John Voorhees

1029 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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How iOS Makes Good Password Practices Easier for Users

We’ve all been there. You’re signing up for a new service or creating an account for a new app, and you’re asked to pick a password. You know you should use a strong, random password, but in a rush to get started, you take the easy path and choose a weak, memorable password instead because it’s the path of least resistance.

Apple has been pushing back against those bad habits with new iOS features designed to combat password reuse by flipping the calculus on its head. In an excellent presentation given at PasswordsCon 2018 in Stockholm, Sweden last week, Apple engineer Ricky Mondello explains the iCloud Keychain features implemented in iOS since iOS 11 and the thinking behind them. He also provides tips and resources for web and app developers who want to integrate better with those features.

What I especially like about Mondello’s talk is the insight into the thought and effort that’s gone into making good passwords easy to create. It’s not something I’ve thought about much before, which I take as a sign that Apple’s Safari and iCloud Keychain engineers are succeeding.

The presentation is also fascinating from a design and user experience standpoint. As Mondello explains, people are ill-suited to create and remember random passwords. It’s a problem that’s right in a computer’s wheelhouse, but one that also requires users’ trust and an understanding of their habits to solve.

I recommend watching Mondello’s talk. There are a lot of interesting implementation details throughout the talk and insights into the thinking behind them, which are approachable whether you have a background in the topics covered or not.

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Apple Celebrates the Hour of Code with Today at Apple Sessions and Announces New Curriculum Offerings

As in the past, Apple is marking Computer Science Education Week by participating in the Hour of Code. The company will host special Hour of Code sessions in its retail stores from December 1 - 14 as part of its Today at Apple programming. Apple also announced new curriculum offerings:

The company also introduced Swift Coding Club materials to help teach coding outside of the classroom with Swift, Apple’s easy-to-learn programming language used by professional developers to create world-class apps. And to help prepare and develop students for the workforce, the company unveiled new Advanced Placement curriculum and App Development with Swift certification.

This is the sixth year that Apple has participated in the Hour of Code. Participants from 6 - 12 years old will learn to code with robots, while kids 12 and up will use Swift Playgrounds and the iPad.

The Hour of Code is just a small part of Apple’s Everyone Can Code initiative, which has dramatically expanded in recent years. The program now reaches children from their earliest years in school through college graduates.

My kids have participated in past Hour of Code sessions and had a great experience. They are an excellent introduction to coding for any kid who is curious about programming. I suggest signing up soon if you’re interested though because in past years, the sessions, which should go live soon, have filled quickly.


My Skin Track UV: A Tiny Wearable to Track UV Exposure

Spending too long in the sun can damage your skin. By the time you have a painful sunburn, it’s too late; you’ve already overdone it. You can plan your day based on the UV forecast in a weather app, but forecasts are no guarantee of the actual conditions and can’t account for how long you’re exposed to harmful UV-A and UV-B rays.

The awkwardly-named My Skin Track UV sensor by La Roche-Posay is designed to pick up where forecasts leave off by measuring your actual exposure to harmful UV rays throughout the day without needing to be charged. It’s a remarkably small wearable sensor with a companion app that reports other environmental data too.

The My Skin Track UV sensor performed well in my testing, and I felt like it provided useful, actionable data about potentially harmful conditions that would be hard to judge without the device. The lack of charging and diminutive size makes the My Skin Track UV sensor easy to carry with you all day too. The trouble is, the My Skin Track UV is so small and light, and the clip is just slippery enough, that it’s easy to misplace or lose altogether, which I promptly did. Here’s what happened.

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Apple Releases Annual Holiday Ad ‘Share Your Gifts’

Apple has released its annual holiday ad titled ‘Share Your Gifts.’ The video tells the story of Sophia, a creative young woman who uses a MacBook to write but puts her finished work in a box where no one can see it. Set to ‘come out and play’ by Billie Eilish, the story follows Sophia over time as she continues to write and pursue other creative avenues always hiding them from others.

