Ryan Christoffel

574 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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Noto Review: Beautifully Modern and Versatile Note-Taking

Top-tier note-taking apps don’t come along very often. For years Evernote was king, then Apple Notes gained new life in 2015, and since that time apps like Bear and Agenda have made compelling entries to the notes market. Noto, a recent debut across iPhone, iPad, and Mac, is the first new note-taker in two years that I’ve been thoroughly impressed by.

Noto reminds me a lot of Notion, but in the form of a native app rather than a web wrapper. It offers a clean, elegant design and a diverse array of tools so you can mix and match different content types inside each note. But it also integrates with key system technologies like drag and drop, multiwindow, iCloud sync, and more.

It’s these dual strengths of Noto’s modern integrations and versatile toolset that make the app compelling. A few minor drawbacks aside, it’s one of the most powerful and beautiful note-taking apps available on Apple’s platforms.

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Apple Music Debuts Intelligent Sorting of Alternate Album Versions

Apple Music has debuted a small, but valuable new feature that makes it easier to find the exact album version you’re looking for. As discovered by our Federico Viticci, when alternate album versions are available, they’re now listed in a dedicated Other Versions section underneath an album’s track list.

As Federico notes, this feature is a long-time carryover from Beats Music. In a previous story about Beats’ streaming service (which later became Apple Music) he details the service’s intuitive handling of album variations:

However, Artist pages also show some welcome options for music lovers. Albums that have been reissued with different editions (like remasters) are hidden by default

That same behavior is now followed by Apple Music. For example, if you view the Death Cab for Cutie artist page in Apple Music, you’ll see Transatlanticism as one of the group’s albums, but only one version of it so as to prevent unnecessary cluttering of the album list. Open that album, however, and you’ll see the Other Versions section containing the Demos and 10th Anniversary versions.

I’ve never liked how Apple Music’s artist pages were congested by alternate album versions, so it’s nice to see this change implemented. Even if Beats Music solved the problem years ago, it’s better late than never to see that solution brought to Apple’s streaming service.


Apple Music Replay 2020 Playlist Now Available

Last year when Apple Music Replay was introduced, Apple specified that the feature wouldn’t just serve as a year-end collection of your most-played music, but it would also become a weekly-updated playlist that you can enjoy throughout the year. Up until this weekend, however, the 2020 version of that playlist hadn’t yet been made available. Our Federico Viticci first discovered its debut on Sunday:

Once you add it to your library, the Replay 2020 playlist will show your most listened to songs all throughout the year, updating weekly to account for your latest listening data.

Since Replay is a year-long playlist, I’m interested to see if Apple will do anything special with the feature when the year is nearly over. Spotify’s similar year-end feature, Wrapped, generates special content tailored for social platforms like Instagram stories, and it’d be great to see Apple follow suit with Replay when the time comes.


FlickType Keyboard Review: Real Typing on an Apple Watch Display

The Apple Watch is steadily moving toward full independence from the iPhone. Making cellular an option, adding new apps at a healthy pace, and enabling apps to be downloaded and run independent of an iPhone are all crucial steps toward the device becoming entirely untethered. I have a cellular Apple Watch and go running with it each week without bringing my iPhone along, and it works great. I’ve even gone to a couple of doctor’s appointments with only my Watch, and the list of things I miss my phone for in those cases is now minimal.

One time the device still falls flat, however, is when I need to send a message. Scribble is too slow for more than a word or two, dictation is hit-or-miss, and canned responses aren’t good enough for most situations. FlickType Keyboard sets out to solve this problem, and entirely succeeds.

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A Fix for iPad Multitasking

Concept by Silvia Gatta.

Concept by Silvia Gatta.

The iPad’s primary appeal the last 10 years has been its resemblance to the iPhone. If you can use an iPhone, you can use an iPad – at least in most respects. Where that’s no longer true is multitasking.

