Ryan Christoffel

361 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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Twitter Testing Reply Buttons, Presence Indicators, Ice Breakers, and More

In an interesting move that highlights Twitter's recent efforts to develop its product more openly, soliciting feedback from its user base, the company invited The Verge's Casey Newton to a meeting where it shared details on a handful of new features it's working on.

A new design that more clearly indicates how to reply to tweets was one project in the works. Current prototypes resemble the sort of UI found on Facebook and Instagram, with a reply button indented underneath tweets. Related to that change, and in another modeling of other popular social networks, the UI for threads is being worked on to better resemble a conversation rather than a string of individual tweets.

One of my favorite ideas from those shared with The Verge was something Twitter calls "ice breakers." Newton writes:

Another feature Twitter is considering is a twist on the pinned tweet designed to promote conversations. The company showed me a design that would let you pin an “ice breaker” to the top of your profile to let people know you wanted to talk about something specific. The company’s design director, Mike Kruzeniski, told me it could help Twitter users channel their followers’ enthusiasm into discussions they wanted to have — whether it be about a new project, a current event, or some other item of interest.

The current implementation of pinned tweets is fine, but I love the idea of conversation starter tweets that can be changed up over time as users’ interests and desires for connection change.

Finally, presence indicators and status indicators are two similar features that would, respectively, let the world know when you're online and ready for conversation, and share a status within your status such as “at WWDC19.” While I'm generally not a fan of presence indicators, according to Newton Twitter’s will be entirely optional, which I appreciate. If the feature were used sparingly enough, it could be a replacement for the standard AMA (“ask me anything”) tweets that are common when a user is free and open for conversation. Most likely though, Twitter will activate presence indicators by default for all users, making that specific use case doubtful.

None of these changes are set in stone, so be sure to make your voice heard if you feel strongly about any of them. As Twitter’s Sara Haider told Newton:

“Coming up with a product in a silo and dumping it on people is not going to work,” she said. “Some people are going to love it. Some people are going to hate it. We want to understand what people’s feedback is, and then tweak and iterate on the product.”

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iPhone XR Hands-On Videos Offer Best Look Yet at Apple’s Latest Flagship

Today a variety of YouTube videos have been published featuring hands-on looks at the iPhone XR, which becomes available for pre-order tomorrow and ships Friday, October 26th. We've embedded several of the best videos below.

One common message across multiple videos is that the iPhone XR doesn't feel at all like a budget phone. Despite its similarities, this isn't the iPhone 5C all over again; instead, the iPhone XR feels very much like a premium device, just at a much lower cost than the iPhone XS and XS Max.

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Project Gemini Is a New iPad Illustration App Coming from Adobe

Along with details about the forthcoming Photoshop for iPad, Adobe has announced another brand new iPad app coming soon, dubbed Project Gemini:

Today we announced Project Gemini—a focused new app focused specifically on drawing and painting. Building on Photoshop’s powerful brush engine, this new app combines powerful Photoshop brushes, precise and scalable vector brushes, and an entirely new category of groundbreaking Live oil and watercolor brushes – you’ve never seen anything like them. In addition, layers, selections, and masks enable the most modern non-destructive drawing and editing workflows.

Most importantly, though, we’ve built Project Gemini with the illustration community.

Kyle Webster, of KyleBrush.com, joined Adobe in 2017 to help build Gemini and act as an ambassador and advocate for the illustration community. Along with Kyle, a group of illustrators with diverse styles and backgrounds have been working closely with us to help Gemini achieve its potential.

According to the announcement post, the genesis of this new app was advancements in hardware that enabled Adobe's team to build more powerful tools than were previously possible. They highlight "selection and masking tools, combined raster and vector drawing capabilities" as some examples.

I'm not in the target market for this app, but I'm excited to see Adobe continue to rethink how modern iPads can enable more powerful, yet accessible app experiences than before.

If you'd like to join the Gemini beta when it begins, Adobe has a short survey available for interested testers.

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The State of Gaming on the Apple TV

Samuel Axon of Ars Technica published an article over the weekend about the state of gaming on Apple TV, inspired by the recent demise of Minecraft on the platform. In it he shares quotes from notable iOS and tvOS game developers about Apple's problems with the Apple TV as a gaming platform.

On the subject of Minecraft, Team Alto developer Ryan Cash said:

"If I were in charge of the game...I think I'd really try to stay there. While the platform certainly isn't the biggest, it continues to grow, and it's a great way for certain types of audiences to experience gaming, often for their first time."

