Ryan Christoffel

283 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 Texas, where he works for his church.

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Apple Confirms WWDC Keynote for June 4

In mid-March Apple announced that WWDC 2018 would take place the first week in June, and today the company confirmed that, following past tradition, the keynote for that conference will take place on June 4 at 10:00am Pacific.

Apple is expected to unveil the latest versions of its major operating systems at WWDC, including iOS 12, watchOS 5, and macOS 10.14. If the keynote is anything like last year's, we may see several hardware products announced too. A live stream for the keynote has not yet been confirmed, but it remains likely since WWDC is one of the prime Apple events of the year.


‘Day One in Depth’ Is a New Video Course from The Sweet Setup

Following its recent courses on Things and Ulysses, today The Sweet Setup has launched a new 'Day One in Depth' video course aimed at helping you become an expert of the popular journaling app.

A major strength of Day One is its flexibility – it's full-featured on both iOS and Mac, supports a host of both system-based and web-based methods for saving content, and therefore it can be used in a way that serves you best at any given moment. There's a lot to cover about the app, and The Sweet Setup hits all the bases well in the eight videos of its new course, which are titled:

  • Walkthrough of Day One on Mac
  • Walkthrough of Day One on iPad & iPhone
  • Elements of a Journal Entry
  • All the Ways to Create New Entries
  • How to Filter and Search in Day One
  • How and Why to Use Multiple Journals
  • Cloud Sync, Back Up, and Security
  • Getting Things Out of Your Journal(s)

In addition to these videos, Day One in Depth provides access to nine exclusive articles from The Sweet Setup's team, covering a wide range of subjects such as how journaling can change your life, a guide to all of Day One's keyboard shortcuts, ideas for how you may want to use Day One, a 30-day journaling challenge, and much more. While the video course is presented as the main attraction, I found the articles included here invaluable.

I've used Day One only casually in my life for the most part – I knew the app had a lot of power to it, but I never took the time to dive in and get the most out of it. If you're in a similar place and want to change that, this new course is an excellent way to equip yourself for a deeper investment into digital journaling.

'Day One in Depth' will normally be priced at $29, but it's available now at a special launch week price of $23. You can purchase the course here.


Castro 3 Review: The Castro You’ve Always Wanted

Castro has long been one of the premier podcast clients on iOS, and its excellent version 2 – with an innovative triage system and delight-inducing design touches – helped solidify it as such. Those strengths in 2.0, however, were mitigated in part by the absence of a few key features that competing podcast apps tout. That changes with Castro 3.

If you're unfamiliar with the app, Castro's centerpiece feature is a triage system involving an inbox and queue. The premise is that, with the rising popularity of podcasting, there are more great podcasts available than ever before. If you subscribe to lots of shows, the standard episode management tools found in competing apps likely aren't sufficient. With Castro, by default new episodes of shows land in your inbox, and can then be sorted to the top or bottom of your queue and downloaded, or archived if they're not of interest to you. It's an elegant solution to the problem of podcast overload, and, thanks to customization options that allow you to make certain shows populate the top or bottom of the queue automatically, it's a system that works for you, tailored to your listening preferences.

Castro's triage system clicked with me the first time I tried it, and I used the app daily for nearly a year. Eventually though, I became more selective about the portions of podcasts I listened to, and Castro's lack of chapter support sent me elsewhere. I've seen comments from other prospective Castro users who were similarly turned off from the app due to one missing feature – and often, this feature was different for different people.

If an absent feature ever kept you from sticking with Castro 2, that almost certainly won't be a problem anymore. Castro 3 addresses nearly all of those "one missing feature" requests in a single release. Trim Silence is Castro's take on Overcast's Smart Speed; full chapter support is now present, as is a new Apple Watch app; the player screen has been fully redesigned; Mix to Mono improves stereo mixes that are hard to hear; and finally, there are excellent new per-podcast controls in a variety of areas. Perhaps the only thing still missing is an iPad app.

Castro 3 is everything Castro already was, but better. It's the app that Castro fans have always wanted.

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Google Introduces YouTube Premium and YouTube Music Subscription Services, Retires YouTube Red Moniker

Google seems to have an affinity for constantly rebranding its products, and today is the latest example of that. Soon, YouTube Red will be replaced by the more costly $11.99/month YouTube Premium service – the good news is that Premium members will get all the benefits of YouTube's new Music service thrown in too. And if you're an existing Red subscriber, or sign up quickly before Premium launches, you can lock in the existing $9.99 monthly rate and still get all the benefits of Premium and Music.

