John Voorhees

1274 posts on MacStories since November 2015

John, who is an editor for MacStories and the Club MacStories newsletters, 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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Prizmo 5

The Pro Scanner App with Powerful Editing Capabilities


Apple Announces ‘Best of 2019’ Lists for Apps, Books, and Podcasts

Apple today published its picks for the best media in 2019 across its various platforms and services. These include selections for best app on iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV, as well as top picks in books and podcasts. Alongside these editorial selections, Apple has published top charts for the year across the App Store, Apple Podcasts, and Apple Books. Separately, Apple announced the first-ever Apple Music Awards, which we’ve covered here.

Apple’s pick for the iPhone’s App of the Year is Spectre Camera, the long-exposure camera app from Lux Optics, which we reviewed in February when it was released. Lux Optics is also the maker of Halide, one of our favorite iOS camera apps.

The winner of iPhone Game of the Year is Sky: Children of the Light from thatgamecompany. From the makers of the popular console, and later iOS, game Journey, Sky is a social adventure game that shares a similar aesthetic with Journey.

On the iPad, Apple picked Flow from Moleskine as App of the Year, which we reviewed here, and Hyper Light Drifter by Abylight as Game of the Year, while on the Mac, the company selected Affinity Publisher as the App of the Year and GRIS as the Game of the Year. The Apple TV’s App and Game of the Year, respectively, are The Explorers and Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap. This year, Apple also added a new category: Apple Arcade Game of the Year, which it awarded to the excellent Sayonara Wild Hearts by Simogo, which you can learn more about here.

Like last year, Apple’s App Store editorial team highlighted two App Store trends too. The 2019 App Trend of the Year was ‘Storytelling Simplified,’ with Apple featuring apps focused on telling stories through a wide range of media, spotlighting Anchor, Canva, Unfold, Steller, Spark Camera, Over, and Wattpad. The Game Trend of the Year was ‘Blockbusters Reimagined,’ which highlighted well-known game franchises reimagined for mobile like Mario Kart Tour, Dr. Mario World, Minecraft Earth, Pokémon Masters, Assassin’s Creed Rebellion, Gears POP!, The Elder Scrolls: Blades, Alien: Blackout, and Call of Duty: Mobile.

In addition to apps, Apple also made editorial selections for other media categories, including best podcasts and books of the year. Rather than singling out individual overall winners, Apple highlighted a variety of its favorites, which can be found in the Browse section of Apple’s Podcasts app and the Book Store section of the Books app.


Loupedeck+ Review: Faster, More Natural Image and Video Editing with a Dedicated Control Panel

Source: Loupedeck

Source: Loupedeck

The Loupedeck+ is a hardware control panel for editing photos and video that transforms the software tools you’re accustomed to using with a mouse or trackpad into physical buttons, knobs, and dials. By eliminating the need to dive into menus and hunt for software, the Loupedeck+ changes the image editing process into something much closer to the feeling of editing on an iPad with the Apple Pencil. The seemingly endless series of swipes, drags, and clicks are replaced by something far more tactile and natural.

The result is a clear example of the benefit of using a dedicated tool for a particular task. Photo and video editing is often a high-volume, high-precision activity with lots of repetition, and depending on your job, tight deadlines. That makes any tool that can shave a little time off of editing each photo a win for professionals who often edit thousands of images in a week.

What I didn’t expect, though, is that the Loupedeck+ also makes editing more accessible for beginners like myself. As I’ll explain in more detail below, when Loupedeck sent me their device to test, I spent most of my time using it in Adobe Lightroom Classic, which I hadn’t used before. However, after a short time familiarizing myself with the Loupedeck+ layout, I found myself deep in the editing process with my eyes fixed on the images I was working on instead of darting back and forth hunting for the tools I wanted to use.

I may never enjoy the sort of time savings that a professional photographer could squeeze out of the Loupedeck+. However, simply knowing that I can dip in and out of Lightroom Classic for my editing needs with virtually no learning curve eliminates a significant hurdle that has slowed me down in the past. Although there are aspects of the Loupedeck+ that could be improved, it’s an incredibly powerful tool that fits into more workflows than I anticipated, which makes it an accessory worth considering for a wide range of users.

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Apple Releases Annual Holiday Video ‘The Surprise’

It’s become a tradition for Apple to release a special holiday season video each year, and this year is no different. Today, the company revealed the 2019 version entitled ‘The Surprise.’

