Ryan Christoffel

394 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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Agenda 5 Expands iPad External Keyboard Support

Agenda recently passed the milestone of its first full year in public release, with the Mac version debuting last January and the iOS app a few months later. The team behind Agenda has been keeping busy ever since, with improvements like Siri shortcuts, dark mode, accent colors, and most recently, images and file attachments. Today's update to version 5.0 on iOS and the Mac is relatively minor by comparison, but it still offers a few valuable additions. There are new options for your text environment, like the ability to set a custom line spacing and use an extra small text size, plus you can now perform multi-tag and multi-person searches. The improvement that stands out most, however, is Agenda's newly expanded support for external keyboards on iPad.

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Apple’s Health Records on iPhone Coming to Veterans

Apple today announced that its Health Records feature is coming soon to all U.S. veterans thanks to a partnership with the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The announcement includes key quotes from Apple executives that highlight the growing importance of health to Apple as a company.

“When patients have better access to their health information, they have more productive conversations with their physicians,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s COO. “By bringing Health Records on iPhone to VA patients, we hope veterans will experience improved healthcare that will enhance their lives.”

“Our goal is to empower people to better understand and improve their health, enabling them to view their medical information from multiple providers in one place easily and securely,” said Kevin Lynch, Apple’s vice president of Technology. “We’re excited to bring this feature to veterans across the US.”

First introduced as part of iOS 11.3, Health Records is an iPhone feature whereby users' patient records from participating hospitals and clinics can be stored in the Health app for easy access. Today's news is significant largely for the expanded scope it brings to the feature. From the press release:

Health Records on iPhone will be the first record-sharing platform of its kind available to the VA, which is the largest medical system in the United States providing service to more than 9 million veterans across 1,243 facilities.

It's a smart partnership for Apple, and one that could make a meaningful difference in the lives of U.S. veterans.

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Apple Shares Apple Music Ads for Grammys Featuring Artists as Memoji

In advance of 2019's Grammy awards, airing this Sunday, February 10, Apple has shared three new Apple Music ads on its YouTube channel. Each minute-long ad is a music video wherein well known artists are represented in Memoji form. One video features Ariana Grande, another Khalid, and the final one Florida Georgia Line.

Last year Apple shared music videos featuring Animoji ahead of the Grammys, so this year's decision to use Memoji is a natural evolution following iOS 12's debut in September.

Although Animoji Karaoke hasn't caught on much in broader culture despite commercials like these, it's still fun seeing Apple highlight one of iOS' more whimsical features alongside its music service.


Apple Retail Chief Angela Ahrendts Leaving Company, Replaced by Deirdre O’Brien

Apple has announced a major change to its executive team: Angela Ahrendts, the company's Senior Vice President of Retail, is leaving the company this April. Stepping in to fill her big shoes is Deirdre O'Brien, whose title before today was Vice President of People; O'Brien is now taking on the role of Senior Vice President of Retail + People.

In her expanded role, Deirdre will bring her three decades of Apple experience to lead the company’s global retail reach, focused on the connection between the customer and the people and processes that serve them. She will continue to lead the People team, overseeing all People-related functions, including talent development and Apple University, recruiting, employee relations and experience, business partnership, benefits, compensation, and inclusion and diversity.

Ahrendts is one of Apple's most visible executives, with regular appearance at keynote events and frequent interactions with Apple retail staff through in-house messaging. Her five years at Apple have made a significant impact on the company, as she oversaw both the introduction of the Today at Apple program and a new design language for Apple's retail stores, which have grown more physically impressive and unique during her time.

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New Emoji List for 2019 Announced

Representations of what to expect from 2019's new emoji, created by Emojipedia.

Representations of what to expect from 2019's new emoji, created by Emojipedia.

The Unicode Consortium, which is responsible for approving each year's list of new emoji, has released the full details on 2019's upcoming batch. According to Emojipedia, there are 230 new emoji in total. These include a sloth, waffle, skunk, sari, white and brown hearts, and much more. Among the most noteworthy additions is a group of emoji representing people with disabilities, which was actually proposed by Apple last March. These include a deaf person, person with cane, person in motorized or manual wheelchair, a guide dog, and much more. One other significant addition is newfound flexibility for the emoji of two people holding hands, which can now utilize varying skin tone and gender combinations.

Emojipedia has put together a great video previewing what each of these new emoji may look like when they arrive on our devices later this year.

The last two years, Apple has launched the newest emoji in iOS 11.1 and 12.1, respectively. If the company follows suit this year, we should expect to get our hands on these new emoji with iOS 13.1 some time in mid-to-late fall.


Apple to Celebrate Heart Month in February with Activity Challenge and Today at Apple Sessions

Apple announced this morning two ways it plans to celebrate Heart Month in February. First, a new Activity Challenge for Apple Watch users will run from February 8-14, rewarding those who close their Exercise ring each day of that week-long period with a special badge and iMessage stickers. Second, Apple will be utilizing its retail Today at Apple sessions to educate consumers on their heart health.

