Ryan Christoffel

39 posts on MacStories since November 2016

Ryan is a regular contributor to 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 Texas, where he works for his church.

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Google Updates Gboard with Dictation, Doodles, New Languages, and Emoji

Nearly one year ago Google launched Gboard, a third-party keyboard for iOS that brought the power of Google search to iOS's keyboard. The company has continuously improved the keyboard over time, with updates including support for multiple languages and a 3D Touch-powered trackpad mode. Earlier this year the keyboard was integrated with Google's standard search app. Today the improvements continue with three separate highlights.

Dictation

The default iOS keyboard has long presented the option to dictate text rather than type it, and Gboard has gained that ability starting today. Users will notice a speaker icon that now appears on the right side of the space bar. Long pressing that speaker icon will engage dictation mode.

Doodles

Google's Doodles add a sense of whimsy to the company's search page, but until today searching through Gboard meant missing out on Doodles. Going forward, whenever a Doodle is available the "G" button on the left side of the keyboard will animate, indicating you can pull up the Doodle with a quick tap.

Languages and Emoji

In addition to support for many new languages – Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Polish, Romanian, Swedish, Catalan, Hungarian, Malay, Russian, Latin American Spanish and Turkish – Gboard has also been updated to enable searching for and using the new emoji that Apple added to iOS 10.

Gboard can be downloaded from the App Store.


The Omni Group Announces Low-Cost Version of OmniOutliner

Ken Case, CEO of the Omni Group, wrote today about a new detail of its upcoming OmniOutliner 5 software. In addition to the traditional Pro version, OmniOutliner will also come in a new Essentials version.

In OmniOutliner’s new Essentials edition, your entire focus is on your own content: there are no distracting sidebars or panels. You can choose to work in a window or in a distraction-free full-screen mode, selecting from a set of beautiful built-in themes. As you write, you’ll be able to see some key statistics about your content so you can track progress towards your goals. But our goal is to help you focus on your content and whatever task you’re working on—not on the tool you’re using.

With the Essentials edition, we’ve lowered OmniOutliner’s entry price from $49.99 to an extremely affordable $9.99. And since we want our upgrade price from Essentials to Pro to be $49.99, the new list price for Pro has been lowered to $59.99:

While Case's post references OmniOutliner for Mac specifically, he later confirmed in a tweet that OmniOutliner Essentials would be coming to iOS as well.

This announcement represents a shift in direction for the Omni Group. The company's traditional offerings have included Basic and Pro versions of each program, but the Basic version has historically not been anywhere near the price point of this upcoming Essentials edition. It will be interesting to see if this new approach expands to Omni's other apps over time.

Today's news is the second major shift in pricing strategy the Omni Group has made in the past year. Last September saw news that they would begin offering software as free downloads in the App Store, with an In-App Purchase to unlock full functionality. This change in pricing model made it possible to offer free trials, such as with OmniGraffle 7; trials are currently not possible on the App Store under the paid up front model.

OmniOutliner 5 for Mac is currently in a public test that can be downloaded here. More information about the Essentials version is available here.


Castro 2.3 Brings Podcast Triage Through Rich Notifications

Today the team at Supertop announced the release of Castro 2.3, which introduces rich notification support for the podcast app.

Castro 2 launched last August with a new interface for managing podcast episodes that centers around an inbox and queue. With an increasing number of great podcasts available, the traditional model of subscribing to a show and adding all of its episodes to your feed can get overwhelming. In Castro 2 the solution to this problem is to have new episodes land in an inbox. The inbox allows users to decide which episodes make it to their queue for listening, and which don't.

Previously, when notifications for a new episode came in, you were presented the options to play, queue, or archive the episode. But unfortunately, while the episode's title would display in the notification, with many podcasts a title isn't enough information to properly decide whether the show's content is something you'd be interested in. As such, taking action on a notification often couldn't happen in an informed way without opening the full app anyways. That changes with today's update. Thanks to its implementation of iOS 10's rich notification framework, a notification from Castro will now display a show's artwork and a portion of the episode description along with the aforementioned action buttons. So now when a show's episode title is San Frosé, you can be well informed about what the subject matter actually is.