In the heart-warming conclusion of the video, Sophia’s dog pushes her window open causing the pages of her printed writing to blow out the window into the streets. Sophia races outside after the sheets of paper, but can’t retrieve them before townspeople pick them up and start reading with smiles on their faces as they enjoy her writing.

The video was released with an accompanying ‘making of’ video that shows how much went into the piece, which combines hand-built miniature sets and CG graphics. It’s a fascinating look at how much care and work went into making the nearly three-minute video.

I’ve always enjoyed Apple’s holiday ads and this year’s is no exception. The message of sharing your creativity as a way of connecting with others is a great message for the holiday season that also fits well with the company’s products.


Jonathan Morrison on Editing Video on the iPad Pro with LumaFusion

Jonathan Morrison has an excellent walkthrough of what it’s like to edit an entire 4K video on an iPad Pro. In the video, Morrison adjusts the audio, color corrects footage, and assembles everything from multiple clips using LumaFusion running on a 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

Morrison came away impressed with LumaFusion and the iPad Pro’s performance as a video editing workstation. Among other things, previewing and scrubbing through footage was smooth and responsive, and the iPad Pro exported the final video in close to real-time.

Near the end of the video, Morrison addresses some of the criticisms leveled against Apple’s latest iPad:

Everyone’s looking at it as a laptop replacement when it’s an alternative, and you’re looking for traditional methods when you should be looking for alternative methods.

That’s a refreshing perspective from someone coming from video editing on the Mac. It’s also a point we touch upon on this week’s episode of AppStories. Trying to map workflows directly from the Mac to iOS is a recipe for disappointment because the platforms work differently. The differences often require adjustments be made, but they can pay dividends as Morrison demonstrates.

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AppStories, Episode 88 – Returning to the iPad Pro

On this week's episode of AppStories, we talk about the extra RAM in the 1TB iPad Pro, external display confusion, and John’s return to the iPad Pro after a summer of using the 9.7-inch iPad.

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Panic’s Transmit Returns to the Mac App Store

In the summer of 2017, Panic released Transmit 5, a top-to-bottom update to the company’s excellent file transfer app for the Mac. At the same time, Panic left the Mac App Store like many Mac apps have in recent years. Panic’s Cabel Sasser explained that the company wanted the ability to distribute a demo version to prospective users, but couldn’t, though it would continue to reevaluate the decision and hoped to be back some day.

Today, just over about 16 months since that announcement, Transmit is back on the Mac App Store. The app’s return to Apple’s newly-redesigned Mac App Store has been anticipated since June when it was previewed at WWDC. As part of the announcement of the redesigned Store, Apple highlighted several apps that would be coming to the Store for the first time or returning, including Microsoft Office 365, Adobe’s Lightroom CC, Bare Bones’ BBEdit, and Transmit.

At WWDC, it wasn’t entirely clear what was being done to entice developers to come back, though changes to sandboxing seemed to be a factor:

No additional information emerged over the summer, and the new Mac App Store was launched alongside the release of macOS Mojave in September with no sign of Transmit or the other apps that appeared onstage at WWDC.

However, today, Transmit was released on the Mac App Store with a subscription-based business model that includes a 7-day free trial. In a blog post about the release, Cabel Sasser confirms that sandboxing played a role in the decision not to release Transmit 5 on the Mac App Store, but has changed to allow Transmit to return to the Store:

…sandboxing has evolved enough that Transmit can be nearly feature-parity with its non-sandboxed cousin.

The FAQs on Panic’s blog elaborate on the differences between the Mac App Store and direct-sale versions of Transmit:

Does it have the same features as regular Transmit 5?
With one small exception — “Open in Terminal” depends on AppleScripting the terminal, which isn’t possible with sandboxing (yet). But even viewing or editing or changing the permissions of files you don’t own is now possible, which wasn’t until very recently.