Strange Flavour's CEO Aaron Fothergill expressed similar sentiments, highlighting how easy it is to port a game from iOS to tvOS. He did, however, share one common request for the platform:

"I...like the idea of game controllers (ideally Apple ones) being bundled with the Apple TV as an actual Apple option. So there's an Apple TV being sold specifically for games."

Finally, developer Patrick Hogan shared three things he believes Apple should do:

  • Include an Apple-branded, full-featured controller with every Apple TV.
  • Market the Apple TV as a gaming platform.
  • "Spend a lot of money on funding platform exclusives, ports, and presence at every major gaming expo and conference to break the chicken-egg problem of getting customers to make it viable to devs."

Gaming is clearly an area where Apple could have more success if it wanted to. Producing a controller to bundle with the Apple TV, even if it were just included with certain SKUs of the device, wouldn't be that difficult for the company. Clearly it's just something that the execs in Cupertino don't want to pursue at this time.

It could be challenging bridging the gap between the touch-first games of iOS and potential controller-first titles on the Apple TV, but if Nintendo can walk that line successfully with the Switch, I don't doubt that Apple could do the same. Until such a strategy shift takes place though, Apple TV gaming is likely to remain stuck in mediocrity.

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Adobe Unveils Photoshop for iPad, Launching in 2019

Earlier this year Adobe confirmed that it was working on a full-featured version of Photoshop for the iPad, but no real details on the product were given. Today that changed, however, as the app's official announcement arrived alongside the kickoff of Adobe's MAX conference.

Photoshop for iPad won't arrive until some time in 2019, but when it does launch it will differ drastically from Adobe's current lineup of Photoshop-related iOS apps. Rather than focusing on an individual subset of desktop features, like Adobe's existing Photoshop Fix, Express, and Mix do, the aim with this forthcoming app is to provide the full desktop Photoshop experience on an iPad.

As part of its iPad efforts, Adobe has brought the same underlying codebase of Photoshop for desktop to iOS, and it has also worked to modernize PSD files for the cloud. These new Cloud PSDs will be the default file format on the new iPad app, offering a seamless file experience across multiple devices. Adobe's chief product officer, Scott Belsky, told The Verge:

"Cloud PSDs, when we ship Photoshop on the iPad, will also run and automatically show up on your desktop...Suddenly, you’ll have this cloud-powered roundtrip experience akin to a Google Docs experience, where literally the source of truth of your Photoshop creation is in the cloud."

Cloud PSDs will eliminate the need for importing or exporting files, removing a major friction point that currently stands in the way of working with Adobe's apps on the iPad. With Creative Cloud's automatic syncing of all files, you should be able to pick up editing on any device at any time without needing to do a thing.

When manual importing or exporting does make sense to your workflow, those options will still be available in Photoshop for iPad. The app will support file providers like iCloud Drive, Dropbox, and more. Based on the preview version of the app, it appears to support Files.app's document providers, and I'm hopeful that iOS 11's drag and drop features will be supported as another option for importing and exporting.

The Verge was granted a week of hands-on time with Photoshop for iPad, and has a great video that demonstrates the app in action. It appears very similar to Photoshop on desktop, with some adaptations made for OS differences like iOS's lack of a menu bar. There are sure to be touch-optimized improvements offered too though, such as a gesture the video highlights where you can tap with two fingers on the screen to undo.

Though Adobe's goal is full feature parity between desktop and iPad versions of Photoshop, the 1.0 release of Photoshop on iPad will lack certain features that will be added over time with future updates. That full list of missing features is unavailable at this time, but we're sure to learn more as the launch approaches.

Photoshop for iPad will be available free to all Creative Cloud subscribers, but there's no word currently on whether a standalone purchase or iPad-only subscription will be possible. It would be a strong vote of confidence in iPad-first users to make the app available for non-CC subscribers, but based on Adobe's history that appears unlikely.

Today's announcement highlights what an exciting time it is to be an iPad user. With new iPad Pro models expected to be announced in the coming weeks, and a reported focus on significant iPad features coming in iOS 13, there's no time like the present for the full power of Photoshop to make its way to Apple's tablet.