Besides using rich notifications as a triage method, Supertop has one other interesting implementation of the feature. If you pause an episode when there are less than three minutes remaining, Castro will immediately send a silent notification that presents you with the option to archive the show and, optionally, play the next show in your queue. So if a show has a couple minutes worth of outro that you prefer to skip, rather than hitting the skip button several times you can now simply hit pause, then interact with the notification that appears in order to either move to the next show or end playback altogether.

The full list of changes in Castro 2.3 is available on Supertop's blog. Castro can be downloaded from the App Store.


Doctors Report Findings from ResearchKit Study of Seizures

Tim Hardwick of MacRumors reports on the results of a recent ResearchKit-powered study:

The 10-month study involved 598 people who tracked their seizures with an iPhone app called EpiWatch, which was built by Johns Hopkins using Apple's ResearchKit software framework. The app features a custom Apple Watch complication that provides patients with one-touch access to record accelerometer and heart rate sensor data. When participants felt a seizure aura coming on, they were asked to launch the app to let it record their heart rate and movements for 10 minutes.

Apple reported on the launch of this study back in October 2015, so it's exciting to have some of the data from the study brought to light. Triggers for seizures was a major data point gleaned from those participating in the study.

Stress was revealed to be the most common trigger, and was linked to 37 percent of the seizures, while 18 percent of sufferers identified lack of sleep as another contributing factor. Meanwhile, menstruation was found to be a cause in 12 percent of recorded seizures, and overexertion accounted for 11 percent.

In the full press release on the study's results, study author Gregory Krauss, MD, notes:

"Seizures are very unpredictable," said Krauss. "Our eventual goal is to be able to use wearable technology to predict an oncoming seizure. This could potentially save lives as well as give people with epilepsy more freedom. The data collected in this study helps us take a step in that direction."

ResearchKit was first announced by Apple in March 2015 at its spring event. At March 2016's event, we received an update on the health initiative. If recent tradition holds true, we may receive another update from Apple soon.

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Instagram Posts Expand to Include Multiple Photos

Today Instagram announced a new feature that will be rolling out to all users soon: the ability to share multiple photos or videos within a single post.

Here's how it works:

When uploading to your feed, you’ll see a new icon to select multiple photos and videos. It’s easy to control exactly how your post will look. You can tap and hold to change the order, apply a filter to everything at once or edit one by one. These posts have a single caption and are square-only for now. On your profile grid, you’ll notice the first photo or video of your post has a little icon, which means there’s more to see.

As you browse your feed, a post that contains a collection of photos or videos will show a number of small dots underneath the first image, with each dot representing a photo or video you can swipe through.

This update comes with Instagram 10.9, released yesterday, but isn't yet available to all users. According to TechCrunch, it will roll out globally over the next few weeks.


Alto’s Odyssey Trailer and Release Date Announced

Today on their blog, to commemorate the second anniversary of Alto's Adventure, Snowman published the first trailer for the game's sequel, Alto's Odyssey. They also revealed that the game will launch this summer.

From the brief glimpse of gameplay in the trailer, the game appears very similar to its predecessor, with the most significant visible change being the setting: Alto's Odyssey takes place in the desert.

Today's news follows last week's announcement that another of Snowman's upcoming titles, Where Cards Fall, will launch this fall. We now know that Alto's Odyssey will precede that game's release.

As part of celebrating Alto's Adventure's anniversary, Snowman has put the game on sale for a short time. It is now available on the App Store for $1.99, down from its regular $4.99 price.

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Release Details Unveiled for Where Cards Fall, a Game from the Publishers of Alto’s Adventure

Where Cards Fall is the newest title coming from Snowman, publishers of the beloved Alto's Adventure. Today the company announced a fall 2017 release date for the game and confirmed its release platforms: iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac, and PC.

