Ryan Christoffel

646 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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John Giannandrea on the Broad Reach of Machine Learning in Apple’s Products

Today Samuel Axon at ArsTechnica published a new interview with two Apple executives: SVP of Machine Learning and AI Strategy John Giannandrea and VP of Product Marketing Bob Borchers. The interview is lengthy yet well worth reading, especially since it’s the most we’ve heard from Apple’s head of ML and AI since he departed Google to join the company in 2018.

Based on some of the things Giannandrea says in the interview, it sounds like he’s had a very busy two years. For example, when asked to list ways Apple has used machine learning in its recent software and products, Giannandrea lists a variety of things before ultimately indicating that it’s harder to name things that don’t use machine learning than ones that do.

There’s a whole bunch of new experiences that are powered by machine learning. And these are things like language translation, or on-device dictation, or our new features around health, like sleep and hand washing, and stuff we’ve released in the past around heart health and things like this. I think there are increasingly fewer and fewer places in iOS where we’re not using machine learning. It’s hard to find a part of the experience where you’re not doing some predictive [work].

One interesting tidbit mentioned by both Giannandrea and Borchers is that Apple’s increased dependence on machine learning hasn’t led to the company talking about ML non-stop. I’ve noticed this too – whereas a few years ago the company might have thrown out ‘machine learning’ countless times during a keynote presentation, these days it’s intentionally more careful and calculated in naming the term, and I think for good reason. As Giannandrea puts it, “I think that this is the future of the computing devices that we have, is that they be smart, and that, that smart sort of disappear.” Borchers expounds on that idea:

This is clearly our approach, with everything that we do, which is, ‘Let’s focus on what the benefit is, not how you got there.’ And in the best cases, it becomes automagic. It disappears… and you just focus on what happened, as opposed to how it happened.

The full interview covers subjects like Apple’s Neural Engine, Apple Silicon for Macs, the benefits of handling ML tasks on-device, and much more, including a fun story from Giannandrea’s early days at Apple. You can read it here.

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The Wallpaper App Review: Endless Wallpapers Tailored for Apple Devices

I’m very picky about wallpapers on my devices, and when I finally find one I like, I stick with it for a very long time. At some point during that very long time, I start getting tired of my wallpaper and look for a replacement, only to quickly give up and conclude that none of the other options are good. The number of wallpapers available on the web is practically infinite, yet these days I scarcely bother to look for anything new.

So in some respects I’m both the best and worst person to review The Wallpaper App, a new Lumen Digital utility for iPhone, iPad, and Mac that does nothing but supply new wallpaper options. Best because I could use a new wallpaper solution, and worst because my passionate condemnation of most wallpaper options makes me inclined to find little of value in a new wallpaper app.

I see four primary strengths to The Wallpaper App, all of which give it an advantage over other wallpaper apps or services I’ve tried in the past.

  1. It’s extremely simple to navigate
  2. All wallpapers are designed to work well behind app icons, widgets, etc.1
  3. You can customize wallpaper colors manually
  4. Wallpaper size options are tailored for Apple device sizes

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Crouton Review: An Elegant, Modern Recipe Manager and Cooking Aid

One trend that emerged from stay-home orders this year is that many people have spent more time cooking than ever before. Many restaurants have been unable to offer indoor dining, and the lack of a commute as much of society adjusted to work-from-home life provided the opportunity to spend more time in the kitchen. Bread baking became a popular habit, but so did home cooking in general. All of this has brought an influx of new entrants to cooking.

I’m not new to cooking, but I’ve nonetheless found myself in the market for a better solution for recipe management, meal planning, and cooking walkthroughs. The app I’ve found best suited for my needs is Crouton, from developer Devin Davies.

Crouton offers a handful of valuable aids for cooking, but the feature at the center of it all is the app’s recipe management system. Once you have recipes stored in the app, you can view those recipes in a well-designed, intuitive format, but you’ll also be able to easily assign recipes to your weekly meal plan, add ingredients to your grocery list, or be guided through step-by-step instructions while cooking.

