John Voorhees

1608 posts on MacStories since November 2015

John, MacStories’ Managing Editor, has been writing about Apple and apps since joining the team in 2015. He also co-hosts MacStories’ podcasts, including AppStories, which explores of the world of apps, MacStories Unwind, a weekly recap of everything MacStories and more, and MacStories Unplugged, a behind-the-scenes, anything-goes show exclusively for Club MacStories members.

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Logitech Circle View Doorbell Offers Superior Camera Hardware with the Benefits of HomeKit Secure Video

For nearly a year, I had a Logitech Circle View camera perched above the front door of my house, which allowed me to keep an eye out for visitors and deliveries. The wide-angle lens was able to capture my front stoop as well as my yard, providing an excellent perspective on what was happening outside.

That setup worked extremely well. In fact, my two Circle View cameras are so reliable that I had begun thinking about replacing a second outdoor camera from Canary that I was using in the back yard. That’s why when Logitech got in touch to see if I wanted to try its new Circle View Doorbell, I jumped at the chance. I figured that if it worked out, I could migrate the Circle View to the back yard. I was also intrigued by some unique features of Logitech’s doorbell and eager to see how well they worked in practice. I haven’t been disappointed.

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Emojipedia Previews the Emoji Included in the Second Beta of iOS and iPadOS 14.5

Source: Emojipedia.org

Source: Emojipedia.org

Earlier today, Apple released the second developer beta of iOS and iPadOS 14.5, which includes new emoji. The latest additions, which include 217 emoji when you account for skin tone and other variations, have been cataloged by Jeremy Burge at Emojipedia.

A few of the 200 couples emoji variations. Source: Emojipedia.org

A few of the 200 couples emoji variations. Source: Emojipedia.org

Highlights include couples, with expanded skin tone options that account for 200 of the new emoji. The remaining additions include three new smileys: Exhaling Face, Face with Spiral Eyes, and Face in Clouds, two new heart variants, and gender options for Bearded Person. Apple has also revised the syringe emoji so that it doesn’t include blood, making it useful in a wider range of circumstances, and the headphones emoji so it looks like a pair of AirPods Max.

If you’re wondering why we’re seeing new emoji so soon, don’t miss Burge’s post from last summer explaining the Unicode Consortium’s new emoji approval schedule. The new emoji will be part of Apple’s next round of operating system updates, which the company has said will be available this ‘spring.’

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Kitty Letter: A Silly, Challenging, and Addictive Word Game from Matthew Inman of The Oatmeal

It’s always a good sign when the hardest part of writing a game review is putting the game down. That has absolutely been the case with Kitty Letter, the new word game from Matthew Inman, the artist behind The Oatmeal webcomic. The core mechanic is familiar: make as many words as possible from a handful of jumbled letters. But as with many of my favorite iOS games, Kitty Letter takes a classic genre and adds a twist.

Inman’s twist reminds me of another classic iOS genre: tower defense games. As you create words by swiping across the letters that appear in a mysterious language vortex, armies of exploding cats are launched, countering other cats bent on destroying your home and attacking the crazy cat man who lives in a trailer across the street. Add collectible power-ups, a funny storyline, The Oatmeal’s signature humor and art, and multiple game modes, and Kitty Letter is completely absorbing. The game is perfect for one-handed mobile play and theoretically short sessions because no single level takes that long to play, but that’s only the case if you actually manage to peel yourself away from it.

Kitty Letter can be played in single or multiplayer modes, each of which has two ways to play. In single-player story mode, battles are interspersed with a storyline that I won’t spoil, but which includes elements like a fish you have to slap repeatedly to defrost and groaning deer. I’ve played through the first set of levels, and the story adds depth to single-player mode, which lacks the competitive dimension of multiplayer mode. The other single-player mode is an arcade mode, where the goal is to survive as long as you can, racking up points as you are relentlessly attacked by waves of exploding cats that come at you faster and faster as you play.

In multiplayer mode, you can play head-to-head against a friend or against a stranger. I played several matches against strangers and only won a couple of times. Kitty Letter has only been out a few days, but there are already some terrific players. What makes multiplayer mode difficult, absorbing, and incredibly fun is that, like Arcade mode, it’s critical to maintain a quick (but not too quick) pace and be good at coming up with lots of words. You can try to slow down a little to see what your opponent throws at you, but if you slow down too much, your letters reset. If you play fast, you may overwhelm your foe, but you also might run out of words too quickly and have to wait for new letters, helpless against an onslaught of cats.

In both modes, the game mechanics are roughly the same. Build words from the letters launching cats that counter incoming armies and hit back at your enemy to inflict damage (or win points in arcade mode) when your cats make it through your enemy’s defenses. The longer the words you put together, the bigger the cat armies you generate are. Timing counts, too, because incoming groups of cats can only be countered by making a word that starts with the letter that appears above the group of enemy felines. As you and your opponent are hit by incoming cats, your health meter tracks the damage you each take. Whoever’s health runs out first loses.

Kitty Letter is available on the iPhone, iPad, and M1 Macs, but it’s best on the iPhone, where you can quickly swipe across letters to make words one-handed with your thumb. The game includes a stats page that keeps track of your highest scoring word, wins and losses in multiplayer mode, and your highest arcade mode score. Kitty Litter is free and has no ads, other limitations, or gimmicks to entice you to spend money. Instead, there are a variety of avatars, cats, and houses that you can buy as In-App Purchases, but they are purely cosmetic and don’t affect the game.

