John Voorhees

1537 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.

|

THIS WEEK'S SPONSOR:

pCloud

How Does 2TB Lifetime Cloud Storage Sound?


Apple M1 Mac Review Roundup: Big Performance and Battery Gains

Last week, Apple unveiled M1-based models of the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac mini. With deliveries of the computers beginning to arrive around the world, reviews are out, and I’ve rounded up some of the most interesting tidbits from them.

The reviews are overwhelmingly positive with a few caveats. However, reviewers were universally impressed by the new Macs’ performance and the laptops’ battery life. The experience of Wired’s Julian Chokkattu was common:

Spend a day with the new MacBook Air and the improvements are immediately noticeable. The thing’s as powerful as many of the higher-end Intel-powered Macs, blowing past the speed limits of the higher-tier MacBook Air from earlier this year. The M1 is no Mac evolution, it’s a Mac revolution.

What’s especially remarkable about these Macs is that they are low-end models as Jason Snell observes on Six Colors:

It’s all too easy to overlook the fact that these are low-end models, given how fast they are. But this is just Apple’s first step in what the company says is a two-year-long transition. The M1 chip, which appears to be a next-generation riff on the A12X processor in that 2018 iPad Pro, has a bunch of limitations that will undoubtedly not exist on future Apple-designed Mac processors: It only supports two Thunderbolt ports and up to 16GB of RAM. It has no support for external GPUs or discrete graphics of any kind. It can drive a maximum of two displays. It is, by every definition, a low-end chip, the slowest and least capable Mac chip Apple will ever make.

And yet…

Based on my testing, it’s also safe to say that all three M1-based Macs, these low-end systems at the bottom of Apple’s price lists, are among the fastest Macs ever made.

Jason and Myke Hurley also interviewed Apple’s Tim Millet and Tom Boger on Upgrade about the M1 Macs.

Read more


Apple Launches an Embeddable Web Players for Podcasts

Apple Podcasts now supports an embeddable podcast player for shows in its directory along with other marketing tools.

The player comes is responsive and can display either a show with multiple episodes or an individual episode along with playback controls and navigation options. There are controls for play/pause and to skip forward 30 seconds and back 15 seconds, as well as a timeline scrubber that appears after you click or tap play. An ellipsis menu button provides options to open a show or episode in Apple’s Podcasts app, copy a link to the show or episode, and copy embeddable code. The player is also responsive, making it look terrific on mobile and desktop devices. It’s worth noting that content blockers will hide the embedded players, so if you don’t see them below, disable content blockers and reload the page.

To create the code to embed the Podcasts player, visit the Apple Podcasts Marketing Tools webpage. Here’s an example of the large version of this week’s episode of AppStories:

And an embed for the show itself:

The embed for a show plays the latest episode by default with additional episodes available to the right of the player. The ‘See More Episodes’ button opens the Podcasts app. In addition to the new player, the Podcasts Marketing page offers badging resources, show and episode short link generation, Apple Podcasts iconography that can be embedded or downloaded, and QR code generation.

We’ve tested Apple’s new embeddable player with AppStories and I’ve been extremely happy with it. First of all, it’s dead simple to implement. The player uses an iframe, which means it should work out-of-the-box with little, if any, fiddling for most websites. MacStories uses WordPress and all I needed to do was paste the iframe code into the story.

What’s more, the embeds look fantastic, far better than most of the options available from podcast hosting services. Most important of all, though, the user experience is excellent, allowing MacStories readers to sample a show inline and jump to the Apple Podcasts app on any platform to learn more and subscribe.

Apple has had a similar widget system for Music content for a while, and I’m glad to see it’s been implemented for shows in Podcasts too. Podcast fans already have their preferred ways to access their favorite shows. What Apple Podcasts web embeds provides, though, is discoverability. The embeds are a simple, frictionless way for readers to sample the show and hopefully become subscribers.