The storyline follows a family as they visit the mother’s father. The video chronicle’s the family’s journey and visit with their two young children. To appease the kids when they fight or get in the way, their parents hand them an iPad to watch movies and play games. However, the children’s use of the iPad evolves over the course of the video, which reveals they’ve used it to create an interactive story about their family and their grandfather’s wife who had passed away.

It’s a touching video packed with emotion that does an excellent job of showing off the kind of creative projects that are possible with an iPad and pulls it off without being overbearing. The video reminds me a lot of the Emmy award-winning video called ‘Misunderstood’ from the 2013 holiday season.


iOS Photo Metadata Utility Metapho Adds Deep Fusion and Night Mode Photo Detection

Metapho has been one of my favorite photo utilities on iOS for years. The marquee feature has always been its ability to strip metadata from images, which is handy when sharing photos online, for instance. Over time though, Metapho has grown to incorporate other functionality for inspecting and editing photo metadata that has made the app a must-have iOS utility. With its latest update, Metapho has added Deep Fusion and Night Mode photo detection, an intriguing addition that I haven’t seen any other app offer.

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Adobe Previews Features Coming to Photoshop for iPad Through mid-2020

The long-anticipated release of Photoshop for iPad was met with disappointment by many users who felt that significant functionality was missing. Although Adobe explained at the time that version 1.0 was a foundation upon which it intended to build rapidly, the length of time it took to create that foundation left many people skeptical. Today, to try to dispel some of the doubts surrounding Photoshop for iPad, the company published a blog post previewing some of the features coming later this year and in the first half of 2020.

Before the end of 2019, Adobe says it will ship the ‘Select Subject’ feature that it showed off at the Adobe MAX Conference earlier this month. The feature takes advantage of the company’s Sensei AI machine learning technology to facilitate complex subject selection. Adobe also says that cloud PSD files will upload and download faster in December after it makes changes to its systems.

Selection tools will get another boost in the first half of 2020 with Refine Edge allowing for soft edge selections. Curves for tonal adjustments and new adjustment layer options will be available too. Adobe also plans to bring features over from apps like Fresco, including brush sensitivity and canvas rotation. Finally, Adobe says it will integrate Photoshop with Lightroom for iPad, so you can process RAW images in Lightroom and use them in compositing projects in Photoshop.

With the reaction at Photoshop for iPad’s launch, I’m glad Adobe chose to showcase these new features in advance. It makes competitive sense too, given that alternative iPad apps that compete with at least some aspects of Photoshop continue to move forward rapidly. It’s that sort of competition that I expect will make pro iPad apps interesting to watch in 2020.


Timery for Toggl Updated with Shortcut Parameter Support and a Refreshed Design

Timery for Toggl continues to add new iOS 13 features with the release today of version 1.05, which includes improved Shortcuts support and new design elements.

The most significant addition to Timery is support for shortcut actions with parameters and data output. Now users can start a project with a description, tags, and its billable status. The action outputs Time Entry Details, which makes the project name, task, description, tags, start time, duration, billable status, and entry name available.

Projects and tags can be added to the ‘start timer’ action from your list of saved projects and tags when you set up a shortcut or from another source like a user prompt. Any tags applied by a shortcut action that don’t already exist will be added to your Toggl account, but using an incorrect project name will result in an error. Timery also supports adding multiple tags to an entry, although they must be separated by commas or on their own lines. Time is output in total numbers of seconds, in ‘00:00:00’ format, or written out like ‘1 hour, 45 minutes, and 32 seconds.’ The time entry name that the shortcut action generates is a combination of the project name and description. A separate action for stopping a timer outputs the same data.

The other available actions allow users to check the time logged for:

  • The current time entry
  • The current day
  • A project
  • A project with a description and tags

Each of these actions returns duration data in the three formats described above for time logged on the current day only. One thing I’d like to see added in the future is a parameter to adjust the time period reported, so I could use a shortcut to check the total time logged for a project this week or month, for example.

The new shortcut actions open up a lot of interesting possibilities, including the ability to do things like send time tracking data to apps like Numbers, which could be used to create charts. A simple shortcut that I’ve found to be effective is one that checks the current timer I have running and reports back with its elapsed time and the total time tracked today. It’s the sort of shortcut that’s handy to stick in the Shortcuts widget or on your Home screen for a quick time check that doesn’t require opening Timery itself.