I love the functionality enabled by iPad multitasking, but the current system is unnecessarily complex. I don’t believe the iPad should revert to its origins as a one-app-at-a-time device, but I know there’s a better way forward for multitasking.

My proposal for a new multitasking system employs a UI mechanic that already exists across both iPhone and iPad. Without losing any of iPadOS 13’s current functionality, it brings the iPad closer to its iPhone roots again and makes multitasking accessible for the masses.

Context menus are the key to a better multitasking system.

When you long-press an app icon in iOS and iPadOS 13, a context menu appears and provides various options. These menus, I believe, are the perfect home for multitasking controls.

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macOS Will Soon Support Universal Apps, Enabling a Single Purchase for Mac, iPhone, and iPad Apps

As first spotted by Steve Troughton-Smith, release notes for the latest beta build of Xcode include a major development: Mac apps can soon be included as universal purchases with their iPhone and iPad companions.

Universal apps currently enable you to make a single purchase to gain access to both iPhone and iPad versions of an app. Nearly all cross-platform developers default to this option, though some still sell separate iPhone and iPad apps. macOS has never been included as part of universal apps though, even after Mac Catalyst launched last year. That sounds like it’s going to change when the latest OS updates – iOS and iPadOS 13.4 and macOS 10.15.4 – arrive this spring.

With universal app support, developers will be able to charge users a single time to grant access to Mac, iPhone, and iPad versions of their app. As Apple’s release notes state, this option in Xcode will be on by default for apps built with Catalyst, but it will also be available to non-Catalyst apps that are offered on the Mac App Store. While this change won’t be the best option for all developers, especially considering the different business dynamics of Mac and iOS apps, it makes sense for iPad developers who bring their apps to the Mac with Catalyst and don’t want to deal with the complication of a separate purchase system.


Book Track Review: A Modern, iOS-Friendly Library Manager

The App Store contains millions of apps, yet for some app categories there can be a real scarcity of quality options. Book tracking, for example, features a few solid choices that are still actively developed, but largely this category receives less developer attention than I’d hope. One new option that debuted recently is Book Track, an app designed to provide key library management features in a clean and simple interface. When it comes to utilities like book trackers, I prefer that apps keep complication to a minimum while still providing the key functionality I need. Book Track, with a few exceptions, largely succeeds at that.

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Spelltower+ Review: New Modes and More Resurrect the Classic Word Game

Word game addicts, say goodbye to your family, friends, and productivity: Spelltower is back and better than ever. The newly launched Spelltower+ from Zach Gage and Jack Schlesinger takes the original game, modernizes it for the latest iPhone and iPad screen sizes, adds lots of new game modes, and packs several other key feature enhancements. Whether you’re a longtime Spelltower fan, or the game missed your radar entirely in its glory days, Spelltower+ deserves your attention.

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The Omni Group Shares 2020 Roadmap

As per tradition, The Omni Group has shared its product roadmap for the year ahead. Though these plans are always subject to change, especially pending new OS updates Apple will announce this June, the roadmap still gives a solid idea of where apps like OmniFocus, OmniOutliner, and more are heading.

Included on the roadmap is the launch of OmniPlan 4, expansion of OmniFocus for the Web features, simplifying licensing so you can authenticate your purchases with a sign-in rather than using activation codes, and automation improvements. Check out the full list of planned work here.

One section of the roadmap that stood out to me:

We’re also continuing to improve the flow of using our apps—particularly on iPad and iPhone. We want easy navigation, so everything in the app feels like it’s right at your fingertips—whether your fingertips are using the mouse, touch screen, or a hardware keyboard.

While this is a passing comment in the broader post, it’s also something that many developers fail to consider. Optimizing an app for different platforms, and those platforms’ respective strengths, takes a lot of work and careful thought. Devices like the iPad in particular can suffer from a lack of optimization – do developers optimize for touch input or that of a keyboard? In the age of the iPad Pro and iPadOS, the correct answer is “both.” I look forward to seeing what The Omni Group does in this area.

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