Ryan Christoffel

560 posts on MacStories since November 2016

Ryan is an editor for MacStories and co-hosts the Adapt podcast on Relay FM. He most commonly works and plays on his iPad Pro and bears no regrets about moving on from the Mac. He and his wife live in New York City.

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Arcade Highlights: Grindstone

When it comes to mobile games, all a new title has to do to draw me in is show a Candy Crush-style grid of objects. There’s something about the simple mechanic of making connections on a grid that’s hard for me to resist. Most of the time, though, I find that while such games can easily grab my interest, many will quickly lose it when I actually start playing. It’s usually just standard match three games that keep my attention, so when I first tried out Grindstone, I didn’t think it would be for me.

Grindstone is an Apple Arcade title from Capy and the creative team behind the excellent Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP. It features a familiar grid of objects – in this case monsters to defeat – but rather than rearranging matching monsters in a Candy Crush fashion, you’re tasked with tracing a line from one matching monster to another, determining the order in which you’ll slay them and potentially earn rewards. Monsters have to be adjacent to each other for you to string them together, so essentially you’re completing a connect the dots puzzle each turn with as many monsters destroyed as possible.

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The Case for Low Power Mode on the Mac

Marco Arment on marco.org, outlining his self-created Low Power Mode-like system which relies on a third-party app, and making the case for Apple to add something similar as an official macOS feature:

The vast majority of the time I’m using it, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is a much better laptop with Turbo Boost disabled.

It’s still fast enough to do everything I need (including significant development with Xcode), while remaining silent and cool, with incredible battery life.

But soon, I bet I won’t be able to do this anymore.

Turbo Boost Switcher Pro relies on a kernel extension that’s grandfathered into Apple’s latest security requirements, but it can never be updated — and when macOS Catalina loads it for the first time, it warns that it’ll be “incompatible with a future version of macOS.” I suspect that this is the last year I’ll get to run the latest OS and be able to turn off Turbo Boost at will, making all of my future laptop usage significantly worse.

Low Power Mode is one of many useful features that iOS has had for years but that Mac users have been forced to live without. The feature’s popularity on iOS makes it a no-brainer addition for portable Macs, where battery life is already worse than what’s found in the iPhone and iPad.

Update: Former MacStories contributor TJ Luoma helpfully pointed out something that genuinely surprised me: Low Power Mode isn’t on the iPad either. Here’s hoping Apple brings it not only to the Mac, but the iPad as well.

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Front and Center, a Mac Utility from John Siracusa and Lee Fyock

John Siracusa writes on Hypercritical about the new Mac utility he just released in partnership with Lee Fyock. Following the release of macOS Catalina and its lack of support for 32-bit apps, such as DragThing, Siracusa needed a new solution for restoring a classic Mac OS behavior that he didn’t want to lose.

In classic, when you click on a window that belongs to an application that’s not currently active, all the windows that belong to that application come to the front. In Mac OS X (and macOS), only the window that you clicked comes to the front.
[…]
I tried to get used to it, but I could not.

Front and Center is the name of Siracusa and Fyock’s creation. It’s a tiny app that re-enables the classic behavior mentioned above, while also providing the option of using shift-click to engage the modern default of selecting the clicked window only. With Front and Center, long-time Mac users can have both the classic Mac OS behavior they enjoy, and the benefits of macOS’ modern approach, all at once.

Front and Center is available on the Mac App Store for $2.99.

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Defining Apple’s Decade

Benjamin Mayo of 9to5Mac has published an excellent journey down memory lane of Apple’s last decade:

Apple entered the 2010s just as the iPhone began to explode in popularity. The iPhone became the most successful consumer product, ever. Sales surged for another five years and still make up a majority of Apple’s revenues. However, we exit the decade with the iPhone making up a smaller portion of Apple’s business than ever before, as the company diversifies into strong lineups of wearables, tablets and services offerings.

But nothing is a simple straight line. Apple had to graduate through the passing of its founder, juggle relationships with an ever-expanding list of consumer and professional market segments, and adapt to the public attention and scrunity that only comes along as a consequence of being the biggest company in the world. This is a decade in Apple, on one page.

