John Voorhees

1069 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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Fortnite Adds MFi Controller Support

The latest update to Fortnite on iOS adds support for MFi controllers. I don’t play Fortnite on iOS regularly, but I tried the game when it was released on iOS and have played on the Nintendo Switch from time to time. The game has done extraordinarily well on iOS, but on balance, I’ve preferred playing on the Switch because I found it much easier to play with a physical game controller than onscreen gestures. That calculus could change for a lot of players now that the iOS version of the game supports MFi controllers.

I paired my SteelSeries Nimbus Bluetooth controller with my iPad Pro and gave Fortnite a try for the first time in months. Having played on the Switch, the controls felt immediately natural. The game’s HUD has labels showing what each button does, and there are diagrams available in Fortnite’s help system too. The responsiveness of a Bluetooth controller isn’t on par with a wired game controller, but it’s a big improvement over onscreen controls and paired with an iOS device that can push 60fps, iOS can be an excellent way to play Fortnite.

A full rundown on the latest Fortnite update is available on Epic Games’ website.


AirBuddy: An AirPods Companion for Your Mac

AirBuddy by Guilherme Rambo is one of the handiest Mac utilities I’ve tried in a while. AirPods connect almost instantly to iOS devices, but the process of pairing them to a Mac is not as simple, often requiring fiddling with your Mac’s Bluetooth settings from the menu bar or System Preferences. AirBuddy solves that problem, making it as trivially easy to connect AirPods to a Mac as it is to do the same with an iPhone.

The app works with a Mac that supports Bluetooth LE and is running macOS Mojave and any headphones that include Apple’s proprietary W1 chip. That means in addition to AirPods, AirBuddy can also control Beats headphones that have a W1 wireless chip. The app runs in the background as a helper process, so you won’t usually see a window or dock icon while it’s running. Nor is there a menu bar icon. Instead, once you’ve adjusted the app’s handful of settings to your liking, the app appears almost immediately when you open your AirPods case near your Mac or turn on your Beats headphones.

AirBuddy's settings.

AirBuddy's settings.

AirBuddy has a few settings that are available by opening the app from the Finder. There are checkboxes for enabling the app to work with AirPods and other W1 headphones and display options for picking where onscreen you want AirBuddy to appear when it detects nearby headphones.

Once you have the app set up, opening your AirPods case near your Mac causes a window to slide down from the top of your screen that looks just like you’d see if you did the same thing in proximity to your iPhone or iPad. For AirPods, you’ll see rotating images of your AirPods and their case with a charge indicator beneath them. The same sort of window appears when you turn on Beats headphones nearby.

The AirBuddy Today widget.

The AirBuddy Today widget.

AirBuddy doesn’t just provide the status of your AirPods though. It also allows you to connect them to your Mac with a single click. There is a Mac Today widget that provides battery status for your Mac and any headphones or iOS devices you’ve ever connected to your Mac too. It’s easy enough to check the battery of devices sitting nearby without the help of AirBuddy, but it’s nice that I can also see that the battery of my iPad sitting two floors above me is running low and should be plugged in if I want to read in bed tonight.

In the past, I’ve rarely connected my AirPods to my Mac. Instead, I used headphones with my Mac’s 3.5mm audio jack because AirPods weren’t worth the trouble. In my tests of AirBuddy though, the app works as expected every time eliminating the friction from the connection process. AirBuddy is so simple and works so well that it begs the question of why Apple hasn’t built this sort of functionality into macOS. For whatever reason, Apple hasn’t, which is a shame. Perhaps Apple will add a similar feature to macOS in the future, but unless and until that happens, anyone with AirPods and a Mac should download AirBuddy.

Rambo is selling AirBuddy using a ‘name-your-price’ model with a suggested price of $5.



Microsoft Office Debuts on the Mac App Store

Promised at WWDC last June, Microsoft Office 365 has arrived on the Mac App Store today. Office 365, which includes the company’s flagship Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook productivity apps are free to download but require a subscription available via an In-App Purchase to create and edit documents and to send and receive email messages. Before today, the Mac versions of the apps were only available as direct downloads from Microsoft.