MacStories Unwind: Apple’s M1 Macs, Big Sur, MusicBot, and New Reviews

0:00
30:41


Sponsored by: GoodTask – Better Widgets for Reminders and Calendars on iOS 14

This week on MacStories Unwind:

MacStories

Club MacStories

  • MacStories Weekly
    • Collection: November Event Highlights
    • Behind the Scenes: The MacStories Big Sur Review
    • Federico: iPad Features I’d Miss on an Apple Silicon Mac
    • An interview with PCalc developer James Thomson
  • MacStories Unplugged

AppStories

Unwind


macOS Big Sur: The MacStories Review

Big Sur is a big deal. The OS picks up where Catalina left off, further rationalizing Apple’s product lineup through design, new ways to bring apps to the Mac, and updates to existing system apps. The approach realigns functionality across Apple’s platforms after years of divergence from their common foundation: Mac OS X. The result is an OS that walks a perilous line between breaking with the past and honoring it, acknowledging the ways computing has changed while aiming for a bold future.

macOS, which OS X has been called since 2016, is a mature operating system, so more often than not its annual updates are incremental affairs that don’t turn many heads. Big Sur is different. It’s an update that promises a future that’s connected to its past yet acknowledges today’s mobile-first computing landscape and harmonizing user experiences across devices.

Big Sur also clarifies Apple’s Mac strategy, the contours of which began to emerge with Catalina. It’s a vision of a continuum of computing devices that offer a consistent, familiar environment no matter which you choose while remaining true to what makes them unique. In practical terms, that means a carefully coordinated design language and a greater emphasis on feature parity across OSes. Conceptually, it’s also an opportunity for macOS to shed the perception that it’s a legacy OS overshadowed by iOS and reclaim a meaningful place in Apple’s lineup for years to come.

Together, the changes to macOS set the table for Apple’s M1 Macs, the next big step in the Mac’s modernization, and easily earn Big Sur its designation of version 11.0.

Read more


HomePod mini Review Roundup

Several reviews of Apple’s new HomePod mini were published today. The mini, which I covered following Apple’s October event, is considerably smaller and less expensive than the original HomePod. Although we learned a lot about the mini in October, today’s reviews are the first to judge the sound quality of the mini.

Marques Brownlee was impressed with the quality of the HomePod mini’s audio for such a small speaker. Brownlee points out that there are less expensive smart speakers available, ones that support more smart home products, and smart assistants that he thinks are better. However, for a seamless, integrated experience with Apple’s products and great sound, he concludes the HomePod mini is a good choice.

At The Verge, Dan Seifert takes the HomePod mini through its paces too. He concludes:

At $100, compared to the original HomePod’s $350 launch price, the mini is priced low enough that you can envision buying more than one and spreading them throughout your home. It does most of the things you expect a smart speaker to do and sounds good when doing them. If you’re already fully bought into Apple’s ecosystem, including services, it’s hard to fault the HomePod mini’s price or capabilities. It also provides an escape from some of the privacy concerns and baggage that come with the Echo or Nest smart speakers, including the increasingly common ads that show up in Alexa’s responses.

However, Seifert also feels that Apple’s HomePod mini is behind the offerings available from Amazon and Google both in terms of smarts and sound quality.

Engadget’s Nathan Ingraham has a similar, although slightly more positive, takeaway:

The HomePod mini is a lot easier to recommend than the original was back in 2018. It’s significantly cheaper than the first HomePod, which automatically means more people will consider it. And it’s also a lot more capable than the original was in 2018, with more of the features you’d expect from a smart speaker. And, like the Nest Audio, it sounds very good for the price, making it a solid value for $100.

Brian Heater at TechCrunch concludes that the HomePod mini is a surprisingly good speaker for the price and size, noting about the audio:

It’s full and clear and impressively powerful for its size. Obviously that goes double if you opt for a stereo pair. Pairing is painless, out of the box. Just set up two devices for the same room of your home and it will ask you whether you want to pair them.

Jim Dalrymple at The Loop came away impressed after testing the HomePod mini, both in terms of its sound quality and ability to handle Siri requests:

I love the HomePod mini. It’s useful in accessing my personal information like lists, notes, and calendars, and it allows me the flexibility to play music wherever I want.