Genius Enters New Partnership with Apple Music

Today Genius, the online music encyclopedia, shared word of a new partnership it has formed with Apple – more specifically, with Apple Music. From the company’s announcement post:

Starting today, Apple Music subscribers who visit Genius will be able to play any song in full right from the song page, simply by signing into their Apple Music account.

Genius is a great place to find historical information about a song, so the ability to play any track without leaving Genius makes for a great user experience. Embedded Apple Music tracks is only one half of this partnership though. Even if you’ve never used Genius, you're bound to benefit from this agreement because of a second piece of news. The announcement post continues:

Genius has the world’s best lyrics database and now it’s available on Apple Music. Genius will provide lyrics to thousands of hit songs on the service—bringing world-class accuracy and timeliness powered by Genius’s global community of artists and fans.

It's unclear at this time whether the addition of Genius lyrics to Apple Music will bring lyrics to songs that previously didn't have any, or simply more accurate lyrics to songs that already have them. Hopefully both benefits are in store for Apple Music users.

In the first couple years of Apple Music’s life, the service didn't strike very many partnerships with third-party businesses. That appears to be changing this year, with the recently completed acquisition of Shazam, free service offers for Verizon wireless customers, and now Genius integrations, Apple is extending its service in new ways to better compete with Spotify.

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Halide Introduces Smart RAW for iPhone XS, Joining a Host of Other Improvements

Since its debut Halide has been one of the best manual camera apps available on iPhone. The month of September brought a number of challenges to Halide's team though, thanks to all the photography work Apple put into iOS 12 and the iPhone XS. And in response, within the span of a few weeks Halide has receive two major updates: version 1.9 on iOS 12's release date, and releasing today is version 1.10 featuring Smart RAW.

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Daily Dictionary’s New Watch App Showcases the Latest watchOS Capabilities

Developer Benjamin Mayo released an update this week to his new word of the day app, Daily Dictionary. Version 1.2 adds an Apple Watch app, making it easy and convenient to view each day's featured word from your wrist.

Daily Dictionary's Watch app is particularly noteworthy due to its complications for the Series 4's Infograph faces, and its custom UI for notifications. For complications, you can use a smaller option containing the app's logo which serves as a launcher, or you can select a larger complication that includes the logo alongside the word of the day itself. If you'd like it to, the larger complication can also display the current date, saving you the need for a separate date complication elsewhere on the face.

One of the ways Daily Dictionary can provide its featured word each day is through a push notification, and if you have the new Watch app installed, you'll get to see a custom notification UI that reflects the design of the full iOS app. Watch developers can take advantage of APIs that enable crafting more customizable notification interfaces, and Daily Dictionary is a great example of that. Now that the Apple Watch is becoming a more mainstream product, and since one of the Watch's chief strengths is as a notification conduit, I hope we see lots of apps follow Daily Dictionary's example in providing more creative Watch notifications.

Daily Dictionary is available on the App Store.


Apple’s Watch Face Problem

Jason Snell today published the article I've been itching to write, outlining the current mess that is Apple's watch face ecosystem. The Apple Watch in so many ways is in its best position ever, which makes the lack of coherence in Apple's watch face strategy particularly surprising.

As Apple continues to create new watch faces at a regular clip, those faces have grown more and more fragmented in what they can do. The Siri face introduced last year was an interesting new direction for watch faces, yet it remains one of a kind in many ways. The Series 4 Watch's Infograph faces come with a whole new set of complications, all of which are wonderful except that they don't work on other faces, nor do older complications work on the new faces. This lack of compatibility is frustrating enough, but what may be even more vexing is that Apple itself hasn't even provided new complications for all of its apps, only some of them – I'd love a Podcasts complication on my Infograph face, but it simply doesn't exist.

Snell offers up a handful of suggestions for where Apple should focus its watch face efforts going forward, all of which earn my total agreement. He writes:

Every face needs to be modernized and support the new complication styles, at least on Series 4. Key system apps and features like Messages and cellular status should be available on all faces. Every face design should be more flexible.

And moving forward, Apple should allow developers even more power in building complications. Complications should be able to appear when they have something to say and disappear when they don’t—for example, I’d love for a Timer complication to appear when I’m running a timer, but the rest of the time I’d rather not see it. If complications truly are the best face of Apple Watch apps, the developers of those apps need more power to build good ones.

Every one of these ideas is entirely reasonable, and would go a long way toward fixing the current watch face mess. I know we just got watchOS 5, but I hope watch faces are a strong area of focus for Apple in next year's watchOS 6.

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