Ryan Christoffel

14 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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Astropad Studio Enters the Professional iPad App Market

Astropad originally launched on the iPad in February 2015 as a drawing tool that pairs with your Mac. It serves as a second screen, allowing you to interact with Mac apps using multitouch on the iPad. The standard Astropad app remains available for a one-time payment of $29.99.

The iPad has changed a lot since February 2015. The introduction of two iPad Pro models, paired with multitasking features in iOS 9, enables more professionals than ever before to get their work done with an iPad. To better address the pro segment of the iPad market, today the makers of Astropad launched a new app called Astropad Studio.

Astropad Studio is a separate app from the original Astropad Standard.

Astropad Studio is a separate app from the original Astropad Standard.

Astropad Studio is focused on providing artists with customization options that tailor the app to their preferences and workflows. Central to this greater flexibility is the ability to perform special gestures that are customizable. This makes possible an assortment of two-handed workflows that are similar to what can be done with Microsoft's Surface Studio. One hand can use touch gestures for things like erasers and right-clicks, while the other hand can continue drawing with an Apple Pencil. Pencil use is also improved due to the option to customize pressure sensitivity to fit your preferences. The transfer speed from iPad to Mac has been bumped to a 40 MB/s max speed versus the 5 MB/s supported by the original Astropad app, helping create a more seamless iPad-to-Mac drawing experience. Another exclusive feature in Studio is its support for keyboard use, which adds to the workflow options available to users.

Two-handed workflows made possible by customizable gestures.

Two-handed workflows made possible by customizable gestures.

Astropad Studio follows a different business model than the original Astropad app, now dubbed Astropad Standard. It is a free download, but using it beyond the 7-day free trial requires a subscription: $7.99 monthly or $64.99 annually.

Though Astropad Studio isn't made for a casual Apple Pencil user like me, I'm always excited to see developers address professional users with their iPad apps. Because paid up front apps still can't offer free trials of any kind, my hope is that Apple's opening of subscription options to apps of all types will continue to expand options for pro users in the iOS App Store.


3D Touch for Power Users

If you read and listen to enough opinions in the Apple-sphere, you know that there are widely varying views of 3D Touch. Some quickly gave up on it, others found it indispensable, and there seem to be plenty of people in between. When Apple first announced the feature alongside the iPhone 6s, I was intrigued by the potential of 3D Touch to add a new dimension of depth to an otherwise flat slate of glass.

When I got an iPhone 6s, I immediately found that some uses of 3D Touch were handy, but those uses were overshadowed by Apple's marketing message that focused on peek and pop, distracting from the more valuable benefits the feature offers. However, when I pushed aside the Apple-marketing-infused expectations of how 3D Touch should be used, I quickly discovered how valuable it can be in many cases.

It has been over fifteen months since I began using 3D Touch, and I'm convinced that the true value of it only becomes evident through dedicated practice. If you just use 3D Touch now and then, you may find yourself frustrated by not knowing or remembering what all it can be used for. The lack of iPad support doesn't help here.

The start of a new year is a perfect time to learn new habits. As we reflect on the year gone by, it is a good time to consider changes for the year ahead – new habits to form, improved practices to follow – with an aim to make our lives better. Train yourself to use 3D Touch, and you'll benefit in the long run. The closest analogy to 3D Touch I can think of is keyboard shortcuts. Nobody has to learn keyboard shortcuts, but if you're a power user, you learn them because you know they'll make your life and work easier and more efficient. 3D Touch can do the same; it improves interactions with my iPhone on a daily basis.

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New Year’s Activity Challenge Coming for Apple Watch Users

Last month Apple encouraged Apple Watch owners in the U.S. to get out on Thanksgiving in exchange for an activity achievement and iMessage sticker. This morning Apple notified Watch users that a second activity challenge will be taking place at the start of the new year.

This new activity challenge, unlike its Thanksgiving counterpart, will take place worldwide, and completing it will take longer than just a single day. From the Activity app:

Earn this special achievement when you close all three Activity rings each day for any full week, Monday through Sunday, in January. You'll also earn special stickers in the Messages app.

Since the challenge keeps track of your Activity progress from Monday to Sunday, the official start of the challenge will be January 2nd, and the earliest it's possible to earn the achievement will be the 8th. But if you're unable to complete all three rings each day of that first week, you'll have three more chances: the weeks of January 9th, 16th, and 23rd.

Personally, I appreciate Apple's efforts to encourage greater health and fitness in life. watchOS 3's addition of activity sharing fostered healthy competition between my wife and I, and last month's Thanksgiving challenge led us both to get out and complete a 5K on the holiday, which we otherwise wouldn't have done. We're both already eager to score this new achievement trophy together.


First AI Research Paper Published by Apple

Earlier this month word spread about a change in Apple's policy regarding artificial intelligence research. In line with its reputation for secrecy, Apple historically has not allowed employees to publish their research, which many have speculated could make the company a less attractive workplace for AI researchers. But Quartz reported that Russ Salakhutdinov, a director of AI research at Apple, claimed research would soon begin to be published, and a greater effort made to work with the broader research community. The first fruits of that claim were uncovered this week, as Mitchel Broussard of MacRumors reported on the first research paper being published:

Titled "Learning from Simulated and Unsupervised Images through Adversarial Training," the paper describes a program that can intelligently decipher and understand digital images in a setting similar to the "Siri Intelligence" and facial recognition features introduced in Photos in iOS 10, but more advanced.

