Ryan Christoffel

441 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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Vignette: Easily Update Your Contact Photos Without Sacrificing Privacy

I’m the type of person who tries to add a photo to each of my iPhone’s contact listings. I can’t stand having grey, initial-laden photo bubbles in Messages; while contact photos can be disabled in Messages’ settings, I’ve never done that because once photos are added, it gives the app so much extra beauty and utility. For years I’ve done the manual work of choosing contact photos from my own photo library or, more often, finding images for contacts online via social media, then adding them to my contacts from there.

Based on the times I’ve peeked at someone else’s Messages app, most people never bother to go through the trouble of manually configuring contact photos; I don’t blame them, because it’s a nuisance. However, a new app called Vignette, from developer Casey Liss, aims to eliminate the pain of adding contact images by sourcing the web and social media for you, and updating your contacts’ photos accordingly – all in a privacy-conscious way.

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CARROT Weather Enables Notifications for Storm Cells, Precipitation, Lightning Strikes, Government Alerts, and More

The latest update to CARROT Weather was released today, version 4.11, which is centered entirely around notifications. Though the types of notifications available depend on your subscription plan due to the different costs associated with each data source, in total there are a ton of options available to satisfy anyone’s needs. Whether you simply want to avoid getting caught in the rain without an umbrella, or finding yourself outdoors when a storm hits, or one of many other weather situations, CARROT Weather can now keep you informed with timely notifications for a variety of weather events.

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Fiery Feeds Adds iCloud Accounts, Three-Pane iPad View, New Customization Tools, and More

Fiery Feeds, the modern, flexible RSS client for iOS, was updated today with a variety of new features that take the app to new heights: enabling iCloud-based accounts for RSS and Read Later so you don’t need third-party services, adding a three-pane layout on iPad, offering new, configurable methods for navigation, and a lot more. There’s something for everyone, from users who may be new to RSS to Fiery Feeds veterans who will appreciate the additional power offered here.

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Introducing Adapt, a New iPad Podcast on Relay FM

The iPad has been a key subject at MacStories for years. In fact, it was Federico’s exploration of using the iPad as his primary computer that first led me to become a reader of the site, and subsequently an iPad-first user myself.

Today, I’m thrilled to introduce a new podcast on Relay FM where Federico and I get to talk about the iPad and challenge ourselves to do new things with our favorite device. The show is called Adapt, and the first episode is available now.

Adapt was born out of a love for the iPad, and a desire to continue pushing our own use of it forward. Federico formerly hosted an iPad-focused podcast with Fraser Speirs called Canvas, but since that show ended Federico and I have been dreaming up its spiritual successor, with a similar focus on the iPad but a unique new format.

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Apple Releases iOS 12.3 and tvOS 12.3 with New TV App, AirPlay 2 Support on Smart TVs

Today Apple released iOS 12.3 and tvOS 12.3, both of which center around one main user-facing feature: the new and improved TV app. Apple first shared details of the TV app in its March event, and I reported my hands-on impressions last month, but today the app finally arrives for all users, bringing with it a fresh design and the addition of channels and personalized recommendations.

Alongside the new TV app, today’s iOS update also introduces AirPlay 2 support on compatible smart TVs, timed with Samsung’s own announcement of a firmware update for its TVs that includes both the TV app and AirPlay 2.

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Samsung Smart TVs Gain Apple’s TV App and AirPlay 2 Support

Hot on the heels of Apple’s own release of updates to iOS and tvOS that include the company’s new TV app, Samsung has announced that it too is launching the TV app today. Select models of Samsung smart TVs – all 2019 models and certain 2018 models – will receive a firmware update today that includes both the TV app and the debut of AirPlay 2 support, which enables sending videos from an iOS device to your Samsung TV. From Samsung’s press release:

Fully integrated into Samsung’s Smart TV platform, users can simply select the Apple TV app icon to access all of their iTunes movies and TV show purchases and browse more than 100,000 iTunes movies and TV shows to buy or rent, including titles available in 4K HDR, in pristine picture quality. Customers around the world can also subscribe to Apple TV channels within the Apple TV app — paying for only the ones they want — and watch on demand directly in the app. Samsung Smart TV users will be able to enjoy Apple TV+, Apple’s original video subscription service, in the Apple TV app across the same model lines when the service launches this fall. With AirPlay 2-enabled Samsung Smart TVs, customers can now also effortlessly play videos and other content from their iPhone, iPad or Mac directly to their Samsung Smart TV.