In recognition of Heart Month, Apple will host special Today at Apple sessions, “Heart Health with Apple,” in stores in New York, Chicago and San Francisco with celebrity fitness trainer Jeanette Jenkins, Sumbul Desai, MD, Apple’s vice president of Health, Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, Jay Blahnik, senior director of fitness for health technologies, and Julz Arney and Craig Bolton from the Apple Fitness Technologies team. Attendees will hear a discussion about heart health and participate in a new Health & Fitness Walk, which was co-created with Jeanette for participants to take a brisk walk with Apple Watch around their community.

These special sessions will be limited to a single session each in the three listed cities, with Apple Union Square hosting on February 11 at 6:00pm, Apple Williamsburg on February 21 at 4:30pm, and Apple Michigan Avenue hosting the final session on February 27 at 6:00pm.

Health is an area of growing importance to Apple, as the evolution of the Apple Watch over its life has shown. Because of that, educating users on heart health via Today at Apple seems like a natural move for the company. And it's a safe bet we'll start seeing more health-focused sessions introduced in the future.


Revisiting Evernote: Checking in with the Former Note-Taking King

Evernote is still alive. The popular note-taking app celebrated its tenth birthday last summer, but the last few of those years haven't been easy, with two CEO transitions and sizable layoffs at several points. Still, the core product keeps pushing forward.

I last reviewed Evernote in early 2017, when version 8 of its iOS app launched as a major redesign. I concluded then that one of the service's greatest strengths, particularly when compared with competitors like Apple Notes, is that Evernote strives to be more than just a note-taking app. It's a solid way to take notes, but it also aims to make those notes easily accessible, to create connections between notes, and ultimately serve as a valuable aid to productivity.

Though Evernote has retained a large user base all these years later, and in fact became cash flow positive nearly two years ago, there are a lot of former users who left the service long ago and haven't looked back. Personally, while I've kept an eye on Evernote over the years, I never put its recent updates to the test – until recently, that is, when I set out to revisit the popular note-taker.

As part of checking back in on Evernote, there were three core features I wanted to focus on evaluating: Templates, Context, and Dark Mode. These are some of the major developments Evernote has touted in its last few years of work, and they make for an interesting case study on the company's future direction.

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Facebook Receives Retribution from Apple for Violation of Enterprise Program Guidelines

Facebook is in the news again, and unsurprisingly it's not the good kind of publicity.

Yesterday Josh Constine of TechCrunch exposed a "Facebook Research" VPN that Facebook has been using to harvest extensive phone data from users age 13 to 35 in exchange for payment from the company of up to $20/month. The practice was made possible by Facebook's enterprise developer certificate from Apple, but after the story came to light, Apple swiftly responded by revoking that certificate from Facebook and publicly condemning the company's misuse of Apple's Enterprise Developer Program. That action caused the immediate end of the Facebook Research initiative on Apple platforms, but it also has reportedly brought widespread consequences throughout the entirety of Facebook's company operations. Tom Warren and Jacob Kastrenakes, reporting for The Verge:

Apple has shut down Facebook’s ability to distribute internal iOS apps, from early releases of the Facebook app to basic tools like a lunch menu. A person familiar with the situation tells The Verge that early versions of Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and other pre-release “dogfood” (beta) apps have stopped working, as have other employee apps, like one for transportation. Facebook is treating this as a critical problem internally, we’re told, as the affected apps simply don’t launch on employees’ phones anymore.
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Revoking a certificate not only stops apps from being distributed on iOS, but it also stops apps from working. And because internal apps by the same organization or developer may be connected to a single certificate, it can lead to immense headaches like the one Facebook now finds itself in where a multitude of internal apps have been shut down.

This is more than a slap on the wrist, but it seems like a fitting response to Facebook's blatant abuse of the Apple enterprise agreement. My main hope is that it causes Facebook to think twice before implementing any similarly shady initiatives in the future.

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Apple and American Airlines Partner to Provide Apple Music Streaming on Flights

Apple's ever-growing focus on services was on display during yesterday's quarterly earnings call, and today the company is continuing that narrative by announcing a new partnership with American Airlines that enables Apple Music subscribers to stream music while flying, even without paying for in-flight Wi-Fi. From Apple's press release:

Starting Friday, Apple Music subscribers can enjoy their access to over 50 million songs, playlists and music videos on any domestic American Airlines flight equipped with Viasat satellite Wi-Fi with no Wi-Fi purchase required. American Airlines is the first commercial airline to provide exclusive access to Apple Music through complimentary inflight Wi-Fi.

“For most travelers, having music to listen to on the plane is just as important as anything they pack in their suitcases,” said Oliver Schusser, vice president of Apple Music. “With the addition of Apple Music on American flights, we are excited that customers can now enjoy their music in even more places. Subscribers can stream all their favorite songs and artists in the air, and continue to listen to their personal library offline, giving them everything they need to truly sit back, relax and enjoy their flight.”

When it comes to hardware and software, Apple is famously known for maintaining a very closed ecosystem, but fortunately there's mounting evidence that the company's services approach will utilize a new playbook. Apple Music coming to Amazon Echo, AirPlay 2 and iTunes content being built into TV sets, and now this American Airlines deal demonstrate a desire to spread Apple services further than ever before.

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