John Voorhees

627 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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GoodNotes Adds Drag and Drop Flexibility

Drag and drop is a natural fit for a note taking app like GoodNotes. The app excels as a way to capture handwritten or typed notes, but one of its greatest strengths is the ability to combine notes with other media, which drag and drop makes easier than ever.

GoodNotes has one of the best ink engines of any note taking app I’ve used. You can choose from a preset selection of ink colors and line widths or customize them to suit your taste. There’s a highlighter tool for marking up your notes or other documents too. The lasso tool lets you select notes and other on-screen elements to move them on the page or, in the case of handwritten notes, convert them to text.

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Bear: A Beautiful App for Crafting Notes and Prose [Sponsor]

Bear is a beautiful, award-winning app for crafting notes and prose. It’s simple yet powerful, and flexible enough to be a personal journal, scratchpad, and webpage clippper. You can write a book with Bear, or just keep all those little snippets and files that don’t fit elsewhere. Bear works on iPad, iPhone, Mac and, soon, Apple Watch.

There are a lot of great perks and smart polish in Bear. It fully supports Markdown, uses #tags and nested tags for organization, stores all notes in plain text, has incredibly powerful search operators, and it can handle anything—text, photos, links, tasks, and even files. Bear syntax highlights over 20 coding languages, and exports notes to a variety of formats including PDF, HTML, RTF, and even JPG for sharing on social media.

Bear is free to use. To enable sync across all devices, pick from a wide variety of themes, use all export options, and support future awesomeness coming to Bear, subscribe to Bear Pro. It’s just $1.49 a month, or $14.99 a year (about 15 percent off), and all existing and future Bear Pro features will be unlocked.

Check out the Bear Blog and FAQs with tips and guides on how to get the most out of Bear.

Our thanks to Bear for sponsoring MacStories this week.

Design Like the Notch Isn’t There

After revealing the iPhone X to the world on September 12th, Apple updated its Human Interface Guidelines and introduced a series of developer videos to address, among other topics, designing iOS apps with the iPhone X’s notch in mind. Designer Max Rudberg provides a comprehensive overview of Apple’s treatment of the notch. As Rudberg explains:

Apple is choosing to highlight the fact that the screen reaches the top left and right corner of the device. So the recommendation is clear. As a good platform citizen, one should follow their lead. By doing so, you likely have better chances to be highlighted by Apple in the App Store, or even win an Apple Design Award.

Eventually, they will get rid of the notch. It could be 2, 5, or even 10 years, but it’s a stop gap, not a permanent design solution. In the meantime, treat it like the elephant in the room. We all know it’s there, but for the most part, you should design as if it’s not.

Rudberg illustrates his article with screenshots of each point he covers and the dimensions of each screen elements adjacent to the notch. It’s not a substitute for reading the Human Interface Guidelines and watching Apple’s videos, but Rudberg’s article is a great place for developers to start when considering how to design for the iPhone X.


Game Day: Fowlst

Sometimes the best distraction from a frantic and chaotic day is an even more frantic and chaotic game. Fowlst, which developer CatCup Games, describes as ‘an action game about an owl that is trapped in Hell for some reason’ is perfect for just such an occasion.

Fowlst is an arcade-style action, dodging game. You play as the owl, pursued by demons that shoot lasers at you while you try to avoid buzzsaws, fire, and other obstacles. The game gets crazy fast.

The mechanics remind me of Don’t Grind, one of my favorite arcade-style games released last year. You control your owl by tapping on the left and right-hand sides of the screen, which makes your owl fly in a bouncy kind of way in the direction of your taps. The controls purposefully require a careful coordination of left and right taps to navigate your owl. Power-ups are activated by swiping up on the screen. It’s a simple control scheme that makes Fowlst easy to pick up and start playing, but difficult to master.

Demons are defeated by colliding with them before you run out of hearts from being hit by lasers or other obstacles. Unlike Don’t Grind, you don’t have to keep your owl aloft constantly. You can rest on the bottom of any stage or a perch, but constantly moving helps make it harder for the demons to get you. There are also periodic bosses theoughout the game to mix up the pace of the action.

