Ryan Christoffel

563 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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Re:Schedule

A calendar that will change the way you work.


Apple Podcasts Now Available on Amazon Alexa Devices

Amazon today has announced a new partnership with Apple that brings the full Apple Podcasts catalog to all Alexa-enabled devices in the U.S.:

Beginning today, Alexa customers in the U.S. will be able to listen to more than 800,000 podcasts available through Apple Podcasts on their Alexa-enabled device.

Whether you’re listening at home or on the go, you don’t need to worry about losing your spot. Link your account in the Alexa app using your Apple ID, and you can seamlessly pick up where you left off listening on the Apple Podcasts App or your Alexa device. Pause the subscribed episode you’re listening to in the Apple Podcasts app on your commute, and continue listening with your Alexa device at home by asking Alexa to resume the podcast.

When you first start using Apple Podcasts on an Alexa device, you’ll need to specify “on Apple Podcasts” in your command; for example, “Alexa, play The Daily from yesterday on Apple Podcasts.” However, you can remove that requirement by setting Apple as your default podcast provider.

If you’d like to make Apple Podcasts your preferred podcast provider with Alexa, you can set Apple Podcasts as your default podcast provider in the Alexa app. To do so, open the Alexa app, go to Settings, select Music & Podcasts, and link/manage new services. Then, each time you request a podcast, we’ll prioritize playing it from Apple Podcasts if it’s available.

This announcement marks a major expansion of Apple Podcasts and the latest evidence of Apple’s multi-platform services strategy. Just last year, Apple Music arrived on Alexa devices, and earlier this fall the Apple TV app debuted on Amazon Fire TV. Those two moves were in some ways less surprising than this one though, since they both involved granting access to Apple’s paid services, Music and TV+. Apple Podcasts, on the other hand, is entirely free, at least at the moment. Rumors have indicated Apple may be funding some exclusive new podcast content, but it’s unknown whether that will be part of a forthcoming paid subscription service, or simply an added perk of using Apple Podcasts.

Spotify this past year has made significant moves in the podcasting space, and it’s likely that their efforts, which have developed real momentum in the market, are propelling Apple to invest more heavily in its own podcast ecosystem – great news for users.


Twitter Adds Support for iOS Live Photos by Making Them GIFs

Twitter today announced long-overdue support for iOS Live Photos. Rolling out now on all compatible platforms, whenever you add a Live Photo to a tweet you’re composing, you’ll see a new GIF button in the corner of the image. By default the button is crossed out, indicating the Live Photo will be shared as a still image. However, with a single tap you can choose to share your Live Photo as a GIF instead.

Live Photos first debuted in 2015 alongside the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, but there were plenty of questions at the time about whether the feature would be adopted by social media services or not. For Twitter we now know that the answer was yes, eventually.

I think turning Live Photos into GIFs is a great idea, especially since Twitter auto-plays GIFs by default as you scroll your timeline. Not every Live Photo deserves to be converted to a GIF, which is why I’m glad the feature isn’t on by default, but being able to change that with a single tap is a nice option to have.


Mac Pro Accessory Roundup: Stand, Mount, Webcam, Lock Adapter, and More

After having been pre-announced by nearly 1,000 days, the new Mac Pro finally went up for sale yesterday on Apple.com, alongside the Pro Display XDR. Complementing these two devices, a variety of new accessories have also just launched, some from Apple and others from third-party companies.

The $4,999 Pro Display XDR doesn’t include a stand or mount of any sort out of the box, so buyers will want to either pick up the $999 Pro Stand or the $199 VESA Mount Adapter. The display also does not include a built-in webcam. However, Logitech is offering a new 4K Pro Magnetic Webcam for $199 that attaches magnetically to the top of the display as an add-on for professionals who need that functionality.

Another Apple-designed ‘accessory’ is the $2,000 Afterburner Card, a PCI Express card designed exclusively for the new Mac Pro to accelerate ProRes and ProRes RAW video codecs. Along the same lines of Mac Pro-exclusive hardware, Apple has added a variety of options for DDR4 ECC memory to its store, including 16GB for $400, 32GB for $800, 64GB for $1,200, 128GB for $2,800, and 256GB for $6,000.