At WWDC 2018, Apple announced a redesign of the Mac App Store. During the presentation, the company said the following apps would be coming to the Mac App Store:

  • Microsoft’s Office 365
  • Adobe’s Lightroom CC
  • Panic’s Transmit
  • Bare Bones’ BBEdit
  • Snap’s Live Studio
  • Houseparty

The addition of the apps announced has been slow. Houseparty debuted on the Mac App Store several months ago, but Transmit didn’t appear until last November. With today’s addition of Office 365, that leaves Lightroom, BBEdit, and Live Studio to go.

Office is a significant addition to the Mac App Store. The apps in the suite are used by millions of people worldwide, and the convenience of downloading them and updating the apps from the Mac App Store alongside other apps should be a welcome addition for many users. Hopefully, the remainder of apps promised aren’t far behind and will help reinvigorate the Store, which has not seen the same level of success as its iOS sibling.

Office 365 is available on the Mac App Store as a bundle. Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook can also be downloaded individually.


AppStories, Episode 95 – Interview: Directing Animated Feature Films Using an iPad Pro with Yarrow Cheney

On this week's episode of AppStories we interview Yarrow Cheney, whose animated feature film credits include directing The Grinch and The Secret Life of Pets and production design for the Despicable Me movies and The Lorax, about the role the iPad plays in his filmmaking process.

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Apple Announces ‘Shot on iPhone’ Photography Challenge

For longer than I can remember now, Apple has plucked photos taken by iPhone users from the vast sea of images posted online and featured them on billboards, in print advertising, and online. Today, the company announced that through February 7th, it’s running a Shot on iPhone Challenge. Apple says that:

A panel of judges will review worldwide submissions and select 10 winning photos, to be announced in February. The winning photos will be featured on billboards in select cities, Apple retail stores and online.

Apple’s announcement also introduces the contest’s 11 judges, 6 of whom are from Apple and 5 of whom are outsiders with backgrounds in photography. The Apple team includes Phil Schiller, members of his marketing team, and others who work on Apple’s photo software. The rest of the judges include former White House photographer Pete Souza, travel photographer Austin Mann, who we recently interviewed for Club MacStories, Annet de Graaf, a travel photographer and author of iPhone photography books, Luisa Dörr who shot TIME magazine’s special Firsts issue entirely on an iPhone, and Chen Man, a visual artist and creator of photography-based social apps.

If you’d like to submit your iPhone photos, here’s what to do:

Post your best photo taken on iPhone to Instagram or Twitter with the #ShotOniPhone hashtag to participate in the the Shot on iPhone Challenge. Weibo users can participate as well using #ShotOniPhone#. In the image caption, note which model was used. Alternatively, you can also submit the photo in its highest resolution to shotoniphone@apple.com with the file format ‘firstname_lastname_iphonemodel.’ Photos can be straight from the camera, edited through Apple’s editing tools in the Photos app or with third-party software. Submissions for photos begins at 12:01 a.m. PST on January 22 and ends at 11:59 p.m. PST on February 7. You must be 18 years of age or older to participate, and this challenge is not open to Apple employees or their immediate families.

I’ve always enjoyed Apple’s Shot on iPhone ad campaigns. It will be fun to see which shots its judges pick from what I can only imagine will be a huge number of submissions.


Pixelmator Pro Updated with New Layers Features

Today the Pixelmator team released a layers-focused update to Pixelmator Pro, their Mac image editor.

The update allows users to add any of seven colored tags to a layer to help identify them. The feature also supports Adobe PSD color tags on import and export.

To make navigating projects with lots of layers easier, users can now filter layers based on several criteria including the new color tags, images, shapes, text, RAW, and groups. At the bottom of the layers sidebar, there is also a search field for locating layers by name.

Pixelmator Pro 1.3 supports clipping masks too. The feature allows users to apply the contents of one layer to the shape of another layer or group of layers. Clipping masks can be created from text, shapes, groups of layers, or nested shapes.

Finally, you can also adjust a layer’s opacity and blending mode using the controls at the bottom of the layers sidebar. Adjustments made are previewed live in the app’s main window.

Pixelmator Pro is available on the Mac App Store.


Concepts for iPad: An Adaptable Infinite Canvas to Suit Anyone’s Needs

Concepts, an iOS drawing app featuring an infinite canvas, sat untouched on my iPad forever. I’d seen some buzz about it online, and the idea of an infinite canvas intrigued me. I’m not much of an artist though, so I was unsure how I’d use the app.