The biggest news here is not in the research paper itself, but in what it represents for Apple going forward: newfound openness in a subject that will likely become increasingly more important in the years to come.

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MarcyMoji: A Sticker Tour Around the World

When Apple launched the iMessage App Store with the release of iOS 10, it was dominated by sticker packs. Many of my personal favorites came from Disney, including the Star Wars , Zootopia , and Mickey & Friends packs. But one of the nice things about the new App Store was its accessibility to a wide variety of creatives, not just the big players like Disney. A simple sticker pack truly requires no coding knowledge. Because of that, since day one there has been an abundance of sticker options on the iMessage App Store, each with a unique story behind it.

One such story comes from Marcy Smith and Andrew Williams, the creators of MarcyMoji . Born out of Marcy's lifelong love of painting, MarcyMoji was originally conceived as a custom keyboard, but Apple's announcements at WWDC quickly shifted the couple's focus to building an iMessage app.

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Apple Improves Support Experience with New App

Following a soft rollout last month in the Netherlands, Apple has now launched a new Support app in the U.S. App Store for both iPhone and iPad.

This new app is the latest sign of Apple's efforts to provide easy and convenient ways for its users to get the help they need with support issues. It follows an expanded presence on Twitter in the last year, where the company started with an Apple Music Help account , then later replaced it with a more wide-reaching Apple Support account .

Support serves many of the same functions as Apple's Support website , but within the simple interface of an app.

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Apple Publishes Super Mario Run Podcast

Two days out from the release of Super Mario Run for iPhone and iPad, Nintendo's marketing onslaught continues unabated, this time with a podcast.

Apple has published a new podcast featuring an interview with Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of the beloved Nintendo character. The podcast's official description reads:

Join the video game designer and creator famously known for Super Mario Bros. and other iconic Nintendo games for an insightful chat on the making of Super Mario Run. He'll be in conversation with TV personality Katie Linendoll to share the importance of fun and the inspiration behind the gameplay.

The Super Mario Run podcast is available in both video and audio formats. It is unknown at this time whether future episodes can be expected, or if the one episode available now will remain a stand-alone.


TV App Review

Today Apple released tvOS 10.1 and iOS 10.2, both of which bring several additions to the operating systems. Chief among all additions, the clear centerpiece of these updates is a brand new app called TV. When Tim Cook announced this app onstage earlier this fall, he plainly stated its purpose: TV exists to create a unified TV experience, one place to access all TV shows and movies.

Does it succeed? Is this the best television experience available today?

Before answering those questions, it's important to consider the history of underwhelming television endeavors that brought Apple to this point.

Steve Jobs introduced the first Apple TV set-top box over ten years ago, in September 2006. That product unveiling came at the tail end of a keynote focused on the iPod and iTunes, where Jobs announced the additions of Movies and TV Shows to the iTunes Store. At its birth, the Apple TV was not meant to revolutionize television; it was made to support the iTunes ecosystem Apple was building.

Throughout its first three iterations, the Apple TV was never a hallmark product like the iPod, Mac, or iPhone; it was simply a hobby for the company. It was Apple dipping its toes in the TV market. But the fourth generation Apple TV represented a shift. With modern hardware, a new operating system dubbed tvOS, and a vision that the future of TV is apps, Apple dove full force into the television market. It set out to create the best TV experience possible.

The newly released TV app is a significant step forward in realizing that goal.

TV is intended to address a modern issue. While the future of television may be apps, up until now Apple's implementation of that vision has been lacking; it's been lacking because the more video apps you have, the more navigating it requires to find the content you love. More time navigating means less time watching. TV was built to solve this problem.

The TV app on tvOS and iOS centralizes content from a wide array of video apps in one place, presenting that content in a simple and familiar interface. No one wants to juggle an assortment of video apps, jumping from one app to another to find the content they're looking for. We've all learned to tolerate it, but none of us wants it. So Apple built TV to be the new hub of our video-watching life.

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Apple Maps Adds ChargePoint Integration

Jordan Kahn of Electrek reports on the latest improvement to Apple Maps:

Apple has been slowly adding more electric charging station listings to Apple Maps since the release of iOS 10, and today the world’s largest EV charging network, ChargePoint, officially confirmed integration.

The official integration not only means that ChargePoint’s network of charging stations will now be visible as EV Charger badges within Apple Maps, allowing users to tap through to get more info on the station, but users can also initiate charging and complete payment from a link in Apple Maps to the ChargePoint app (Apple Pay included).

Ever since Apple first set out to create its own mapping solution, and found it more difficult than expected, it has aggressively pursued various partnerships to expand the breadth and veracity of its mapping data. Those partnerships have seemed to slow down of late, likely because Maps has less improving to do today than it did shortly following its 2012 launch.

Having spent several years building partnerships to ensure its data won't lead any drivers astray, Apple has more recently been able to focus on integrating data that's less important, but still quite useful. A few months ago we saw the company team up with Parkopedia to improve parking data, and now charging stations are a natural next step.

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