPhone.

Supertop continues to regularly update Castro with interesting features. If you haven’t tried Castro in a while, it’s worth another look. The app is free to download on the App Store and you can try the Plus features, including sideloading, free for one week, after which they are $2.99 every three months or $8.99 per year.


Vanity Fair Previews Lisa Brennan-Jobs’ Book ‘Small Fry’

The troubled relationship between Steve Jobs and his daughter Lisa has been recounted before. Next month, though, Lisa Brennan-Jobs’ memoir ‘Small Fry’ will be released. The book is a first-person account of her childhood and the period leading up to Steve Jobs’ death in 2011. The Vanity Fair excerpt includes anecdotes of visits by Steve Jobs to Brennan-Jobs when she was a child:

We skated the neighborhood streets. Trees overhead made patterns of the light. Fuchsia dangled from bushes in yards, stamens below a bell of petals, like women in ball gowns with purple shoes. My father and mother had the same skates, a beige nubuck body with red laces crisscrossed over a double line of metal fasts. As we passed bushes in other people’s yards, he pulled clumps of leaves off the stems, then dropped the fragments as we skated, making a line of ripped leaves behind us on the pavement like Hansel and Gretel. A few times, I felt his eyes on me; when I looked up, he looked away.

Later Brennan-Jobs sums up her relationship with her father:

I see now that we were at cross-purposes. For him, I was a blot on a spectacular ascent, as our story did not fit with the narrative of greatness and virtue he might have wanted for himself. My existence ruined his streak. For me, it was the opposite: the closer I was to him, the less I would feel ashamed; he was part of the world, and he would accelerate me into the light.

The entire excerpt is well worth reading because it provides a perspective on Jobs and his relationships with family that isn’t discussed often.

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Apple Announces Apps and In-App Purchases Will Be Removed from its Affiliate Program October 1st

Apple has announced that apps and In-App Purchases will no longer be part of the iTunes Affiliate Program effective October 1, 2018. The iTunes Affiliate Program pays a commission from Apple's portion of the sale of apps and other media when a purchase is made with a link that contains the affiliate credentials of a member of the program. Anyone can join, but the Affiliate Program is used most heavily by websites that cover media sold by Apple and app developers.

This isn’t the first time Apple has had this part of its affiliate program in its crosshairs. In April 2017 Apple gave participants in the program 6-days notice that it was reducing commissions on apps from 7% to 2.5%. The angry fallout caused Apple to issue a face-saving ‘clarification’ that the change would only apply to In-App Purchases.

What I said then holds true today:

With ad revenue in decline, affiliate commissions are one way that many websites that write about apps generate revenue, MacStories included. Many developers also use affiliate links in their apps and on their websites to supplement their app income. This change will put additional financial pressure on both groups…

The fallout has already begun. In a post titled Apple Kills the App Store Affiliate Program, and I Have No Idea What We Are Going to Do., Eli Hodapp, the Editor-in-Chief of TouchArcade, concluded:

It’s hard to read this in any other way than “We went from seeing a microscopic amount of value in third party editorial to, we now see no value." I genuinely have no idea what TouchArcade is going to do.

It will be a shame if Apple’s decision results in TouchArcade shutting down because it provides some of the best mobile game coverage available.

What bothers me the most though is the unnecessarily hostile tone of Apple’s announcement email:

With the launch of the new App Store on both iOS and macOS and their increased methods of app discovery, we will be removing apps from the affiliate program.

That sounds an awful lot like ‘Our new App Store is so great we don’t need you anymore, bye.’ If that’s the case, it’s short-sighted, but it’s certainly Apple prerogative to run its programs as it sees fit. Still, it’s not the right way to address the publications, developers, and others that have generated millions of dollars of referrals over the years in exchange for a modest 7% cut. Whatever the motivation, the change has been handled poorly, which is disappointing. Unlike last year, however, I don’t expect Apple will back down from this decision.