When you defeat a demon, it’s replaced with a floating sack of money and occasionally a heart or power-up that disappears after a few seconds. To collect items, you need to steer your owl into them while simultaneously dealing with other demons and obstacles. The cash you collect can be spent to upgrade your owl with health and weapons.

The game ends when you run out of hearts. Fowlst then tallies the money you collected, the number of levels cleared and shows how you did compared to your high score, which has the effect of making the game wonderfully-compulsive to play. Fowlst keeps things interesting by randomizing the levels you are presented each time you play through. It’s a carefully struck balance that keeps the gameplay familiar enough to avoid frustration but also avoids becoming monotonous.

Fowlst combines its arcade action with pixelated art, a complementary chiptune soundtrack, and lots of ‘pew-pew’ laser sound effects. The result is an addictive arcade game that has almost no learning curve and is easy to pick up and play for short periods of time but is difficult to master and hard to put down. It’s a perfect combination for a mobile game, making Fowlst a title I’m going to be returning to often.

Fowlst is available on the App Store.

Apple Music Bot Joins Facebook Messenger

Apple Music has released a bot on Facebook Messenger, joining over 200,000 other active bots. According to Facebook’s announcement:

The Apple Music experience on Messenger is unique in that it allows Apple Music subscribers on iOS to play complete songs, right in the app. Of course it will enable listening and sharing of 30-second sound bites cross-platform (Android and iOS) to non-subscribers. You can even send an emoji to the bot and it will suggest a playlist – try sending 🔥 or even ✨❓🚌 to see what Apple Music bot suggests – and know what’s playing live on Beats 1 and see which shows are coming up next. And if you’re interested in becoming an Apple Music subscriber, you can also easily start your 3 month free trial via a native, seamless flow.

With a potential audience of over 1.3 billion people and competitors like Spotify on Facebook Messenger with a bot of its own, it makes a lot of strategic sense for Apple to be involved too. Signing up for a free trial is only a couple taps away in the bot interface, which I imagine should help Apple Music grow its subscriber base too.


Pixelmator for macOS Updated with HEIF and Apple Photos Support

Pixelmator, which announced Pixelmator Pro is coming later this year, has released an interim update to the current version of its image editor that adds full compatibility with macOS High Sierra.

In addition to bug fixes, Pixelmator 3.7 supports importing HEIF image files. Pixelmator can be opened directly from Apple Photos now too. The feature, which was added to Apple Photos as part of High Sierra, allows users to choose an image in Apple Photos, but edit it in Pixelmator. All edits made in Pixelmator will be saved back to the original file in Apple Photos. Pixelmator posted a video that explains how the feature works:

Pixelmator is available on the Mac App Store.

Apple Previews Emoji Coming in iOS 11.1

On World Emoji Day, Apple provided a sneak peek at some of the emoji it was working on for iOS 11. Today, Apple revealed that the new emoji will debut in iOS 11.1:

Hundreds of new emoji, including more emotive smiley faces, gender-neutral characters, clothing options, food types, animals, mythical creatures and more, are coming to iPhone and iPad with iOS 11.1.

The first chance to try the new emoji will come in the second beta of iOS 11.1, which BuzzFeed News reports will be released on Monday, October 9th.


Comic Protanopia Comes to Life with Game-Like Tilt Controls

Protanopia is a reimagination of what a comic book can be on an iOS device. The short comic is a stand-alone Universal app, that tells the story of soldiers landing on the beaches of Normandy during World War II.

The free comic is the work of artist Andre Bergs who describes the book as follows:

Created as an experiment into the possibilities of digital comics. Using elements from 3D and 2D animation in a realtime game engine, it creates an unique visual style, whilst still having a familiar feeling.

As the landing craft bobs on the waves, the soldiers inside it move too. By layering the 2D art and animating each layer independently, a 3D effect is created. By itself, it’s a cool effect that brings the comic to life, but there’s more to it than that. The comic also responds to tilting your iOS device. You can tilt your iPhone or iPad to get a different perspective on the scene and peek at details that can’t be viewed from certain angles.

Protanopia is unlike any other comic I’ve read. While tilt control may not suit the storyline of every comic, it adds a dynamism to this story that makes it come alive in a way that static art doesn’t. It’s fascinating to see game engine technology deployed in a different medium and something with which I’d love to see more artist experiment.

Protanopia is available on the App Store.