Ryan Christoffel

372 posts on MacStories since November 2016

Ryan is an editor and regular contributor for 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 New York City.

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Things 3.8 Brings Dark Modes to the iOS Task Manager

This fall when macOS Mojave introduced a systemwide dark mode feature, Things added support for the new mode in version 3.7. The iPhone and iPad versions of the app, however, were left out. A lack of feature parity across platforms is always unfortunate, but that was especially true this time around because our John Voorhees  highlighted Things as having his single favorite dark mode implementation.

There's good news though: we didn't have to wait long for Things’ dark mode to make its way to iOS. Launching today in version 3.8, Things has added two different dark modes on both iPhone and iPad, one of which is suited particularly well to OLED iPhones.

Accessible via a new Appearance screen in Things’ Settings, there are now options for Light, Dark, and Black modes for the task manager. The former is the default appearance of the app we’re all well acquainted with, while the latter two are brand new. Both alternate appearances employ blue as the app’s accent color, with the main difference being the background color. Dark mode uses a nice shade of gray, while Black mode employs an OLED-optimized true black.

Each of Things’ appearance options can be set manually, or there's an option to have the app switch modes automatically depending on your display's brightness. Once you activate this toggle, you'll see an option to choose between Dark and Black options for automatic switching, as well as a brightness threshold at which Things will change its appearance. The app’s use of display brightness to change modes should work well for users who have iOS’ Auto-Brightness feature activated, but I wish there was an automatic switching function for those who, like me, have that turned off.

Things 3.8 doesn't introduce any other new features, but adding two beautiful dark modes is enough to make this a noteworthy release. Cultured Code has a strong reputation for thoughtful design, and its dark modes are a standout example on iOS.

Things 3.8 is available on iPhone and iPad.


HomeRun 1.1 Enables Creating Custom Watch Complications

HomeRun is a simple Apple Watch utility for controlling HomeKit scenes from your wrist. Where Apple’s Home app for the Watch can be clunky to navigate, especially if you have more than a couple HomeKit devices set up, HomeRun makes controls easily accessible for all your scenes. And today, with version 1.1, HomeRun has introduced custom complication creation, making it possible to have different launcher complications for each of your configured scenes.

Inside the HomeRun app on iPhone, the Complications screen in version 1.1 appears largely the same at first glance, but once you start tapping around you'll discover that Watch complications are now fully customizable. Visit the detail view for a specific watch face and you'll be able to update any and all complications for that face with custom colors and icons to accompany your selected scenes. The Series 4 Watch's Infograph face, for example, presents options to customize both the corner slot and circle slot complications.

Creating custom complications works just like setting up scenes for the main Watch app itself, with the same set of colors and glyphs available in both places. That means the excellent assortment of glyph options for scenes are all accessible as complication icons as well.

When it launched last month, HomeRun enabled adding scenes as complications to your watch face, but you had to use the app's icon for each complication. Custom complications were a natural next step for the app, and I'm thankful we didn't have to wait long for them to arrive.

HomeRun 1.1 is available on the App Store.


Sofa Review: A Simple Tool for Tracking Movies, TV Shows, Books, and Podcasts

We live in a time when media options are growing at a fast pace. It's a golden age for television, with great shows debuting all the time; the film industry is being transformed by the infusion of new competition from streaming giants like Netflix; podcasts are becoming more mainstream by the day; and despite books not being in a similar growth phase, new titles are still being written constantly. In this crowded media landscape, it's hard to keep track of all the great content waiting to be enjoyed.

In the past I've kept notes in Apple Notes containing lists of TV shows, movies, podcasts, and books to check out. Lately, however, I've been using an app called Sofa.

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Apple Publishes ‘Best of 2018’ Lists for Apps, Music, Books, and More

Apple today published its picks for the best media in 2018 across its various platforms and services. These include selections for best app on iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV, as well as top picks in categories of music, TV and movies, podcasts, and books. Alongside these editorial selections, Apple has published top charts for the year across the App Store, Apple Music, Apple Podcasts, and Apple Books.