Mayo’s first Apple product was an iMac in 2010, so the timeframe of the decade lines up with his own initial interest in Apple, leading all the way to today, when he’s one of the most prominent Apple reporters. I always enjoy reading Mayo’s perspective on Apple, so it was especially fun getting to hear his personal takes of the biggest moments of the company’s past decade. If you want to spend time basking in the nostalgia of Apple’s last 10 years, Mayo’s story is a great way to do that.

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Using Sofa to Track TV Shows and Movies Watched in 2019

As December comes to a close, now is the perfect time to reflect on how the year was spent, both with deep existential questions but also lighter, fun matters – such as surveying your TV and movie consumption over the year. Until recently I didn’t have a system I was satisfied with for tracking my viewing history, but now I’ve settled on Sofa.

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Things’ Quick Find Feature Upgraded Across iPhone, iPad, and Mac

Today the popular task manager Things was updated with several small, but noteworthy enhancements to its Quick Find feature across iPhone and iPad versions, with the Mac update arriving shortly. There’s a convenient new way to access Quick Find, recent lists are now displayed automatically, headings can be searched, and there are a variety of new lists that Things recognizes as search parameters.

One of my favorite details in Things is the ability to pull down from the top of a list to open Quick Find; the matching animation is lovely, and it’s accompanied by a perfect touch of haptic feedback on iPhone. Sometimes though, getting back to the top of a long list can take too long, so now you can simply tap a list’s name, which perpetually sits at the top-center of the UI, and Quick Find will immediately open. Also, the Quick Find window now always displays the four most recent lists you’ve visited; whether you searched for those lists or just accessed them from the sidebar menu, you’ll always see your last-visited lists in the search box.

The other big improvement to Quick Find is the new search parameters it now accepts. There are changes here in two areas: headings and special lists. Headings are an organizational tool you can use to sort your Things projects into divided sections; essentially, they’re a lightweight additional option for organization. Previously, none of your created headings could be searched in Quick Find, but that issue has now been remedied. Any and every heading you create in a project can be surfaced in Quick Find.

Things now offers a handful of special lists that aren’t accessible from the sidebar, but only through Quick Find. These include the following:

  • Tomorrow: Like Today, but for tomorrow’s tasks.
  • Deadlines: All tasks with deadlines.
  • Repeating: All repeating tasks.
  • Logged Projects: Completed projects, including completion date for each.
  • All Projects: Every current project.

Searching for any of these lists will grant easy access to them. I only wish Things provided the option to add one or more of these to the sidebar; hopefully a customizable sidebar is in the cards for Things in 2020.

Historically, iPhone and iPad apps haven’t been as feature-rich as Mac apps when it comes to search functionality. Where Mac apps often enable very granular search options, and power user features like saved searches, search on the iPhone and iPad is typically a bare-minimum approach. For that reason, it’s exciting to see the team behind Things devote a whole update to making search better, not only on the Mac, but across all platforms. Just as it did last year with keyboard shortcuts on the iPad, Things sets a strong example of pushing an oft-neglected iOS feature forward to be on par with its Mac equivalent.

Things is available on the App Store for iPhone, iPad, and Mac.


Apple Podcasts Now Available on Amazon Alexa Devices

Amazon today has announced a new partnership with Apple that brings the full Apple Podcasts catalog to all Alexa-enabled devices in the U.S.:

Beginning today, Alexa customers in the U.S. will be able to listen to more than 800,000 podcasts available through Apple Podcasts on their Alexa-enabled device.

Whether you’re listening at home or on the go, you don’t need to worry about losing your spot. Link your account in the Alexa app using your Apple ID, and you can seamlessly pick up where you left off listening on the Apple Podcasts App or your Alexa device. Pause the subscribed episode you’re listening to in the Apple Podcasts app on your commute, and continue listening with your Alexa device at home by asking Alexa to resume the podcast.

When you first start using Apple Podcasts on an Alexa device, you’ll need to specify “on Apple Podcasts” in your command; for example, “Alexa, play The Daily from yesterday on Apple Podcasts.” However, you can remove that requirement by setting Apple as your default podcast provider.

