Ryan Christoffel

407 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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Spark Adds Rich Text Formatting for Email: Lists, Text Colors, and Highlighting

Today in an update to its iOS and Mac apps, the email client Spark has introduced new rich text formatting options to enable greater flexibility in styling your messages.

Spark already included the expected bold, italics, and underline options, and its macOS version previously allowed creating bulleted or numbered lists, but those list options have now come to iOS as well. Additionally, both Mac and iOS users can now change the color of text in their emails, as well as add highlighting to text.

Rich text support is a particularly important feature for an email app, so I'm glad to see it come to Spark. While I likely won't start sending messages with different colored fonts, it's nice having the variety of options Spark provides here. Lists in particular were something I've missed having in the past, and I like the idea of employing highlights to call out anything of special importance in an email. I've historically used bold for that purpose, but highlighting definitely does an even better job of standing out.

Spark's latest update is available now as a free download for iOS, and the Mac update is coming soon.


Why the Siri Face Is All I Need from My Apple Watch

What should a wrist computer ideally do for you?

Telling the time is a given, and activity tracking has become another default inclusion for that category of gadget. But we're talking about a computer here, not a simple watch with built-in pedometer. The device should present the information you need, exactly when you need it. This would include notifications to be sure, but also basic data like the weather forecast and current date. It should integrate with the various cloud services you depend on to keep your life and work running – calendars, task managers, and the like. It doesn't have to be all business though – throwing in a little surprise and delight would be nice too, because we can all use some added sparks of joy throughout our days.

Each of these different data sources streaming through such a device presents a dilemma: how do you fit so much data on such a tiny screen? By necessity a wrist computer's display is small, limiting how much information it can offer at once. This challenge makes it extremely important for the device to offer data that's contextual – fit for the occasion – and dynamic – constantly changing.

Serving a constant flow of relevant data is great, but a computer that's tied to your wrist, always close at hand, could do even more. It could serve as a control center of sorts, providing a quick and easy way to perform common actions – setting a timer or alarm, toggling smart home devices on and off, adjusting audio playback, and so on. Each of these controls must be presented at just the right time, custom-tailored for your normal daily needs.

If all of this sounds familiar, it's because this product already exists: the Apple Watch. However, most of the functionality I described doesn't apply to the average Watch owner's experience, because most people use a watch face that doesn't offer these capabilities – at least not many of them. The Watch experience closest to that of the ideal wrist computer I've envisioned is only possible with a single watch face: the Siri face.

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How Apple Music Could Own the Classical Music Audience

Mitchel Broussard of MacRumors recently published an in-depth look at the problems classical music fans have with Apple Music's approach to that expansive genre. Unlike many other common genres, such as hip-hop, pop, and country, the range of music deemed 'classical' bears its own unique challenges in a variety of areas. Broussard spoke to Benjamin Charles and Franz Rumiz, classical music enthusiasts, who shared their frustrations with how Apple Music fails to optimize for classical music's distinctness. He writes:

[Apple Music's Classical] section spans centuries, including all of the notable composers like Mozart (born 1756, died 1791), Maurice Ravel (b. 1875, d. 1937), and John Cage (b. 1912, d. 1992), but this grouping is frustrating for classical music aficionados, given how little these musicians have in common among one another...Rumiz: "The sorting of recordings follows the rules of pop & rock genre. For classical music this doesn’t fit at all, because you very often want to compare different recordings of the same pieces by the same composer with different soloists, orchestras and conductors."
[...]
Charles says that one aspect of classical music that's mixed up in the shuffle is the listener's interest in a piece's composer versus its performer. While some artists, like Leonard Bernstein, both compose and perform their music, Charles questions how Apple Music determines the best recording for a piece of music: "Is a recording more significant because it is composed by Bach, or is it more significant because it is performed by Glenn Gould?"

Classical music also can be extremely difficult to request of Siri due to the unique names for many classical tracks, and there are several other issues highlighted in the article, all of which appear like legitimate hindrances to a great classical music experience on Apple's platform.

Overall Apple Music's handling of classical music seems more like an oversight than an intentional design choice, but Broussard and his interviewees make a strong case that Apple should take note of. As the last line of the article states:

"This is a completely untapped market," Charles tells me. "One streaming service could completely own the classical music audience if it wanted to."

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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.