YouTube Music is Google's attempt at taking on streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify directly. Launching May 22nd, YouTube Music will have both a free tier and a paid, $9.99/month option. The main focus here is the paid plan though, as it will be the only way to enable background listening – a pretty important feature for music. Paid subscribers will also benefit from downloads and ad-free listening.

YouTube Music will launch with a new mobile app and desktop player, and use Google's intelligence to power advanced search capabilities and an aggregation of different song versions you may not find elsewhere. In a confusing move, Google Play Music will continue to exist as a separate service from YouTube Music, but if you're a subscriber to the former, you get the latter service at no extra cost.

As someone who uses YouTube regularly, but not enough to justify a Red subscription, the new Premium plan definitely seems like a more attractive all-around product, despite the price hike: you get a full-fledged music streaming service, YouTube Originals, and a better viewing experience on the largest video source in the world thanks to downloads, no ads, and background playback, all for $11.99. Spotify and Apple Music subscribers may be content with their chosen services for now, but if YouTube Music truly does become a legitimate contender in the streaming market, it will be hard to resist the allure of YouTube Premium for all the extra perks it offers.

At launch, YouTube Music and Premium will be available in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, and Mexico, and they'll arrive shortly thereafter in Austria, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.


Apollo 1.2 Is Packed With Redditors’ Feature Requests

Today a big update launched for Apollo, the Reddit client for iOS that I once said "may just be the best designed social feed app I've ever used." Version 1.2 isn't focused so much on major new features, but instead a huge wealth of small improvements based on feedback from the Reddit community that make for an even more delightful user experience.

Apollo's new Jump Button is a quick way to jump between top-level comments and save yourself some scrolling. Progress bars for GIFs and video runtimes on thumbnails provide a better sense of context when browsing. There are new settings options to change which browser links open in, to view videos directly in the YouTube app, and more. And lots of under-the-hood tweaks simply make the app faster and more responsive than ever before.

For a visual peek at these changes and more, developer Christian Selig put together a great video, linked below. The full 1.2 release notes are available on the App Store, and in Selig's launch post on Reddit.

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Google Introduces News App for iOS to Replace Newsstand

Yesterday at the keynote for Google's I/O developer conference, the company introduced a News app launching soon for iOS and Android, which will replace the existing Google Play Newsstand app. The app is rolling out some time in the next week, but here are the highlights for what it'll contain.

Like Apple News, the landing page for Google News is called For You, which is where Google aggregates stories based on your interests. The second tab, Headlines, is strictly about the biggest stories in the world each day. These stories will be the same for everyone within a given geographic region, with no personalized curation at all. Finally, Favorites and Newsstand give you quick access to the publishers you follow, including the ability to subscribe to publications from directly within the app.

For the most part, Google News is a close imitation of Apple News – it has a similar layout, and a similar design with white backgrounds and a heavy focus on photography. The way it best differentiates itself is a feature that I think is the highlight of the app: Full Coverage. When you're reading a story and want to gain more insights and perspectives on the same topic, tapping the 'Full Coverage' option opens a view that aggregates a wide array of sources covering a variety of angles on that story. It's one way Google is aiming to promote solid journalism while gently combating filter bubbles. Based on the examples that have been shown so far, Full Coverage will list stories on an event timeline, offer answers to frequently asked questions about an event, highlight tweets and opinion pieces, fact checks, videos, and more. It's meant to be a comprehensive overview of a given story, and I think it looks fantastic.

It's unclear how widely available Full Coverage will be throughout the app, but we can assume that the most significant news events at least will include a Full Coverage component to them. Google demoed one Full Coverage story focusing on the Puerto Rico power outage situation.

Despite being different in execution, Full Coverage is similar in spirit to the Spotlight tab in Apple News: both aim to provide substantive overviews on a given topic by aggregating a variety of sources. While Spotlight is updated daily to cover a new topic, I appreciate Google's approach with Full Coverage because it will make those aggregated pages more accessible and relevant to readers. I love Spotlight and check it regularly, but it's frustrating that Spotlight stories can only be accessed the day they're published. Apple should take a note from Google News' playbook and start offering links to previous Spotlight features at the bottom of related stories.


