John Voorhees

722 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.

|

This week's sponsor

Spark

The Future of Email


Apple Addresses the Meltdown and Spectre Exploits With Additional Mitigations to Come

In a support article, Apple has acknowledged that the recently-disclosed Meltdown and Spectre exploits, which affect virtually every CPU in computers, mobile devices, and other platforms, also impact every Mac and iOS device. Although there are no known exploits of the vulnerabilities, Apple advises that users proceed with caution and download apps from trusted sources only.

Mitigations to defend against Meltdown have already been shipped by Apple in iOS 11.2, macOS 10.13.2, and tvOS 11.2. watchOS is unaffected by Meltdown. Development of mitigations for both exploits is ongoing and new defenses will be released to each Apple OS as they become available.

The support article published by Apple provides a high-level explanation of how each exploit works. If there’s any good news to be found in the widespread concern caused by these exploits it’s that Apple says the recently-released mitigations have no measurable impact on performance:

Our testing with public benchmarks has shown that the changes in the December 2017 updates resulted in no measurable reduction in the performance of macOS and iOS as measured by the GeekBench 4 benchmark, or in common Web browsing benchmarks such as Speedometer, JetStream, and ARES-6.

Apple’s support document also reveals that Spectre can be exploited in web browsers, including Safari, using JavaScript. Apple is working to address the problem with an update to Safari that will be released in the coming days. Apple says that:

Our current testing indicates that the upcoming Safari mitigations will have no measurable impact on the Speedometer and ARES-6 tests and an impact of less than 2.5% on the JetStream benchmark.

The gravity of the exploits, which affect virtually all computing platforms, cannot be understated, but it’s reassuring that the initial mitigations released and those coming in the days ahead should have little or no impact on performance. It’s also worth noting that this is probably not the last we’ll hear about Meltdown and Spectre. As Apple notes:

We continue to develop and test further mitigations within the operating system for the Spectre techniques, and will release them in upcoming updates of iOS, macOS, tvOS, and watchOS. 

Permalink

Apple Announces Record Holiday App Store Sales

During the week beginning on Christmas Eve, the App Store sold $890 million of apps to a record number of customers. In a press release today, Apple revealed that on New Year’s Day alone, customers bought another $300 million of apps.

“We are thrilled with the reaction to the new App Store and to see so many customers discovering and enjoying new apps and games,” said Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “We want to thank all of the creative app developers who have made these great apps and helped to change people’s lives. In 2017 alone, iOS developers earned $26.5 billion — more than a 30 percent increase over 2016.”

That’s a big increase over 2016 and with the tenth anniversary of the App Store on the horizon, the App Store is closing in on a big milestone. Since the App Store launched in July 2008, developers have earned over $86 billion. If App Store sales continue to grow at a pace similar to 2017, developer earnings should top $100 billion just in time for the anniversary.

Apple also stated that over 2,000 ARKit-enabled apps are available in the App Store, contrary to estimates by research firm Apptopia that fewer than 1,000 ARKit apps are available.

Permalink


Remote Control for Mac: An iOS Controller for Your Mac [Sponsor]

Remote Control for Mac is an iOS app that lets you use your Mac whether you’re sitting in front of it or not. Whether you’re running a Mac as a media center or just want to launch apps or control system settings on your Mac when you’re doing something else, Remote Control for Mac makes the process simple.

One of the greatest use cases for Remote for Mac is controlling a Mac that serves as a media center. A Mac mini makes a great media server, but it’s not comfortable to sit on the couch with a keyboard and trackpad or mouse. Remote Control for Mac cuts through the complications making it easy to control your media center. Just install a helper app on your Mac and use Remote Control for Mac to control system settings like volume and apps and services like iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, YouTube, Plex, Kodi, SoundCloud, Spotify, and VLC.

Remote for Mac isn’t just for Mac media centers though. The uses are only limited by your imagination. You can just as easily use the app to browse the web or read email on a Mac connected to your TV. Using the app’s keyboard and virtual trackpad makes navigation a breeze. When you’re finished, Remote for Mac can turn off your display or shut down your Mac too.

Remote has a special giveaway for MacStories readers. The first 20 readers who visit this link will get a free copy of Remote for Mac.

Take control of your Mac today. Download Remote Control for Mac from the App Store.

Our thanks to Remote for Mac for supporting MacStories this week.


Apple Apologizes for Poor Communication About iPhone Throttling and Reduces Battery Replacement Price

In an open letter to customers, Apple has addressed how it handles the CPU performance of iPhones with older batteries.

We’ve been hearing feedback from our customers about the way we handle performance for iPhones with older batteries and how we have communicated that process. We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down. We apologize. There’s been a lot of misunderstanding about this issue, so we would like to clarify and let you know about some changes we’re making.

First and foremost, we have never — and would never — do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades. Our goal has always been to create products that our customers love, and making iPhones last as long as possible is an important part of that.

Since iOS 10.2.1 the CPU performance of iPhones with older batteries has been reduced by iOS to prevent device shutdowns. The CPU throttling was not communicated to customers, however, which led to accusations of planned obsolescence.

In response, Apple is taking two steps:

To address our customers’ concerns, to recognize their loyalty and to regain the trust of anyone who may have doubted Apple’s intentions, we’ve decided to take the following steps:

• Apple is reducing the price of an out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacement by $50 — from $79 to $29 — for anyone with an iPhone 6 or later whose battery needs to be replaced, starting in late January and available worldwide through December 2018. Details will be provided soon on apple.com.

