John Voorhees

2010 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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Apple, Google, and Microsoft Announce Their Commitment to Expand Standard-Based Passwordless Sign-Ins

Today, Apple, Google, and Microsoft committed to expand the use of passwordless sign-in technology developed by the FIDO Alliance and the World Wide Web Consortium. The companies say that the standard will ‘offer consistent, secure, and easy passwordless sign-ins to consumers across devices and platforms.’

If this rings a bell, it’s because the passwordless technology announced today was first covered by Apple at WWDC 2021 when the company released a technology preview to developers to start implementing the tech into their apps and websites. The goal of passwordless sign-ins is to make sign-ins more convenient and secure by eliminating password management. Instead of passwords, sign-ins for apps and websites will happen through face, fingerprint, or device PIN authentication and eliminate the need for the use of one-time passcodes over SMS.

Apple, Google, and Microsoft already have FIDO Alliance standards built into their devices, but with the expansion announced today, the system will make authentication easier for users. According to the companies’ joint press release:

  1. Allow users to automatically access their FIDO sign-in credentials (referred to by some as a “passkey”) on many of their devices, even new ones, without having to reenroll every account. 
  2. Enable users to use FIDO authentication on their mobile device to sign in to an app or website on a nearby device, regardless of the OS platform or browser they are running.

Kurt Knight, Apple’s Senior Director of Platform Product Marketing, said of the joint effort:

Just as we design our products to be intuitive and capable, we also design them to be private and secure. Working with the industry to establish new, more secure sign-in methods that offer better protection and eliminate the vulnerabilities of passwords is central to our commitment to building products that offer maximum security and a transparent user experience — all with the goal of keeping users’ personal information safe.

With the number of devices in our lives today and the use of multiple platforms by many people, those two changes should go a long way to making passwordless sign-ins easier to use. As good as password management apps and OS-level tools have become, juggling passwords for hundreds of websites and apps is a burden on consumers, which often leads to password reuse and other insecure practices. The FIDO Alliance’s standard promises to change that, and with Apple, Google, and Microsoft on board, the likelihood that we will see a more secure, passwordless future is better than ever.


Apple Releases Behind the Mac: Skywalker Sound

To mark Star Wars Day, Apple released a special Behind the Mac video featuring the sound designers of Skywalker Sound, who rely heavily on Apple devices. The film, which runs just under 17 minutes, is a fascinating look at how the Skywalker Sound team captures and mixes real-world sounds that they transform into otherworldly sound effects for the Star Wars movies and other films.

The Behind the Mac video, which is currently featured on Apple’s homepage, focuses on Skywalker Sound’s production process from start to finish. Behind the scenes, the group’s mixing and editing are backed by a lot of Apple hardware. Sound editor Ryan Frias is featured in the video touring Skywalker Sound’s central machine room, which is filled with racks of Mac Pros. According to Apple’s press release:

With the power of approximately 130 Mac Pro racks, as well as 50 iMac, 50 MacBook Pro, and 50 Mac mini computers running Pro Tools as their main audio application, along with a fleet of iPad, iPhone, and Apple TV devices, Skywalker is advancing sound artistry and reshaping the industry.

That’s a lot of gear, but the video’s primary focus is on the creative process of the professionals at Skywalker Sound, who have been pushing the boundaries of sound design for many years. If you enjoy getting a behind-the-scenes look at creative people doing cutting-edge work, I recommend checking out Behind the Mac: Skywalker Sound.


AppStories, Episode 272 – Gaming on Apple Platforms

This week on AppStories, we revisit the state of gaming on Apple’s platforms, considering hardware, OS support, services, and the games themselves.

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On AppStories+, we highlight some of the late-beta-cycle Shortcuts bugs we’ve encountered and consider the tenuousness of Twitter’s existence.

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To learn more about the benefits included with an AppStories+ subscription, visit our Plans page, or read the AppStories+ FAQ.

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The iOS App Icon Book: The MacStories Review

I’ve eagerly awaited The iOS App Icon Book by Michael Flarup ever since it was first announced in 2018. The book sits dead center among topics that are at the heart of MacStories: apps, app preservation, and design. As a result, my expectations were high, and I’m happy to report that it doesn’t disappoint. If you care about apps, you’ll love The iOS App Icon Book.

The cover of The iOS App Icon Book sets the tone with a large iridescent squircle, the shape that defines every app icon. It’s the canvas on which every app icon is created. The squircle has become iconic in its own right, creating a consistent thread that ties disparate designs together into a coherent whole. The shimmering foil used for the book’s squircle is an excellent touch that hints at the colorful variety of icons between its convers.

The iOS App Icon Book is an art book at its core. The book’s pages are packed with icons of varying sizes, but the book also features essays by Flarup, a foreward by Bjango’s Marc Edwards, a history of iOS iconography by Jim Nielsen, and profiles of a dozen designers and design studios. The focus of the book lies firmly on the icons themselves, but I’m glad the essays and profiles were included. The essays provide an outlet for anyone who happens upon The iOS App Icon Book and wants to know more about the history and design of icons, while the profiles put a face to some of the artwork on its pages.

Of course, the stars of The iOS App Icon Book are the icons themselves. Each high-resolution image is reproduced in vivid colors on high-quality paper that makes browsing through the book’s pages a pleasure. As someone who writes about apps, I enjoyed flipping through the pages, rediscovering the icons of apps from the early days of the App Store alongside the icons of apps I use every day. It’s a careful mix of old and new that blends the context of early app iconography with current design trends.

As you flip through The iOS App Icon Book, you’ll find that the icons are arranged in a number of different ways. Some are grouped by color, while others are organized thematically, like the pages featuring food, games, and photography apps. My favorite part of The iOS App Icon Book, though, is the pages that trace the evolution of specific icons. Each version is dated and connected by horizontal lines to indicate its lineage. It’s fascinating to see the directions that designers have taken app icons over the years.

