Ryan Christoffel

64 posts on MacStories since November 2016

Ryan is a regular contributor to MacStories. 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 Texas, where he works for his church.


This week's sponsor


Beautiful Word Clouds for iPad and iPhone

Hardbound 3.0 Introduces Short, Visual Stories Based on Bestselling Books

Today Hardbound 3.0 launched for iPhone, bringing a change of direction to the reading service. Hardbound co-creator Nathan Bashaw writes: "We're creating 5-minute, illustrated stories based on the most fascinating books in business, history, and science."

Hardbound has always been about bringing visual storytelling to a mobile-first world. But since its initial launch last year, the focus of that storytelling has fluctuated. Hardbound started out focusing on crafting original stories centered on educational topics. Hardbound 2.0 added to that a new focus: daily news digests. But mere months after 2.0's launch, the news section of the app was shut down.

When the team behind Hardbound decided to move away from daily news digests, as a fan of their work I was disappointed, but I understood their reasoning. The amount of effort that goes into making a Hardbound story is ill-suited for the news market, where news grows quickly irrelevant.

The new focus for Hardbound 3.0 keeps the same mobile-first visual format and applies it to existing, thought-provoking books. Rather than crafting stories that are entirely original, Hardbound's new stories each begin with a well-known book. The goal is not to provide a full summary of the book's contents, but rather to communicate the big ideas behind the book in a quickly digestible, visually attractive way.

Based on the short time I've been able to spend reading some of the new stories in Hardbound, this seems like a solid new direction for the service. Book reading is on the decline in society at large, and the short bursts of reading we do engage in each day – on places like Twitter and Facebook – don't tend to be the most educational or thought-inspiring. While one answer could be to spend less time on social media and more time reading books, Hardbound offers a pleasant middle ground. In short bursts of time, and in a touch-first, visually engaging way, Hardbound's stories can provoke thought and provide new perspectives on the world in the way books often do.

Hardbound is available on the App Store.

Google Calendar Arrives on iPad

Google today released an update to its Google Calendar iOS app that brings full iPad support. The app has been optimized for all iPad sizes, including the 12.9" iPad Pro, and it launches with Split View support.

The app is very simple, but attractive. Beautiful illustrations line the background of the calendar, with a different illustration for each month of the year. Hitting the red plus button to add a calendar event provides the option of creating a Goal or Reminder rather than a traditional event. The navigation menu includes a settings button, several different calendar view options, a search function, and a list of all available calendars that you can turn on or off. That's it. There's not much to explore, but then again, maybe that's okay for a calendar app.

On its blog Google states that more improvements to the app will be coming soon, specifically mentioning an upcoming widget that will enable quick viewing of future events.

The Next Wave of New Emoji

Jeremy Burge of Emojipedia has an in-depth look at the latest batch of emoji that have been approved as part of Unicode 10.0:

These include smileys, people, food, drink, flags, and for the first time: new fantasy characters such as a mermaid, genie, and vampire.

We are today releasing the final version of our sample images for this update. These have been designed in the "Apple style" to picture how these emojis may look when hitting phones later in the year.

Emojipedia has also put together a video highlighting each of the 69 new emoji.

This new wave of emoji is expected to launch in June, which means we may see them on Apple devices as soon as iOS 11's release this fall.


Details on App Store Developer Responses

Following yesterday's release of iOS 10.3, which introduced the ability for developers to respond to App Store reviews, Apple has released official guidelines for how developer's can best craft responses.

The ideal response is concise and clearly addresses your customer's feedback. Communicate in the tone of your brand, and use terminology your target audience will appreciate and understand. If multiple people in your company can reply to reviews for your app, they should use a similar voice and style. Make sure your replies follow Apple’s Terms and Conditions, which prohibits using profanity, posting users’ personal information, and spamming.

The guidelines also recommend:

  • Always providing individualized responses, even if only by pairing a personalized introduction with a more generic response.
  • Soliciting feedback from users regarding what they'd like to see in future updates.
  • Replying to reviews in a timely, consistent manner.
  • Prioritizing responses based on a review's apparent level of importance.
  • Writing release notes for app updates that specifically address issues mentioned in past reviews, and letting those past reviewers know of the update.
  • Staying on topic with the issue raised by a review; no using replies as a means of advertisement.

Besides these guidelines from Apple, as App Store responses have gone live for the first time, more details have come out concerning how those reviews will work.

It appears that every reply submitted by a developer goes through some sort of review process before it is posted to the App Store. In the following tweet's screenshot, you can see a 'Pending' tag on the developer's review.

It was previously unknown how users would be notified when a developer responds to their App Store review. Although a notification from the App Store app seemed a possibility, Apple has instead chosen to go the route of email notifications. Those emails include a link with the option for reviewers to update their original review.

Apple TV Remote App Updated with iPad Support and Now Playing Controls

In an update to version 1.1, the Apple TV Remote app for iOS has received full iPad support. Now an iPad can be used in place of a Siri Remote to control the fourth-generation Apple TV. The iPad app includes full support for Split View, a welcome touch. And thanks to the additional screen real estate, you can move the button panel left and right along the bottom of the screen to keep it in your preferred spot.

The iPad version is not the only interesting change in today's update. On both iPhone and iPad, the app contains a Now Playing menu that can be used during playback of movies, TV shows, or music. This menu resembles the Now Playing screen inside of Apple Music's iOS app, and can be used to navigate playback controls, to view additional details about content that's playing, and more. One of the more useful features is that with video content, you can view chapters and also use a scrubber to jump straight to the place you want to view. Now Playing is a nice addition to the app, providing a new reason to give it a try over the standard Siri Remote.

Apple Releases iWork 3.1 with Touch ID Support, Greater Customization Options, and More

Apple has updated its iWork suite of productivity apps – Pages, Keynote, and Numbers – to version 3.1 today. Each app contains a number of varied improvements across iOS and macOS.

All three apps contain new options for formatting text. You can use superscript and subscript options to add text slightly below or above the usual typed line. Backgrounds can be added to text using a variety of color options. Ligatures are now supported as well. Additionally, if there are missing fonts in a given document, you can now easily replace them.

Read more

Google Maps Introduces Location Sharing Features

Announced today and rolling out soon to all users, Google Maps is adding two new sharing features to its iOS app.

The first feature allows for Find My Friends-style location sharing. From the app's menu you can select 'Share Location,' which presents options for how long your real-time location will be shared, and who it will be shared with.

The second sharing feature is the more interesting one in my mind. It allows you to share your Google Maps trip information. Daniel Resnick provides the details:

Next time you’re on your way or running late, you can share your real-time location and trip progress from navigation as well. During your next trip, tap the “More” button on the bottom on the navigation screen, and then tap “Share trip.” When you share your trip with people, they’ll see your expected arrival time and can follow your journey as you head toward your destination. Sharing automatically ends when you arrive.

Although the two sharing features perform mostly the same function, this kind of trip-specific sharing seems the cleaner, simpler solution for many scenarios. The example of running late and wanting to provide real-time updates to those you're meeting is a good one. In that situation, you won't want to fiddle with choosing a specific period of time for your location to be shared – you might overestimate and need to manually turn off sharing, or underestimate and have your location stop being shared before you reach your destination. Trip-specific sharing seems like just the right solution, and it's a feature I'm eager to try out.