• Early in 2018, we will issue an iOS software update with new features that give users more visibility into the health of their iPhone’s battery, so they can see for themselves if its condition is affecting performance.

In addition to the open letter to customers, Apple added a new support article called iPhone Battery and Performance, which explains how lithium-ion batteries chemically age and how this can lead to device shutdowns. The support article also lists some of the changes users can expect to experience if their iPhone’s CPU is slowed down.

It’s unfortunate that the kind of clear, reasonable explanation of why device CPUs are throttled wasn’t communicated to customers when it was first introduced in iOS 10.2.1. Battery chemistry and device shutdowns are not the easiest topics to explain to customers, but today’s letter shows Apple is capable of it and hopefully will be more likely to do so in the future.


My Favorite iOS Games of 2017

As 2017 draws to a close, we’ve seen what may prove to be a shift in iOS gaming. With the recent introduction of app pre-orders, iOS may attract more paid-up-front indie games and ports of console and PC titles than in the past. Pre-orders aren’t limited to games, but it’s no coincidence that the first batch of pre-orders released on the App Store were all successful indie titles.

It’s too early to tell if recent developments are the beginning of a trend towards a more diverse and interesting iOS game market or a one-off anomaly that will fizzle, but I hope it takes hold. The prospect of the App Store attracting new sorts of games could broaden the appeal of iOS as a gaming platform, which in turn, could change the dynamic of iOS gaming in 2018.

We’ll have to wait to see what 2018 has in store, but in the meantime, the end of the year is a good time to look back. It’s always hard to pick favorites. So many excellent games were released this year, and I didn’t have time to try them all, but here are my six favorites of the 37 that I covered in 2017 along with links to each of the reviews of them.

Read more


PortraitCam: Portrait Mode for Everyone [Sponsor]

PortraitCam by BrainFeverMedia takes iPhone portrait photography to the next level. The app, which was featured by Apple in the App Store's ‘New Apps We Love,’ uses the latest Depth APIs and Face Detection to bring an incredible level of control over portraits.

The app automatically detects faces and captures depth data for compatible devices using Apple’s latest camera technologies. For two-lens devices like the iPhone X, PortraitCam uses the depth information captured by your iPhone. For other devices though, PortraitCam uses Face Detection to generate a depth map.

But what’s most impressive is what PortraitCam does with depth information. The app takes that data and uses it to let you dial in exactly the portrait you want, regardless of whether you’re shooting live or editing an existing photo. You can control the amount of background blur and shape of the bokeh. You can add simulated lenses too. It’s a simple, sensible workflow that works perfectly for portraiture.

BrainFeverMedia has a deep catalog of photography apps. That experience shows in PortraitCam, which draws on its past work with filters and effects to help you create beautiful portraits.

When you get together with friends and family this holiday season, download PortraitCam from the App Store and wow them with a special year-end portrait.

Thanks to PortraitCam for supporting MacStories this week.


Apple Updates and Expands App Store Review Guidelines to Address Pre-Orders, Loot Boxes, VPNs, and More

Just before the annual holiday shutdown of the App Store, Apple has revised its App Store Review Guidelines to address new App Store functionality like Pre-Orders and clarify or expand a handful of existing guidelines, including the creation of apps from templates and how ’loot boxes’ and VPNs should be handled. Below is a summary of the major changes to the Guidelines. To see all the changes, check out Rich Hong’s App Store Review Guidelines gist on GitHub.

Read more


My Must-Have Mac Apps, 2017 Edition

It’s been quite a year. At the start, I was still commuting to Chicago every day to work in a law office full of Windows PCs. Now I work from my home studio surrounded by Apple hardware, moving back and forth from a late-2016 MacBook Pro to iOS devices as I write and talk about apps each day.

When I was commuting, iOS played a central role. I was on the move and used my iPhone and iPad to write for MacStories when I wasn’t practicing law. Now, I have a dedicated workspace where I connect my MacBook Pro to a 4K 27” display and a fast, wired Internet connection.

During 2017, the work I do changed too. Not only did I leave my law job, but in addition to writing at MacStories, Federico and I launched AppStories, and I began selling sponsorships for the site and podcast.

With no commute, a dedicated workspace, and massive change in the work I do each day, how I get work done has changed significantly too. I continue to work on macOS and iOS, but the Mac now plays a bigger role in my workday than ever before. I haven’t abandoned iOS for work, but now, I work on iOS because I want to, not because I need to.

Just over two months into working from home, I’ve begun to reevaluate how I use the Mac. I expect to continue evolving how I work on macOS throughout 2018 as I feel my way around the best ways to be productive. Still, a couple of overarching themes can be seen in my picks below that I expect will continue to guide me in 2018.

First, I primarily use my Mac for work. If I watch a video, read a book or article, or play a game, it’s more likely to happen on iOS, which I expect to continue. The primary exception to that rule is listening to music, which I often do as I work. Second, I don’t like to be limited to macOS. As much as I work on my Mac, I value the option to do things like pick up my iPad to read email messages or grab my iPhone while I’m away from home to make a quick edit to something I’m writing.

With that context, below are 40 Mac apps and a few web services that I used this year and consider my must-have apps, divided into seven categories:

  • Writing
  • Reading and Research
  • Images and Video
  • Podcast Recording and Production
  • Utilities
  • Communications
  • Task Management and Planning

I’ve also included a few awards at the end of the story that highlight some of my favorites among the exceptional group of apps I use every day on my Mac, including an App of the Year.

Read more