The sound quality of the music is really good for such a small speaker—or any speaker. HomePod mini fits almost anywhere you want to put it, and it looks great.

For more unboxing and hands-on videos, there are also videos available from Justine Ezarik:

and Rene Ritchie:

After reading and watching these reviews, I remain excited to try the HomePod mini. I have a bunch of HomeKit devices and have enjoyed the convenience of using Siri with the original HomePod, but it was too expensive to add them to every room in my house and also more speaker than necessary for many rooms. My hope is that the mini will fill in those gaps extending music to more of our home and bringing Siri into earshot in more circumstances.


iPhone and iPad Apps Are Coming to the Mac App Store

Source: Apple.

Source: Apple.

Apple’s M1-based Macs will start to be delivered to users next week and are capable of running iPhone and iPad apps natively. In an App Store story and developer documentation, Apple has explained how that will work.

iPhone and iPad apps will be available on the Mac App Store by default, although developers can opt out of offering their apps there. A developer might not want to make their iPhone or iPad app available on the Mac App Store for a variety of reasons. For example:

Some apps available on Mac may not function as they normally would on iPhone or iPad. For example, features that rely on hardware unique to iPhone or iPad—such as a gyroscope or a screen that supports complex Multi-Touch gestures—may not work on Mac. In some cases such a feature may be central to the app’s functionality, while in others the app may be usable without it.

Developers who want to offer their iPhone and iPad apps on the Mac App Store don’t have to do anything to make them work on the Mac. However, Apple is asking developers to consider adopting things like keyboard support, multitasking, and Auto-Layout, which will add Mac keyboard and window resizing support, for example.

Apple is also encouraging developers to verify that their iPhone and iPad apps work on the M1 Macs. Apps built for iOS and iPadOS will be labeled as ‘Designed for iPhone’ and ‘Designed for iPad,’ so users can identify them, and if an app hasn’t been verified by its developer yet, it will also be labeled as ‘Not verified for macOS.’

Search results will feature a toggle that separates Mac apps from iPhone and iPad apps. Source: Apple.

Search results will feature a toggle that separates Mac apps from iPhone and iPad apps. Source: Apple.

Apple’s developer documentation notes that iPhone and iPad apps can be found on the Mac App Store,

by browsing curated selections and charts, or by searching and clicking the “iPhone & iPad Apps” toggle at the top of search results.

The toggle strikes me as a good way to handle search results to help ensure that users understand which version of an app they are downloading. Also, developers who offer their iPhone or iPad app on the Mac App Store can later replace it with a macOS version, which will be delivered to users as an update to the app. However, if developers already offer a Mac app as part of a universal purchase, they cannot later offer an iPhone or iPad app instead.

It will be interesting to see how many apps opt out of the Mac App Store. There are many reasons why a developer might not participate, but I expect those that do will verify their apps relatively quickly to provide users with the confidence to try their app on a new M1 Mac.


AirBuddy 2 Review: Fine-Grained, Customizable Control of the Wireless Headphones and Devices Connected to Your Mac

AirBuddy is one of those handy Mac utilities that you don’t know how you’ve lived without until after you’ve tried it. The initial release that I reviewed in early 2019 was primarily designed to manage Bluetooth headphones connected to your Mac and report the status of your headphones’ batteries; something iOS and iPadOS does better than macOS. With AirBuddy 2, developer Guilherme Rambo has added a bunch of new features, including new ways to customize the app and interact with Bluetooth devices other than headphones.

AirBuddy 2 can manage a variety of wireless headphones.

AirBuddy 2 can manage a variety of wireless headphones.

As with the original version of AirBuddy, when you open your AirPods or Beats headphone case near your Mac, a window opens, showing you the status of their batteries and connection. The app also works with Bluetooth headphones that rely on an on/off switch like the Beats Solo line. From AirBuddy’s status window, you can click to connect the headphones to your Mac or swipe to connect and set their listening mode in one gesture.