It’s been a while since I found a casual iOS game that is this fun and distracting. Kitty Letter silly, challenging, and addicting, which is the perfect formula for fun.


‘For All Mankind’ Companion Podcast Launching Friday from Apple TV+

Apple TV+ is launching its first podcast that will serve as a companion to the show ‘For All Mankind,’ the Apple Original series that imagines a world where the Soviet Union was first to land on the Moon. Trailers for the podcast, which is hosted by cast member Krys Marshall, are available on Apple Podcasts and YouTube. The first full episode will be published Friday, February 19th at 9:00 am US Pacific time, which is also when the first episode of season two of For All Mankind will be available.

For All Mankind: The Official Podcast’ is being produced in partnership with AT WILL MEDIA, a Manhattan and Los Angeles-based media production company that has produced shows like The Choice for The New York Times. New episodes of the TV show will debut at 9:00 am US Pacific time each Thursday, with new episodes of the 10-episode podcast coming out every other week on Fridays at the same time.

Podcast host Krys Marshall, who plays Commander Danielle Poole on For All Mankind, will be joined by space experts, former astronauts, and people involved in creating the TV show, providing a mix of science and behind-the-scenes details about the show. The show is available in the Apple Podcasts app as well as third-party podcast players via RSS.

You can listen to the trailer for ‘For All Mankind: The Official Podcast’ below:


MacStories Unwind: HomeKit App and Camera Reviews, Maps Gets New Features, and Using Siri to Change Your Default Music Service

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This week on MacStories Unwind:

MacStories

Club MacStories

  • MacStories Weekly
    • GameTrack
      • Screenshot and screen recording apps
      • An Opener app tip
      • Federico’s ongoing widget experiments
  • MacStories Unplugged
    • A productivity parable
    • Boston slang
    • Regional Italian accents

AppStories

Unwind


Power-User HomeKit App Home+ 5 Adds Automation Folders, Backups, and a Fresh Design

With the release of Home+ 5 by Matthias Hochgatterer, there are more reasons for HomeKit power-users to try the app than ever before. One of the app’s strengths has always been creating automations based on device attributes that aren’t available in Apple’s Home app. That’s why I was already using Home+. However, now, the app has added a new design, folders to organize automations, Smart Groups for accessories, a Favorites view, and backups, which make the app more compelling than ever.

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Hands-On with the Apple Store’s Insta360 ONE X2 Camera Bundle

Source: Insta360.

Source: Insta360.

Starting today, Insta360 is offering an exclusive bundle of the Insta360 ONE X2 camera and an assortment of accessories through Apple’s online store for $479.99.

I’ve been intrigued by Insta360’s action cameras since coming across them during CES in 2020. I bought a DJI Osmo Pocket when it launched at the end of 2018, which sold me on the notion of a tiny, versatile camera that integrates with the iPhone. So, when Insta360 offered to send me the Apple Store bundle to try, I was curious to see what it can do and what a 360-degree perspective would add to the mix. I’ve only had the ONE X2 for a few days during a brutal Chicago cold snap, so my use of the camera has been limited. Still, the excellent app integration has made getting started a breeze, so I wanted to share my first impressions.

The Insta360 ONE X2 bundle being sold by Apple is a great starter package that includes the ONE X2 camera, an Invisible Selfie Stick, an extra battery and case to carry it, a 32 GB MicroSD card and SD card adapter, two charging cables (USB-A to USB-C and USB-C to Lightning), a carrying case, and a soft pouch. Separately, the camera retails for $429.99, and with the accessories, the entire package would cost around $511 based on the prices listed on Insta360’s website. However, through Apple’s online store, you can purchase the kit for $479.99, saving some money and getting everything you’ll need to get started.

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Maps Adds Accident, Hazard, and Speed Check Reporting Using the iPhone, CarPlay, and Siri to the iOS 14.5 Beta

Apple has rolled out another new feature to iOS 14.5 beta testers in the US: accident, hazard, and speed check reporting in Maps.

The new feature, which appeared today, is available once you begin navigating to a destination using Maps on your iPhone or via CarPlay. After you tap the ‘Go’ button, you can tap or swipe up from the bottom of the Maps app on your iPhone or tap the new ‘Report’ button on the right side of the CarPlay UI to reveal options to report traffic accidents, road hazards, or speed checks. All three alerts can be reported and cleared using Siri too.

Submitting a report using CarPlay

Submitting a report using CarPlay

I did some preliminary testing of the feature using Maps with my iPhone, CarPlay, and Siri, and it worked well without any issues. My one quibble is with the placement of the Report button in CarPlay. It’s quite small and on the far side of the screen from the driver. You can use Siri to send a report instead, but I expected the Report button to be revealed when I tapped on the strip along the bottom of CarPlay’s Maps view that lists information like the estimated arrival time at your destination.

It will probably be a while before enough people are using iOS 14.5 for accident, hazard, and speed check alerts to begin popping up as I drive somewhere. However, there are enough other big features coming in 14.5, like the Face ID plus Apple Watch iPhone unlocking when you’re wearing a face mask, that I expect we’ll begin to see notifications pop up in Maps once iOS 14.5 is officially released.