The one thing that The iOS App Icon Book doesn’t do that I would have liked to have seen is trace the evolution of the icons used for some of Apple’s system apps. That may not have been feasible given the need to get rights to the artwork for printing in a book. However, it would have been interesting to see the extent to which Apple’s design work has influenced third-party designers.


iOS app icons are the first thing that users encounter when they download an app and use it for the first time. Icons set the tone and personality of an app. It’s an important part of the app experience that has a rich history on iOS. The iOS App Icon Book brings that history to life in a way that immediately had me flipping back and forth through its pages, rediscovering old favorites and studying the details of icons I’d never run across before. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in apps and design.

The iOS App Icon Book is still available to pre-order for €60.00 from its website.


Last Week, on Club MacStories: Accessories, a Text to Files Shortcut, MacStories Unplugged, and Interviews with Shortcuts Contest Judges

Because Club MacStories now encompasses more than just newsletters, we’ve created a guide to the past week’s happenings along with a look at what’s coming up next:

MacStories Weekly: Issue 318

Monthly Log: April 2022

This month, we interviewed three of our Automation April Shortcuts Contest judges:

Each judge shared lessons they’ve learned from the hundreds of submissions we’ve received, and shared a recent automation that made a difference to their dailly lives.



Apple Q2 2022 Results - $97.28 Billion of Revenue

Apple has just published its financial results for Q2 2022. The company posted revenue of $97.28 billion. Apple CEO Tim Cook said:

“This quarter’s record results are a testament to Apple’s relentless focus on innovation and our ability to create the best products and services in the world,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “We are delighted to see the strong customer response to our new products, as well as the progress we’re making to become carbon neutral across our supply chain and our products by 2030. We are committed, as ever, to being a force for good in the world — both in what we create and what we leave behind.”

Expectations for Q2 2022

Apple didn’t provide guidance for Q2 2022, but going into today’s earnings call, Yahoo Finance reported the following analyst expectations::

The Zacks Consensus Estimate for revenues is currently pegged at $94.79 billion, indicating growth of 5.82% from the year-ago quarter’s reported figure.

Graphical Visualization

After the break, we’ve compiled a graphical visualization of Apple’s Q2 2022 financial results.

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Knotwords: A New Word Game From Zach Gage and Jack Schlesinger

Knotwords is a deceptively simple new game from Zach Gage and Jack Schlessinger that combines elements of multiple word and logic puzzles into a unique, fun experience.

Each puzzle is composed of a set of squares that are divided into sections. Letters in the corner of a section establish which letters can be placed in that section of the puzzle. The goal is to arrange the letters, so they spell words vertically and horizontally throughout the puzzle. If that sounds simple, it is, but like any good game, just because the rules are easy to grasp doesn’t mean the game itself is easy.

As you explore and test solutions in Knotwords, the available letters are highlighted on a keyboard at the bottom of the screen, making it easy to tell which letters remain available to play. Once a row has been filled with letters horizontally or vertically, Knotwords will let you know if your letters are out of place by scratching out the letters in pink.

Like Sudoku, solving words makes each puzzle progressively easier by eliminating the number of possible letters that can be placed in open squares. It’s a dynamic that helps ease the frustration of getting stuck on one part of a puzzle because focusing your efforts elsewhere often leads to a breakthrough in an area where you were having trouble. There’s also a built-in hint system featuring the game’s rabbit mascot, who dispenses hints in the form of definitions of words instead of the answers themselves. Also, on iOS, the game includes an upbeat soundtrack with a jazzy lounge music vibe and generous use of haptic feedback, both of which add to the overall experience.

I’m a big fan of logic puzzles like Knotwords. They’re an excellent way to unwind by concentrating on something that isn’t your work or something else that might be on your mind. Knotwords fits that role perfectly by being easy to learn and play but challenging to solve and unique. The experience is a little like doing a crossword puzzle without the clues. It’s a combination that I love, so I plan to make Knotwords a regular part of my downtime this summer.

In addition to iOS and iPadOS, Knotwords is available on Android, the Mac, and PC. The game is free to download on the App Store and includes a core set of puzzles, but for $4.99/year or a one-time payment of $11.99, you can unlock more puzzlebook puzzles each month, a daily Twist puzzle, additional hints, statistics, and color themes.


Automation April: Processing Tot Dots with Shortcuts

I’ve used Tot by The Iconfactory on and off since it was released in 2020 and reviewed by Federico, but it never stuck. I never came up with a system for using the app that fits well with how I work. Instead, I would simply dump text and URLs copied from the web or jot notes to myself haphazardly in any of the app’s seven colorful dots. The trouble was that when I went back to the app to find something, I often found myself clicking and scrolling around a lot to find what I wanted.

With the introduction of Tot’s Shortcuts support, I immediately saw an opportunity to process Tot’s dots in ways that would make the app fit better with the way I use it. I still don’t have a system for the app’s seven dots. Instead, I’ve got a shortcut called Tot Dot Review that lets me parse and process Tot’s dots in several different ways that shows off Tot’s shortcuts actions along with a handful of built-in Shortcuts actions for extracting different types of data from text.

Tot Dot Review lets me quickly pull URLs, Apple Maps URLs, addresses, phone numbers, and dates from my Tot notes without skimming through each of the app’s seven notes. I can also copy Tot’s notes into Markdown-formatted text that I can copy and paste into another app for processing and delete the content of all seven Tot notes, so I can start fresh. The combination of options has made it easier to find and manage things in Tot, which has led me to use the app more too.

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