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Phil Schiller Transitions into Reduced Role as Apple Fellow; Greg Joswiak Newly Appointed SVP of Worldwide Marketing

Apple announced a major change to its executive team today: Phil Schiller, who first started at Apple in 1987, is transitioning into a limited role with far fewer responsibilities, holding the title Apple Fellow. Schiller will retain oversight of the App Store and Apple Events, and continue reporting directly to CEO Tim Cook, but most of his current responsibilities will shift to Greg (Joz) Joswiak, who takes over the title of senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing.

Here’s Schiller on this significant day of transition:

“It has been a dream come true for me to work at Apple, on so many products I love, with all of these great friends — Steve, Tim, and so many more,” said Schiller. “I first started at Apple when I was 27, this year I turned 60 and it is time for some planned changes in my life. I’ll keep working here as long as they will have me, I bleed six colors, but I also want to make some time in the years ahead for my family, friends, and a few personal projects I care deeply about.”

Tim Cook remarks:

“Phil has helped make Apple the company it is today and his contributions are broad, vast, and run deep. In this new role he will continue to provide the incredible thought partnership, and guidance that have defined his decades at Apple”

Schiller has been one of the most visible members of Apple’s team for a long time, most notably owning primary responsibility for introducing new hardware at Apple keynotes, such as the latest iPhone models each year. His expected absence from future such occasions will mark a stark shift for the company.

Joswiak, who takes Schiller’s former role, is no unfamiliar face himself. He has over two decades of leadership experience within Apple, and in recent years has become a regular presence at Apple events as well. Despite being a major force within the company, however, Joswiak’s presence on the executive team represents a new level of leadership for him, and come with major new responsibilities.

After many years of stability at the highest levels of leadership, time is finally catching up with Apple’s executive team. Chief Design Officer Jony Ive departed the company last summer, just a few months after Angela Ahrendts vacated her role as SVP of Retail. While today’s news follows a different pattern, since Schiller is remaining with the company despite his reduced role, so much change at the top of the organization feels very new for the modern Apple era.

As someone who began following Apple closely only about a decade ago, not long before the passing of former presentation chief Steve Jobs, I’ve seen a lot of Schiller product introductions and am really going to miss his presence for many keynotes to come.


Fiery Feeds Adds Full-Text Search, Saved Searches, iPad Pointer Support, and More

When I imagine the quintessential RSS user, I think of someone who wants full control of their web reading experience. They don’t want to leave news curation up to an algorithmic service like Apple News, or a social media platform like Twitter or Facebook. They also care about tools like filtering controls, and tweaking the reading experience to their preferences. For such a user, Fiery Feeds may be a natural choice due to its abundance of supported RSS services and settings to tweak, along with some key pro features. Today, Fiery Feeds is better prepared to meet the needs of that kind of user thanks to a pair of important additions: full-text search and saved searches. Throw in optimized iPad pointer support, plus a new native article rendering option, and the latest Fiery Feeds update is a compelling one.

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Soor 2 Review: Magic Mixes and Release Alerts Elevate the Beautiful Apple Music Client

Following the debut of Apple’s MusicKit API, which enables third parties to build apps and web experiences that directly integrate with Apple Music, 2019 was a big year for third-party Apple Music clients on the App Store. We’ve written about several of these apps, but the earliest and highest profile debut of the year was Soor, a meticulously designed client that distinguishes itself with a fully customizable Home view for displaying only the content sections you care about – choosing from things like Recently Added, Playlists, Recently Played, New Releases, For You, and more. Federico reviewed the launch version of Soor and found a lot to like about its unique approach, but he ultimately was disappointed by the absence of certain functionality that’s readily available in Apple’s first-party Music app.

In the nearly 18 months since launch, Soor has improved in significant ways. I adore the throwback Cover Flow-inspired playback screen, where you can smoothly swipe through a horizontal row of artwork, and time-synced lyrics are now available via a tight Musixmatch integration. There are still certain functions you’ll need to pop into Apple’s Music app for, sometimes due to Apple Music API limitations that Soor’s developer can do nothing about, and other times because the app simply doesn’t offer certain features yet – AirPlay 2, for example, is still unsupported. Overall though, for my uses at least, Soor covers enough core Apple Music functionality that there’s very little I need the first-party client for. The biggest absent feature on my wishlist is an iPad app, which I’m glad to see is on the roadmap, especially since iPadOS 14 will soon offer a much-improved first-party Music app.