If you’d like to make Apple Podcasts your preferred podcast provider with Alexa, you can set Apple Podcasts as your default podcast provider in the Alexa app. To do so, open the Alexa app, go to Settings, select Music & Podcasts, and link/manage new services. Then, each time you request a podcast, we’ll prioritize playing it from Apple Podcasts if it’s available.

This announcement marks a major expansion of Apple Podcasts and the latest evidence of Apple’s multi-platform services strategy. Just last year, Apple Music arrived on Alexa devices, and earlier this fall the Apple TV app debuted on Amazon Fire TV. Those two moves were in some ways less surprising than this one though, since they both involved granting access to Apple’s paid services, Music and TV+. Apple Podcasts, on the other hand, is entirely free, at least at the moment. Rumors have indicated Apple may be funding some exclusive new podcast content, but it’s unknown whether that will be part of a forthcoming paid subscription service, or simply an added perk of using Apple Podcasts.

Spotify this past year has made significant moves in the podcasting space, and it’s likely that their efforts, which have developed real momentum in the market, are propelling Apple to invest more heavily in its own podcast ecosystem – great news for users.


Twitter Adds Support for iOS Live Photos by Making Them GIFs

Twitter today announced long-overdue support for iOS Live Photos. Rolling out now on all compatible platforms, whenever you add a Live Photo to a tweet you’re composing, you’ll see a new GIF button in the corner of the image. By default the button is crossed out, indicating the Live Photo will be shared as a still image. However, with a single tap you can choose to share your Live Photo as a GIF instead.

Live Photos first debuted in 2015 alongside the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, but there were plenty of questions at the time about whether the feature would be adopted by social media services or not. For Twitter we now know that the answer was yes, eventually.

I think turning Live Photos into GIFs is a great idea, especially since Twitter auto-plays GIFs by default as you scroll your timeline. Not every Live Photo deserves to be converted to a GIF, which is why I’m glad the feature isn’t on by default, but being able to change that with a single tap is a nice option to have.


Mac Pro Accessory Roundup: Stand, Mount, Webcam, Lock Adapter, and More

After having been pre-announced by nearly 1,000 days, the new Mac Pro finally went up for sale yesterday on Apple.com, alongside the Pro Display XDR. Complementing these two devices, a variety of new accessories have also just launched, some from Apple and others from third-party companies.

The $4,999 Pro Display XDR doesn’t include a stand or mount of any sort out of the box, so buyers will want to either pick up the $999 Pro Stand or the $199 VESA Mount Adapter. The display also does not include a built-in webcam. However, Logitech is offering a new 4K Pro Magnetic Webcam for $199 that attaches magnetically to the top of the display as an add-on for professionals who need that functionality.

Another Apple-designed ‘accessory’ is the $2,000 Afterburner Card, a PCI Express card designed exclusively for the new Mac Pro to accelerate ProRes and ProRes RAW video codecs. Along the same lines of Mac Pro-exclusive hardware, Apple has added a variety of options for DDR4 ECC memory to its store, including 16GB for $400, 32GB for $800, 64GB for $1,200, 128GB for $2,800, and 256GB for $6,000.

After spending a small fortune on your Mac Pro, you might reasonably be concerned about the device being stolen. To the rescue is Belkin with a $49 Lock Adapter that enables you to secure your Mac Pro with a third-party lock. Also from Belkin is a $69 AUX Power Cable Kit which provides an assortment of common AUX cables for graphics cards.

Rounding out the accessory options are AMD’s $2,800 Radeon Pro Vega II MPX Module and $5,600 Vega II Duo, along with an MPX module, the Promise Pegasus R4i 32TB RAID ($2,299), and the Promise Pegasus J2i 8TB Internal Storage Enclosure ($399). The optional $400 wheels for the Mac Pro are not available for separate purchase at this time, and instead must be ordered as part of your configured model.

Two things are immediately obvious upon surveying these accessories: first, they’re clearly for users with very specific high-end needs, and second, Apple has poured significant investment into creating the new Mac Pro, Pro Display XDR, and fostering this new ecosystem of accessories. The target user base may be small, but Apple has nonetheless gone all-out with its most powerful computer.