Transmit Disk is also not part of the Mac App Store version of Transmit.

As Panic indicated back in June, the business model for Transmit on the Mac App Store differs from the direct-sale version available on Panic.com. The Mac App Store version is subscription-only, which is designed to make the app more economical for users who only need to use it for a short time. The subscription costs $24.99/year and includes a 7-day free trial. The direct sale version of the app is still available from Panic for $45.

It’s good to see Transmit back in the Mac App Store and I’m intrigued by the business model. By targeting two very different types of users, the Mac App Store gives Panic a simple end-to-end solution to reach a new set of short-term users who might not have been willing to pay the up front cost of the app before. Meanwhile, the paid-up-front option is still available for heavy users. This is a model that I could see working well for many pro-level apps.


Apple Updates Final Cut Pro X and Other Video Apps with Third-Party Extensions and More

Apple has updated Final Cut Pro X, Motion, and Compressor with several new features.

Headlining the update is Final Cut Pro X, which gained support for third-party extensions. The pro video editing app now includes built-in extensions from Frame.io, Shutterstock, and CatDV, which provide access to those apps and services from within Final Cut itself. The extensions, which match the interface of Final Cut are available from the Mac App Store as free downloads. Apple says it expects additional extensions to be made available in the future.

The Final Cut update includes other enhancements to the app too including:

  • Batch sharing of clips and projects
  • A new Comparison Viewer to allow editors to compare footage against a reference image during the color grading process
  • A customizable floating time code window that can display color-coded clip names, roles, project time codes, and other data
  • Video noise reduction for low-light footage
  • Closed captions in SRT format and formats compatible with a wide variety of video websites
  • Improved marquee selection

Motion and Compressor gained new features too. Motion, which is used for adding motion graphics to Final Cut Pro footage, has added the same color grading tools found in Final Cut. That means editors can use those same tools to adjust the colors of their titles and motion graphics. Motion also gained new comic effect and tiny planet filters.

Compressor, which is used for encoding video, has added a 64-bit engine for improved performance, while maintaining support for 32-bit codecs. Like Final Cut Pro, Compressor now supports SRT closed captioning too.

Final Cut Pro X, Motion, and Compressor are free updates for existing users that are available on the Mac App Store. New users can purchase Final Cut for $299.99, Motion for $49.99, and Compressor for $49.99.


La Roche-Posay Debuts My Skin Track UV, a Solar-Powered UV, Pollution, Pollen, and Humidity Wearable

La Roche-Posay has introduced a new wearable device today called the My Skin Track UV. As the name suggests, the device tracks ultraviolet light (UVA and UVB) exposure, but there’s more to it than that.

The company says its new device also tracks pollution levels, pollen, and humidity. That’s a combination that should provide users with a much broader set of data about their environment as they move throughout the day. The device is tiny and water resistant too at just 12mm wide, 6mm high, 17.4 grams, and with an IP67 water resistance rating (the same as the iPhone X, iPhone 8, and 8 Plus).

Another nice touch is that the My Skin Track UV is solar powered so it doesn’t need to be recharged. Clip it to your clothing or something you carry with you every day and La Roche-Posay says the device will remain powered, collecting data.

La Roche-Posay’s website describes the technology behind the device:

The light emitting diode (LED) is used as a detector to capture UV light. This energy will be read by transferring data from the sensor to your phone using Near-Field Communication (NFC) technology. Based on your UV exposure and environmental factors, the app uses an intelligent algorithm backed by over 25 scientific studies to warn you when your environmental exposure is at a level recognized to contribute to your specific skin concern.

One downside of the device’s use of NFC is that it requires users to manually scan it periodically using the companion app to transfer the collected data to the iPhone. The app, which integrates with Apple’s Health app, also offers skin health recommendations.

The My Skin Track UV is available exclusively at select Apple Stores and apple.com for $59.95. We will have a complete hands-on review of the My Skin Track UV device on MacStories soon.