Soor’s improvements have made it a truly compelling alternative to the first-party Music app, and today’s 2.0 update continues that trend by offering two big new features: magic mixes and release alerts. The latter is a nice addition, but the real pillar of this update is magic mixes.

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Apple Commits to 2030 Carbon Neutrality Across Full Business

Every year Apple releases a new environmental report showing the company’s progress in environmental efforts, and alongside the release of this year’s report, the company has announced a new commitment for the decade ahead:

Apple today unveiled its plan to become carbon neutral across its entire business, manufacturing supply chain, and product life cycle by 2030. The company is already carbon neutral today for its global corporate operations, and this new commitment means that by 2030, every Apple device sold will have net zero climate impact.

“Businesses have a profound opportunity to help build a more sustainable future, one born of our common concern for the planet we share,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “The innovations powering our environmental journey are not only good for the planet — they’ve helped us make our products more energy efficient and bring new sources of clean energy online around the world. Climate action can be the foundation for a new era of innovative potential, job creation, and durable economic growth. With our commitment to carbon neutrality, we hope to be a ripple in the pond that creates a much larger change.”

Achieving carbon neutrality for its corporate operations was a nice milestone for the company, but this new commitment appears far more challenging. Apple works with third-party suppliers and manufacturers all around the world to build its devices, and fulfilling this new goal depends a lot on those third parties. It will be interesting to see over the next decade all of the different actions that will be taken to find success in carbon neutrality, but the report of Apple including fewer accessories in the box with new iPhone purchases certainly seems like it would help.

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The Developer Debrief on WWDC 2020

Weeks removed from Apple wrapping up its first all-virtual WWDC, many of us are still digesting what the conference’s announcements mean for the future of our favorite products.

Federico, John, and I have all shared various takeaways from the conference, and I’m sure we’ll have a lot more to report as we continue using the betas this summer and review Apple’s OS updates this fall. But our perspective is limited to our profession as journalists, so we also wanted to hear from the people this conference was really built for: developers.

WWDC has grown into an exciting conference for Apple users all around the globe, but its core identity is still ultimately an event for app developers. As a result, I wanted to speak with a variety of developers to get their reactions to the conference. These included:

My sincere thanks to these developers for taking the time to share their thoughts, and for their years of valuable contributions toward making Apple’s app ecosystem as strong and robust as it is today.

Interview questions for each developer ranged from the things that most excited them at the conference to surprises and disappointments, their read on how in-touch Apple is with the developer community, the current evolution of software development, and each developer was also generous enough to share a sneak peek at new technologies they’re working to implement in their apps.

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Dark Noise 2 Review: Sound Mixing, New Noises, iPad Cursor Support, and More

Last summer developer Charlie Chapman launched Dark Noise, an ambient noise app for iPhone and iPad that’s packed with delightful design details and key system integrations. My initial review praised how Chapman was able to take an otherwise standard utility app and build a standout experience which, from day one, raised itself above a crowded market of competitors.

The main reasons I loved Dark Noise from the start had little to do with the app’s basic utility: playing ambient noise. The app has always had a good selection of noise options, but nothing in the sound department made it truly special to me. It was the other areas of the app experience, everything surrounding that basic utility of ambient noise playing, that was so great. Icon animations, buttery smooth panel transitions, haptic feedback, strong iPad support, alternate app icons, Shortcuts support, a customizable widget, and more all made for a compelling product.

One of my only disappointments with Dark Noise was the inability to mix different noises together. Each noise could only be played in isolation, never more than one at a time, which proved a disadvantage compared to other ambient noise apps I’d used that enabled mixing different noises to create a custom soundscape. I’m happy to say that Dark Noise 2, released today, adds this functionality at last.

In Dark Noise 2 not only can you mix different sounds to create custom noises, but there are also eight new sound options to choose from, iCloud sync has been added for syncing your favorite sounds and custom mixes, and there’s optimized support for the iPadOS cursor. It’s a big release that retains the design elegance Dark Noise has had from day one, but expands the app’s usefulness in key ways.

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