After spending a small fortune on your Mac Pro, you might reasonably be concerned about the device being stolen. To the rescue is Belkin with a $49 Lock Adapter that enables you to secure your Mac Pro with a third-party lock. Also from Belkin is a $69 AUX Power Cable Kit which provides an assortment of common AUX cables for graphics cards.

Rounding out the accessory options are AMD’s $2,800 Radeon Pro Vega II MPX Module and $5,600 Vega II Duo, along with an MPX module, the Promise Pegasus R4i 32TB RAID ($2,299), and the Promise Pegasus J2i 8TB Internal Storage Enclosure ($399). The optional $400 wheels for the Mac Pro are not available for separate purchase at this time, and instead must be ordered as part of your configured model.

Two things are immediately obvious upon surveying these accessories: first, they’re clearly for users with very specific high-end needs, and second, Apple has poured significant investment into creating the new Mac Pro, Pro Display XDR, and fostering this new ecosystem of accessories. The target user base may be small, but Apple has nonetheless gone all-out with its most powerful computer.


Apple Releases iOS and iPadOS 13.3 with Communication Limits, Removable Memoji Stickers, and tvOS 13.3 with Alternate Top Shelf for TV

Apple today released what are surely its last major point releases of software for the year, iOS, iPadOS, and tvOS 13.3, alongside minor updates for the company’s other platforms. In fitting the trend of an out-of-the-ordinary software release cycle, which was largely caused by a particularly buggy iOS 13.0 release, today’s releases don’t contain the number of features we’ve grown to expect from a point update. iOS and iPadOS 13.3 include only a couple noteworthy improvements: Communication Limits have been added to Screen Time, and Memoji stickers can be removed from the emoji keyboard. On the tvOS side, 13.3 re-introduces the option for the TV app to display your Up Next queue as its Top Shelf behavior rather than auto-playing video instead.

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Linea Sketch Adopting Subscription Model in 2020

The Iconfactory has announced that Linea Sketch, its popular iPad sketching app, will be moving from paid up front to a subscription business model. This transition will take place in early 2020 with the release of Linea 3.0.

We tried hard to avoid a subscription, but the costs to maintain the app are much higher than the income from new sales. This is obviously not a sustainable situation! We have two options:

  1. Let the app die a slow, painful, and unsupported death
  2. Find a source of recurring revenue

They mention that the recent 2.7 update to Linea took over 200 hours of work, and most of that time was simply spent adapting the app to work well with iOS 13’s new system dark mode. The cost of simply maintaining the app to function well with system updates is high, and The Iconfactory wants to do much more than just maintain the app. For example, they preview the roster of changes coming to Linea 3.0, which will include a universal app across iPad and iPhone, and the following:

  • Time-lapse to capture your creation as it evolves
  • Templates with adjustable intensity
  • Custom backgrounds with adjustable paper color and texture
  • App themes and beautiful new app icons for your home screen
  • QuickToggle: two-handed drawing is all we’re going to say :-)

Linea’s subscription will cost $.99/month or $9.99/year, and include both the iPad and iPhone versions of Linea, since the two will become a universal app. On a related note, the Mac companion app Linea Link is now available as a free download.

Many users hate seeing the apps they use switch to subscriptions, but sometimes developers truly don’t have much of a choice. As was mentioned above, development costs for Linea are currently much higher than sales revenue, which is clearly an unsustainable situation. Either The Iconfactory finds a sustainable option for Linea, or the app will eventually disappear. And because of Apple’s unwillingness to allow upgrade pricing on the App Store, subscriptions are one of the only viable options.

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Hands-On with Clips 2.1: Memoji and Animoji Support, Plus New Sticker Face Tracking and More

Apple has released the first big update in over a year for its Clips video creation tool. Following the trend begun in iOS 12, which added Animoji support to FaceTime, now all Animoji and Memoji characters can also be used inside Clips. Though I would have expected such an update a year ago, it’s nevertheless good to see. Besides Animoji and Memoji, Clips 2.1 only adds a couple other small new features, like a fresh batch of Mickey and Minnie stickers, a ‘Let It Snow’ winter poster, and support for right-to-left languages. After spending some time with the update, there are a couple nice implementation details related to Animoji that deserve highlighting.

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Chirp 2.0 Offers a Remarkably Full-Featured Twitter Experience on Apple Watch

It’s time for Apple Watch apps to grow up, and Chirp for Twitter is leading the charge.