Snowman also shared a new trailer today that contains the most revealing look at the game so far.

A blog post from Snowman breaks down the trailer and provides additional details about the core of the game:

In Where Cards Fall, you’ll build houses of cards to form and shape the world around you. These houses not only help you move through imaginative puzzles, but also bring to life vivid memories of adolescence.

This particular memory [from the trailer] is of teenagehood in the suburbs. Filled with far more cacophonous uncertainty than the playful magic of the forests, the suburbs are home to a crucial question: who will you become? Would you rather remain comfortable at home, or venture into the world outside?

At its core, Where Cards Fall is an exploration [of] these questions, and a look at the way our most fragile memories of the past can become the strongest foundations of our future.

On the heels of the success Snowman found with Alto's Adventure, it's exciting to see the company continue to push themselves to explore new and unique ideas in their next game. Where Cards Fall looks like it will be a highlight of the gaming scene when it hits later this year.

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Caavo: An AI Box to Control Your TV Experience

Yesterday at Recode's Code Media event, a new TV box called Caavo was unveiled. Rather than being a competitor to existing products like Apple TV, Roku, or Fire TV, Caavo is a hub into which you plug those other streaming boxes. Once a device is connected, Caavo can navigate through each box's interface in a way that's hidden from the user, all for the purpose of promptly and easily delivering the content you want.

Caavo is controlled primarily by voice, using the microphone-equipped remote control or an Amazon Echo. Tell Caavo what you'd like to watch, and it will turn on the necessary devices, find what you're looking for, and play it – no navigation necessary.

The Verge's Nilay Patel reports on the technology that's at work behind the scenes in Caavo.

[Caavo is] processing the video your TV streaming boxes send over HDMI, using machine vision to figure out what’s on-screen, and then determining what command to send next based on that information.

Essentially, Caavo has built an AI that simulates a human user to control any device you might attach to a TV, through whatever method the system can use, whether it’s IR, HDMI-CEC, or direct control over an API on your home network. They’re calling this system “visual analytics,” or VA, and it is quite possibly the thing that will crack the entire living room convergence game wide open.

He gives a practical example of Caavo navigating an Apple TV:

There are still some hacks involved in the Caavo system, and ways for other companies to potentially block the device. Caavo can’t control the Apple TV unless you install the Caavo app, for instance — but the way it works is wild: when it decides to control the Apple TV, it goes to the home screen, sends a bunch of scroll commands to the box, uses machine vision to locate the Caavo app icon, and then opens the app so it can pass a URL to the streaming app you actually want to use.

Caavo's creators gave a demonstration at Code Media, which can be viewed below:

Caavo will be available in June at a price of $399. If it can deliver on what it promises to do, in a fast and effective way, it may be an appealing device for those looking to bring smart home technology to their TV experience.

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First HomeKit Camera Available from Online Apple Store

One of the longest HomeKit equipment absences has been security cameras. Despite Apple expanding HomeKit to support cameras in iOS 10, nothing has hit the market before today. MacRumors reports on the end of the camera drought, as D-Link's Omna 180 Cam HD is now available for purchase.

The cylindrical Omna 180 Cam HD features a 1080p camera with a 180-degree field of view, a built-in microphone and speaker with two-way audio, infrared night vision up to 16 feet, and motion detection with the option to record motion-triggered video clips directly to a microSDXC card up to 128GB with no subscription costs.

HomeKit support enables users to control the Omna 180 Cam HD with an iPhone or iPad through Apple's Home app on iOS 10. When the camera detects motion, users can receive Lock screen notifications to get a snapshot of what's happening in their homes. The camera can also trigger Scenes with other HomeKit products.

The Omna 180 Cam HD is not currently available in Apple retail stores, but can be purchased from Apple.com in the US for $199.95, and it's available from Apple's online stores in other countries as well.

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