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Gaming the App Store

David Barnard, developer of apps like Weather Up and Launch Center Pro, has written an extensive overview of tactics that are commonly used each day to game the App Store. He writes:

Any one of these tactics might seem somewhat bland individually, but when tens of thousands of apps deploy multiple tactics across many categories of apps, the impact can be measured in hundreds of millions of users and likely billions of dollars.

Tactics mentioned include employing specific keywords, buying fake reviews, implementing misleading subscriptions, and more. The idea is that bad actors can squeeze the most money out of users by following the approach Barnard outlines, which ultimately provides a bad user experience that degrades the App Store’s reputation.

Barnard concludes the article with a challenge to Apple:

Featuring an app is a great carrot, and Apple doesn’t generally feature apps that so blatantly flaunt App Store manipulation and user hostile tactics, but the carrot of getting featured pales in comparison to how much money can be made by gaming the App Store. It’s well past time for Apple to employ more carrots to create great experiences on the App Store, and to use a bigger stick on those manipulating the App Store and creating terrible user experiences for Apple’s customers.

I love this idea as a potential solution to encourage quality apps on the App Store. The revamped App Store from iOS 11 with daily feature articles is great, as are things like the Apple Design Awards at each WWDC, but if Apple wants to retain a strong quality brand for the App Store, it wouldn't hurt to find more ways to reward good developers.

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YouTube Stories Expand to Broader Base of Creators

YouTube's take on the popular Stories format from Instagram and Snapchat was previously only available to select YouTubers, but starting today it's rolling out to all accounts with over 10,000 subscribers. Sarah Perez, writing for TechCrunch:

YouTube is beginning to roll out Stories to a wider set of creators, giving them access to the new creation tools that include the ability to decorate the videos with text, stickers, filters, and more.

The feature is very much inspired by rival social apps like Snapchat and Instagram – except that, in YouTube’s case, Stories disappear after 7 days, not 24 hours.

The idea behind YouTube Stories is to give creators any easy way to engage with their fans in between their more polished and produced videos. Today’s creators are no longer simply turning a camera on and vlogging – they’re creating professional content that requires editing and a lot of work before publication, for the most part.

While I haven't encountered any of my favorite YouTubers using Stories yet, I hope that changes after today. While Instagram's IGTV seems like it hasn't taken off very well, plenty of YouTubers remain heavy users of Instagram Stories. If YouTube Stories can offer a similar experience, without users needing to leave YouTube, it could be a really solid addition to the platform.

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Popular iOS Podcast Player Castro Sold to Tiny

Big announcement from Supertop's blog today:

We have some news to share. Tiny has purchased a majority stake in Castro. We are still shareholders and will continue working on the app full time.

The post goes on to explain the reasons for this transfer of ownership.

Castro has reached a size where the demands of running the business have been pulling us in too many different directions. We haven’t been able to focus as much on the core work of designing and building a product. Selling to Tiny gets Castro access to more resources, contacts and expertise. By growing the team we can specialize our roles to be more focused individually and get more done collectively. We can get back to what we’re good at and what we love doing.

Castro underwent a business model transition earlier this year, moving from paid up front with Castro 2 to free with Castro 3 alongside the launch of the Castro Plus subscription option. It sounds like that shift has led to an increased amount of administrative work for Supertop's development team, which should be alleviated thanks to this acquisition. The post concludes:

We’ve started work on Castro 4. The plan is to improve the design to bring more listeners into the Castro flow. We’re excited, because for the first time in five years of work on Castro, we’ll have the resources to focus exclusively on it as product designers and developers, without contract work to distract us, and with a team around us to handle the administrative tasks.

Castro is one of the best podcast clients on iOS, so I'm thankful that today's announcement doesn't spell its end. On the contrary, it sounds like there's reason to be hopeful about the app's future in Tiny's hands. Only time will tell, of course, so I'll be curious to watch the app's update cycle over the coming year.


Hopes and Expectations for Apple’s 2019


Forward-looking columns about Apple's business in the new year are usually saved for late December, but I wanted to get ahead of all those pieces because we now know what Apple's full 2018 product lineup looks like. While new AirPods and the AirPower charging mat are both suspiciously still absent, and one or both could in theory be launched via press release any time, most likely what we have now from Apple is what we'll be left with until after the new year begins. As such, today seems like a great time to start sharing hopes and expectations for the year ahead.

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