Check Timery

Check your currently-running timer and total time logged for the day. Timery for Toggl is required for this shortcut.

Get the shortcut here.

From a design standpoint, Timery has added context menus, which serve as an alternative to swiping left and right on saved timers and time entries, to play, stop, and delete timers and entries. Although the addition doesn’t extend the functionality of the app, I personally prefer context menus to swiping to reveal options and will be using this feature a lot, especially on my iPhone, where using the context menu provides a nice bit of haptic feedback.

New context menus and refreshed UI for editing saved timers and existing time entries.

New context menus and refreshed UI for editing saved timers and existing time entries.

Timery has also made use of inset grouped table views, the card-like UI seen throughout iOS 13. Editing a saved timer or an existing time entry pulls up the card-like UI from the bottom of the screen with the same editing options I covered in my review of version 1.0. Again, the change doesn’t affect the functionality of Timery, but it serves to align the app with current design trends, which prevents it from looking dated.

As I explained in a MacStories Weekly column for Club MacStories members recently, Timery has had a significant impact on the way I work every day. Whether or not you track time for billing purposes, Timery is a valuable tool for anyone curious about how they spend their time. As a result, I’m glad to see it continue to be refined with the latest frameworks and APIs. I particularly appreciate the addition of shortcuts with parameters, which provide a lot more flexibility than was previously possible.

Timery for Toggl is available on the App Store as a free download with certain features available via a subscription.


Apple Maps Continues Its US Expansion

Yesterday, Apple Maps received its biggest US update by area yet, encompassing several states in the Midwest and West. Along with it, came a comprehensive update from Justin O’Beirne, who has been chronicling the updates since they began.

Apple started rolling out new, more detailed maps of the US in September 2018 and said at WWDC this year that the new maps would cover the entire US by the end of 2019. With the latest update, which is the sixth, only the Southeast and Central states, Alaska, and a few other areas remain un-updated.

Source: justinobeirne.com

Source: justinobeirne.com

According to O’Beirne’s post, Apple’s new maps now cover over 50% of the US by area and two-thirds of its population, including the country’s ten largest cities. Although almost half of the US by area has yet to have its maps updated, the accelerated pace of updates, suggests to O’Beirne that it is possible the remaining parts of the US may still be completed before the close of the year.

In addition to dozens of GIFs with side-by-side comparisons of the old and new Apple Maps for different regions of the US, O’Beirne goes into detail on the changes Apple has made to identifying roads, parks, and other landmarks at different zoom levels. It’s a fascinatingly in-depth analysis that suggests that Apple has increasingly automated its map creation process.

Be sure to check out O’Beirne’s post for all the details and the many GIF comparisons.

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Spotify Announces New ‘Your Daily Podcasts’ Algorithmic Playlist

Spotify aims to do for podcasts what it’s done for music recommendations with today’s announcement of a new algorithmic podcast playlist.

One of the music streaming service’s greatest strengths is the analysis it does of users’ listening habits, which it uses to recommend new tracks through playlists like Discover Weekly and Daily Mix. According to Spotify, its new ‘Your Daily Podcasts’ playlist will analyze recent episodes you’ve streamed and the shows you follow to make recommendations tailored to the type of shows that match your interests. For example, for story-based sequential shows that you haven’t tried before, Spotify will offer the trailer or first episode of a show, while for daily, news-based podcasts, the playlist may include a recent, topical episode.

The addition of ‘Your Daily Podcasts’ is not surprising given remarks by Spotify CEO Daniel Ek when the company acquired Gimlet Media and Anchor. At the time, Ek said Spotify would offer improved ‘curation and customization’ for users and ‘better discovery, data, and monetization to creators.’

Podcast discovery remains an area that a number of companies are working to improve. As Spotify’s share of the podcast listener market increases, its ability to anticipate the podcasts and individual episodes that subscribers will enjoy has the potential to rival what has already made it such an attractive service for many music fans. Given its dominance of podcasting, it will also be interesting to see if Apple counters by enhancing its own discovery tools in the future.

Spotify says that the new playlist is available to subscribers in the US, UK, Germany, Sweden, Mexico, Brazil, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand who have listened to at least four podcasts in the past 90 days.