AirBuddy 2’s listening modes allow you to adjust multiple headphone settings all at once when the app connects your headphones to your Mac. For example, you can turn your headphones’ microphone on for meetings or off for listening to music and set the volume and whether AirPods Pro play audio in Normal, Transparency, or Noise Cancelling modes. The combinations you pick for your listening modes are saved as profiles in the app’s settings.

AirBuddy 2's menu bar app.

AirBuddy 2’s menu bar app.

AirBuddy 2 is also a menu bar app. Clicking its menu bar icon opens a window that shows all your connected devices and their battery status, including Macs, iPhones, and iPads. The devices are grouped, so, for example, your Apple Watch shows up as connected to your iPhone as would any AirPods you’re currently using with your iPhone. If you run AirBuddy 2 on a second Mac, that Mac will show up here, too, along with any Bluetooth peripherals connected to it.

Transferring a connected Magic Trackpad from my Mac mini to my MacBook Pro.

Transferring a connected Magic Trackpad from my Mac mini to my MacBook Pro.

My favorite part of having AirBuddy 2 running on multiple Macs is the ability to transfer Bluetooth connections from one Mac to the other using the app’s Magic Handoff feature. I spent a lot of the summer with separate trackpads connected to two Macs as I switched back and forth, testing Big Sur. AirBuddy 2 provides an alternate desk-clearing option by letting you right-click the AirBuddy entry for a trackpad, mouse, or keyboard connected to the Mac you’re currently using and switch it to the other Mac. For anyone who runs multiple Macs, especially connected to the same display, this is a terrific feature.

AirBuddy 2 includes extensive settings to customize its behavior to suit your tastes.

AirBuddy 2 includes extensive settings to customize its behavior to suit your tastes.

AirBuddy 2 is highly customizable too. In addition to setting up custom listening modes, which I covered above, you can open the app’s settings from the menu bar and assign keyboard shortcuts to display the headphone status window and to quickly connect to a favorite device, switch listening modes, toggle your microphone on or off, and take other actions. Settings also lets you specify the devices that are shown in the menu bar app, your favorite headphones for quick connection purposes, the status window’s size, and where it appears onscreen, among other things. You can even view historical battery and usage data from the Devices section of the app’s settings.

AirBuddy 2's Catalina widget (left) and Big Sur three sizes of widgets (right).

AirBuddy 2’s Catalina widget (left) and Big Sur three sizes of widgets (right).

It’s also worth noting that AirBuddy 2 also includes a widget that works with both Catalina and Big Sur to display the battery status of each of the devices it tracks.

AirBuddy started as an app that brought an iOS feature for headphones to the Mac. With AirBuddy 2, the app’s functionality has been greatly expanded beyond anything Apple offers, making it indispensable for anyone who connects multiple wireless devices to their Macs. Not only can you quickly connect headphones, so they’re immediately ready for a meeting or for listening to music, but the app helps keep you on top of the battery status of every connected device.

AirBuddy has been available for pre-order since last month, but today is its official release date. You can purchase the app directly from the AirBuddy website for $9.99 for new users, $4.99 as an upgrade from the first version of AirBuddy if you bought it in 2019, and for free if you purchased the app in 2020.


Coming Soon: The 2020 Edition of the MacStories Selects Awards

For the first time last year, we honored our favorite apps of the year with physical MacStories Selects awards, featuring custom, hand-made awards that were shipped around the globe to each of 2019’s winners. The MacStories Selects Awards, which began in 2018, will be back again this year with awards in the following eight categories:

  • App of the Year
  • Best New App
  • Best App Update
  • Best New Feature
  • Best Design
  • Best Watch App
  • Best Mac App
  • Readers’ Choice Award

The response to the 2019 awards from readers and developers was tremendous. Last year we also introduced the Readers’ Choice Award, which is picked by Club MacStories members. If you’re a Club member, be sure to check out this Friday’s MacStories Weekly newsletter to enter your favorite app of 2020. We’ll only be accepting entries until the middle of next week, so don’t delay submitting your entries.

Every year, we look at hundreds of terrific apps. MacStories Selects is our way to call out a handful of our absolute favorites that are shining examples of the best apps on Apple’s platforms. We look forward to sharing our selections and our Club members’ pick very soon.