The Case for Low Power Mode on MacBooks

Marco Arment has revisited MacBook Pro battery life tests that he first ran in 2015 to see how his new 2018 13-inch MacBook Pro with a 2.7 GHz i7 processor and his 2015 2.2 GHz 15-inch MacBook Pro would fare under similar conditions. In 2015, Arment used an app called Turbo Boost Switcher to disable Turbo Boost on his laptop. This time around, he replicated disabling Turbo Boost on his 2015 MacBook, but on his 2018 model, he also limited the laptop’s power consumption using Volta.

Based on the results Arment concludes that:

the gain in battery life is about as large as the loss in heavy-workload performance. That’s a trade-off I’d gladly make when I need to maximize runtime.

The best bang-for-the-buck option is still to just disable Turbo Boost. Single-threaded performance hurts more than with wattage-limiting, but it’s able to maintain better multi-threaded performance and more consistent thermals, and gets a larger battery gain relative to its performance loss.

Running an app like Turbo Boost Switcher is worth considering when you have work to get done because it can mean the difference between your MacBook’s battery making it through a long flight or not. However, I’m with Arment – I’d prefer to run an iOS-like Low Power Mode for Macs that is implemented at the OS level and makes intelligent choices about what activities to stop or slow down. To get an idea of the sorts of things that might be throttled in a macOS Low Power Mode, check out the long list compiled by Arment.

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Apple Q3 2018 Results: $53.3 Billion Revenue, 41.3 Million iPhones, 11.6 Million iPads Sold

Apple has just published its financial results for Q3 2018. The company posted revenue of $53.3 billion. Apple sold 11.6 million iPads, 41.3 million iPhones, and 3.7 million Macs during the quarter.

“We’re thrilled to report Apple’s best June quarter ever, and our fourth consecutive quarter of double-digit revenue growth,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “Our Q3 results were driven by continued strong sales of iPhone, Services and Wearables, and we are very excited about the products and services in our pipeline.”

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Spect: Simple Image Management on the Mac

Spect from Steven Frank is based on a single, straightforward idea: separating image navigation from the Mac’s folder hierarchy. Point the app at a folder and tell it how deep to peer into subfolders and the app quickly generates thumbnails of the images to that depth of the folder structure. If you’ve ever found yourself drilling down into folders and subfolders only to have to back out and follow another path, you’ll understand the power of Spect immediately. The app saves users from a tremendous amount of clicking around.

Just like the Finder, your image thumbnails can be resized with a slider in the lower righthand corner of the window. In the bottom lefthand corner is where you specify how deep Spect should look into your folders.

Highlight an image and hit the space bar to toggle preview mode, which fills the window with the selected image. In preview mode, there are navigation arrows in the lower lefthand corner of the window so you can advance through your images one at a time.

Previewing an image in Spect.

Previewing an image in Spect.

Spect can display a wide variety of image formats including JPG, PNG, HEIC, RAW, GIF, and PDF. It’s worth noting, however, that Spect is not a replacement for a PDF document viewer. The app is designed for images and can only display the first page of a document-based PDF.

The toolbar at the top of the window has buttons for moving images to the Trash and revealing them in the Finder that are excellent for basic organization. There are also Slideshow and Shuffle buttons in the toolbar, which are a handy way to create a quick slideshow of images from several folders at once. By default, images change every four seconds, but that can be adjusted in the app’s Preferences.

One preference I’d like to see added to Spect is a way to limit which types of image files are displayed in the app. For example, I’d like the option to exclude PDF files, which in my case, are usually documents that I don’t want to see when I’m browsing photos and screenshots. Spect includes drag and drop support for moving images from Spect to different Finder folders, but it would also be handy to be able to create new folders from inside Spect and move photos into them without switching to the Finder at all.

Spect isn’t designed to replace a photo management tool like Adobe Lightroom. Instead, its power lies in its simplicity and the speed with which you can triage a collection of images without getting lost in a complex folder structure. In the two days I’ve been using it, Spect has already helped me understand what images I have and organize them better. For example, I located Apple press photos scattered throughout multiple folders and consolidated them into one folder. I also quickly scanned and retrieved images I wanted to save from my Downloads folder and deleted the rest. If you work with images on a Mac, Spect is a utility you should definitely check out.

Spect is available on the Mac App Store for $4.99.