Chirp 2.0 debuted today, offering a full-featured Twitter experience on the Apple Watch. Chirp was already the prime Twitter client on watchOS, but with version 2 the app becomes something truly special: an iPhone-quality app on the Watch. Thanks to SwiftUI and other new developer tools Apple has built for watchOS, Chirp can do all the things you would expect from a full-featured iOS app, such as load your whole timeline, with liking and retweeting functionality, display videos and open links embedded in tweets, offer tweet composition, full user profiles, DMs, and much, much more.

Watch developer Will Bishop has been shipping impressive apps for a while, but Chirp 2.0 undoubtedly represents his best work yet.

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Apple News Debuts Daily Email Newsletter

Benjamin Mayo, reporting for 9to5Mac:

Apple News is expanding its mail notifications with a new ‘Good Morning’ daily newsletter. Previously, users could opt in to receive email alerts from Apple News about select featured stories. The company appears to be formalizing that into a regular daily newsletter.

If you were already signed up to receive emails from Apple News, you’ll now receive this new daily newsletter; personally, I never cared for the previous emails focusing on featured stories, but this newsletter looks more suited to my interests, so I’ve just signed up. Here’s how the first new email describes itself:

Welcome to the new Apple News email, now coming to your inbox every morning with top news, smart analysis, and fascinating features. We’ll bring you the best stories from the most trusted sources — everything you need to be informed (and entertained) as you start your day. Enjoy!

Apple News used to have a digest section where, at different times during the day, you could get a quick overview of several important stories of the day in a similar curated fashion to what this newsletter represents. The digest disappeared following the debut of Apple News+, which is a shame because it was one of my favorite features of the app. I’m hopeful this newsletter will serve as an adequate replacement, despite not being quite as convenient as the in-app digest.

If you’d like to start receiving the newsletter, or you’re already subscribed but don’t like the idea of a daily email, you can visit appleid.apple.com and adjust your email subscriptions from the ‘Messages from Apple’ page.

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Apple Announces Winners of the Inaugural Apple Music Awards

The custom-designed awards given to artists.

The custom-designed awards given to artists.

Apple has made a habit of honoring some of the top apps, music, books, podcasts, and more on an annual basis at year’s end, and this year is no different. However, one change to the format for 2019 is that Apple has split out music as its own separate awards category dubbed the Apple Music Awards. There are five distinct awards given, with some winners chosen by Apple’s editorial team while others are determined by streaming data:

The winners for Global Artist of the Year, Songwriter of the Year and Breakthrough Artist of the Year were hand-selected by Apple Music’s global editorial team of experts and tastemakers and given to artists who have true passion for their craft, who boldly defy conventions in the category and who embody a sense of humanity, where listeners are drawn as much to who they are as to their music. The awards for Album of the Year and Song of the Year are based on streaming data and reflective of what Apple Music customers have been listening to (on repeat) this year.

The 2019 Apple Music Awards winners are:

In addition to a dedicated Apple Music Awards page inside the Apple Music service itself, Apple will be celebrating the awards with a globally live-streamed performance from the big winner, Billie Eilish, whose breakout album was streamed on Apple Music over a billion times in 2019, the most of any album on the service. Eilish will be performing at the Steve Jobs Theater on December 4 at 6:30 p.m. PST.

The physical awards Apple designed for winners feature, of course, a few special touches. Apple explains:

Each award features Apple’s custom silicon wafer suspended between a polished sheet of glass and a machined and anodized aluminum body. The wafers start as a perfect 12-inch disc of silicon with nanometer level flatness. Copper layers are deposited and patterned by ultraviolet lithography to create connections between billions of transistors. The result of this multi-month process, before it is sliced into hundreds of individual chips, is stunning and distinctive. In a symbolic gesture, the same chips which power the devices that put the world’s music at your fingertips sit at the very heart of the Apple Music Awards.

2019’s Apple Music Awards could effectively be called the Billie Eilish Awards, so it will be interesting to see if a similar trend continues from year to year, with artists earning several of the limited number of award possibilities. It seems reasonable to expect Apple will try to avoid that moving forward, but since certain awards are determined entirely by popularity, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a regular occurrence. You never know which artists may have a major standout year.