What broke my mental logjam was the new Apple Pencil. Attached to the side of my iPad Pro, the Pencil is always within easy reach, so I use it more now than ever. That, in turn, set me on a quest for the best apps that support the Pencil.

I started with familiar apps like GoodNotes, which I reviewed last week, and Linea Sketch from The Iconfactory, two of my long-time favorite apps. I’d used both apps for a long time, but with the new Apple Pencil, I found myself using them more often. Especially with Linea Sketch, I found myself using the Pencil to map out articles and other projects in a loose, free-form style consisting of lots of handwritten notes embellished with splashes of color and doodles. Free from the constraint of orderly lines of text, ideas evolved more organically, which I’ve found works exceptionally well during the early stages of a project.

What led me to dive into Concepts though was a single wall I hit with Linea and GoodNotes. The canvas of both apps is constrained to a single digital sheet of paper. That’s not a deal-breaker in some circumstances, but for more sprawling projects and loosely-defined brainstorming, it’s problematic. The one-page-at-a-time interface of both apps also made it hard to annotate more than a single screenshot per page without running out of space.

Concepts affords me an infinite canvas free of space constraints. It also offers a level of control over the tools I use that fits well with how I approach text editors. Like many writers I know, I like to adjust every detail of how my words appear onscreen, including the typeface I use, its size, the line height, and column width. As I’ll explain in more detail below, Concepts allows a similar level of control over its tools, which I love. I may not take advantage of those tools or their customizations to the same extent as an artist might, but I appreciate their power nonetheless.

So, I spent time over the holidays sketching out plans for 2019 in Concepts. The more I used the app, the more I became convinced that it merited a place in my iPad workflow. Still, I wondered if a review from my non-artist’s perspective made sense for an app so focused on drawing. What finally convinced me to write the review was the interview Federico and I did with Yarrow Cheney that we released on AppStories today.

Cheney co-directed The Grinch and The Secret Life of Pets, was the production designer for the Despicable Me movies and The Lorax, and has been involved in many other animated feature films since the 90s. He’s a fantastic artist and uses Concepts to create the concept art for the films on which he’s worked.

What struck me most about our conversation though was Cheney’s insight that he uses the iPad Pro with an Apple Pencil and Concepts because the combination reduces the distance between the idea in his head and recording it onscreen. That allows him to iterate more quickly and evolve ideas organically in an ever-expanding canvas from which he then pulls the best ideas.

Concept art from The Grinch posted by Yarrow Cheney (instagram.com/yarrowcheney) on Instagram.

Concept art from The Grinch posted by Yarrow Cheney (instagram.com/yarrowcheney) on Instagram.

Listening to Cheney’s explanation, I realized that the primary value of an app like Concepts lies in helping users record and refine their ideas. Whether your ideas result in something like Cheney’s whimsical concept art for The Grinch or my messy soup of notes, screenshots, and highlighting, the core utility of Concepts, which is right there in its name, is the way it facilitates the exploration of ideas. That's an important distinction that makes Concepts an appropriate choice for iPad users regardless of whether you're an artist.

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GoodNotes 5: The MacStories Review

I spend a lot of time at a keyboard. The obvious advantage of a keyboard is speed. When I'm in a groove, nothing beats typing into a text editor at my Mac or iPad Pro for quickly recording thoughts and ideas, so they aren't forgotten.

Moving fast is not nearly as important when it comes time to refine those ideas into something coherent. Slowing down, switching tools and contexts, and working in different environments all help to bring order to disparate thoughts. The same holds for planning something new, whether it's the next big article or organizing my thoughts on some other project.

It's in situations like these when I grab my iPad Pro and open GoodNotes. The switch from the indirect process of typing into a text editor to working directly on the iPad's screen with the Apple Pencil enables a different perspective that helps me refine ideas in a way that typing doesn't.

With version 5, the GoodNotes team has taken my favorite iOS note-taking app and refined every aspect of the experience. The update retains the simplicity of the app's design but does a better job surfacing existing functionality and extending other features. The result is a more flexible, powerful app that plays to its existing strengths – which current users will appreciate – but should also appeal to a broader audience than ever.

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