Streets 4 Adds Drag and Drop, Live Panorama Mode, and iPhone X Support

Last week my wife and I ventured to New York City for a vacation, and in the time leading up to that we planned out our agenda with the help of Google Street View. Unfortunately, our planning took place just a couple weeks too early to benefit from the newly released Streets 4 by FutureTap.

Streets is an iOS and watchOS app John reviewed upon version 3's release. It provides an immersive, touch-friendly way to navigate Google's Street View data. And in version 4, that experience has been upgraded with drag and drop support on iPad, a new Live Panorama mode, and optimization for the iPhone X's display.

Drag and drop enables you to drop in a location from Apple Maps, a contact that includes an address, or any other linked address to load up nearby panoramas in Streets. My favorite feature enables dropping in any geotagged photo, which Streets will identify the location of so it can show you existing 360º images of the same or a nearby area – an easy way to discover great captures from other photographers.

Live Panorama mode can be toggled on by tapping the rotating circle icon in the top-right corner. Once activated, it offers a new interaction method for exploring street views. Rather than swiping around on the screen, simply move your device in the space around you and the visible street view area will change with your motion.

Whether you're planning some time away, or simply want to explore the world from the comfort of your couch, Streets is the best way to do so on iOS.

Streets 4 is available on the App Store.


Pretext: Files-Rooted Simple Markdown for iOS

Last month I was delighted to discover a new plain text editor for iOS, Textor, that focused simply on the basics of text editing. Though I valued Textor's minimalism, one feature I did miss was support for Markdown styling. This hasn't been added to the app since then, but fortunately, I no longer have to wait for it; a new app just launched that's essentially Textor with Markdown, and its name is Pretext.

Pretext integrates directly with iOS 11's Files app, making it easy to create or edit Markdown and plain text files stored across any of your file providers. Open the app and you'll see a document browser for choosing a file to edit; alternately, you can create a new file by hitting the plus button in the top-right. If you're creating a new file, Pretext asks you to set a file name, with the option of automatically prepending the date to it, and you can choose to make it either a .md or .txt file.

While the simplicity of Pretext's "just you and the text" environment is its greatest strength, the app does offer a few specific features that are of benefit to Markdown writers especially. First is the great keyboard shortcut support: all the basics of Markdown syntax can be done with a quick shortcut, including tasks like link insertion; because of this, Pretext offers one of the most efficient means of adding links to an article. The remaining few features of the app are found by hitting the share icon during editing, which offers access to the share sheet, the app's settings screen, and previewing your Markdown file as HTML – the latter is especially useful for anyone who publishes their work online. Options in settings include tweaking the text size, switching themes from light to dark, and a couple alternate app icons.

I've been using Pretext in beta for the last few weeks to edit Markdown files shared by other MacStories collaborators in Working Copy, and the app has been exactly what I need. I can open Pretext, make my edits aided by visual Markdown styling and keyboard shortcuts, and preview the finished product as HTML. All changes are then saved directly in the file's source.

Pretext is a simple utility, and isn't going to replace Ulysses for me as a daily driver, but for some people it legitimately could. Too often writing apps are overly complicated, and Pretext focuses on offering just what a writer needs: space, and a few key tools to aid the writing process.

Pretext is available as a free download, with a $0.99 In-App Purchase unlocking the app's dark theme and alternate icons.


Google Launches New ‘Tasks’ App for iPhone

Google Tasks is a service many Google users may be unfamiliar with. Historically it's been a somewhat hidden feature of Gmail and Google Calendar, but today alongside a redesign of Gmail, Google is helping Tasks break out and receive slightly better treatment with the launch of a new iPhone app.

I have to say up front: if this app wasn't a Google property, tied to an existing Google service, it likely wouldn't merit much attention. Essentially it's a barebones home for task lists, with a couple small task manager-like functions. Each task you create can include additional details in a note area, be assigned a due date, and can include embedded subtasks. And that's basically it. You can create multiple lists to store your tasks, but there's not even a smart list that consolidates all your tasks containing due dates.

Ultimately, this is an extremely lightweight task manager that makes Apple's Reminders, its closest analog, seem like a heavy duty task powerhouse by comparison. Rita El Khoury of Android Police sums it up well in her take on the Android app:

I struggle to see who Tasks is for with this first version, and hope it's quickly iterated upon. If you're deeply invested in the Google ecosystem, and have very minimal task needs, but want something integrated with Google's other products, I guess Tasks could be for you. But only on the iPhone; there's no iPad version at this time.

Google Tasks is available as a free download on the App Store.