What this quote doesn’t say implies a detail that hasn’t been previously revealed: the version of the TV app available on non-Apple platforms may not offer the full TV app experience. While the presence of channels, iTunes content, and the forthcoming Apple TV+ are no surprise, what’s missing is any reference to the other content currently offered by the app on tvOS and iOS. It sounds like legacy app integrations with services like Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, which require having those apps separately installed, are not going to be supported on Samsung TVs – nor, undoubtedly, any other third-party hosts of the TV app.

I suspected this might be true following Apple’s original announcement of the new TV app, since these existing integrations rely on frameworks inherent to both iOS and tvOS themselves. Because Apple doesn’t control the platforms that the new TV app is expanding to, it’s understandable why they can’t offer these legacy integrations anymore, despite keeping them available on their own first-party platforms.

The TV app’s legacy integrations may not offer the same level of experience as something like channels or Apple’s own library of content, but they remain a solid way to centralize as much of your TV watching as possible in one app, and using the one unified Up Next queue. If these integrations truly are missing from the TV app on third-party devices, that’s a key difference worth considering.


Designing a Dark Theme for OLED iPhones

Vidit Bhargava, UI designer for the excellent LookUp dictionary app, details in a Medium post how implementing an OLED-friendly dark theme in an app is more complicated than one might think. For example:

When an interface that uses a black theme for its background starts displaying content on the screen, the pixels needs to switch on before they can display the content. So, when you’re scrolling through the content in a black background, the pixels find it hard to keep pace with your scrolling, resulting in a smear on the screen.

Bhargava uses the following tweet from Marc Edwards to illustrate this smearing issue.

The solution utilized in LookUp was making its black theme not entirely black, but a dark enough grey that it appears black in use.

The rest of the post outlines the impact of black, dark grey, and white themes on a device’s battery life, along with the readability challenges inherent to black themes. It’s a fascinating read, and goes to show that a quality OLED-optimized dark theme requires a lot of thought and care to achieve.

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Nike Introducing AR Shoe Sizing Feature This Summer

Edgar Alvarez reports for Engadget on an upcoming AR feature I can’t wait to try:

Nike has been experimenting heavily with augmented reality for a few years now, and the company is continuing to work on new experiences powered by the technology. The sportswear giant is now introducing Nike Fit, a feature that uses a combination of computer vision, scientific data, artificial intelligence and recommendation algorithms to scan your feet and find the right shoe fit for you. And you can do it all in augmented reality, using the Nike app on your smartphone. Nike says that, according to industry research, over 60 percent of people wear the wrong size shoes. With Nike Fit, the company is hoping to solve that problem.

The AR experience itself is fairly simple: You open up the Nike app, go to a product page and, next to where there's usually a menu that lets you pick the size of your shoes, you'll see a new option to measure your feet. From there, the camera will pop up and you'll be asked to stand next to a wall and point your smartphone at your feet, which will prompt a view that uses two AR circles to level your phone. Once the feature recognizes your feet and your physical environment, it starts scanning your feet and then tells you your ideal shoe size for Nike footwear. The entire process takes less than a minute.

It’s been two years since Apple introduced ARKit, yet there are still very few AR apps I’ve found add meaningful value to my life. Outside of measuring apps, the only ARKit experiences I’ve enjoyed related to shopping for furniture and other home accessories. It looks like shoe shopping will be the next major area where AR becomes more than a fun demo. According to Alvarez, the Nike Fit feature will be added to the Nike app this July.

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