Ryan Christoffel

646 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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Apple Partners with Historically Black Colleges and Universities to Create New Coding Centers

Today Apple announced an expansion of its initiative of partnering with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to create hubs for training the next generation of coders. 10 new HBCU coding centers are being added throughout the US, from which nearly 500 teachers and community leaders will soon participate in “a virtual Community Education Initiative Coding Academy that Apple is hosting for all initiative partners.” During this training:

Educators will learn the building blocks of coding with Swift, Apple’s easy-to-learn coding language. Participants will work in teams to design app prototypes to address real community challenges. After completing the coding academy, educators will begin to integrate the coding and creativity curricula into their communities by launching coding clubs and courses at their schools, hosting community coding events, and creating workforce development opportunities for adult learners.

This announcement comes as Apple just last week shared updates to its lineup of coding resources for students, educators, and families alike, demonstrating the company’s investment in developing coding initiatives across all age groups. The move also follows Tim Cook’s open letter in June addressing racism in America and subsequent creation of a new $100 million Racial Equity and Justice Initiative by the company. The executive leading this initiative, Lisa Jackson, commented on today’s HBCU news saying:

“Apple is committed to working alongside communities of color to advance educational equity,” said Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives. “We see this expansion of our Community Education Initiative and partnership with HBCUs as another step toward helping Black students realize their dreams and solve the problems of tomorrow.”

These last couple months have seen many companies express a desire to work toward pursuing racial equality and justice, but true change takes more than just words, so I’m glad to start seeing the early fruits of Apple’s new commitments.

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Apple Releases iOS 13.6 with Apple News Audio Features and Expanded Local News Coverage, Plus Digital Car Key Support

Today Apple announced big enhancements to its Apple News offerings paired with the launch of iOS 13.6. Apple News is entering the world of audio through two main products: a daily news program called Apple News Today, which is available free to all users, as well as premium audio versions of News+ stories which are exclusive to paying News+ subscribers. iOS 13.6 also introduces curated local news experiences to Apple News in a handful of regions, and brings initial support for the digital car key feature first announced at WWDC.

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Ulysses 20 Review: New Dashboard Featuring Advanced Grammar and Style Check, Outline, and Much More

Ulysses 20 for iPad’s new dashboard.

Ulysses 20 for iPad’s new dashboard.

One of the promises regularly made by apps transitioning to a subscription model is that they’ll be able to deliver more regular, incremental updates rather than going untouched for extended periods of time, and they can also focus on adding functionality that existing users will appreciate rather than needing to build something entirely different to attract a new target market. Ulysses has been a subscription app for nearly three years already, and I believe it’s one of the apps doing the best job of delivering on both of those fronts.

A quick search on MacStories will show that I’ve covered Ulysses a lot, in part because it’s my primary Markdown editor, but also because there are consistently several updates per year that stand out as noteworthy and meriting a fresh review. Today’s version 20 is no exception, introducing an advanced grammar and style check ‘revision mode’ on the Mac (coming soon to iPad and iPhone) and a new dashboard view across all platforms. Both enhancements leave what was already great about Ulysses alone, while offering valuable new utility for writers sure to delight existing users and perhaps even draw a flock of new ones.

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Josh Ginter’s First Impressions Review of HEY

Despite all the drama surrounding the App Store launch of HEY, the new email service from Basecamp, I never got around to actually trying out the service for myself. As a result, I was excited to see today that Josh Ginter at The Sweet Setup had published an in-depth first impressions review following a couple weeks of use. In short, he loves it:

To say this is a glowing first impressions review would be an understatement — in just two short weeks, HEY has shown itself to be the most revolutionary app or service I’ve ever tried.

While I may not be alone, I also know many folks who feel otherwise.

Which makes a lot of sense, I think. Email is one of the oldest digital technologies and it’s worked a specific way for a very, very long time. There will be some deeply engrained email habits out there, and old habits die very, very hard.

I also recognize that HEY likely works for a specific type of emailer. HEY appears to thrive with a multitude of daily email and may feel out of place for someone who has either worked out their email workflow, someone who incessantly unsubscribes from anything unworthy, or someone who relies on other forms of communication to get their stuff done each day.

I found Ginter’s review an excellent primer on HEY’s unique approach to email. If you love in-depth app reviews – and I hope you do – and have been wondering why some people are calling HEY the next Gmail, I highly recommend Ginter’s piece.

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Apple Debuts Web Portal for Apple Card Management

Apple Card users can now view their entire transaction history, make payments, and more from card.apple.com.

Launched today, the new web portal for Apple Card users addresses a concern prospective users voiced when Apple Card first launched: how do I manage my credit card if I lose my iPhone (and/or iPad)? That should no longer be an issue, since Apple’s website now enables users to:

  • Check their Apple Card balance
  • Make payments, including setting up scheduled payments
  • Download PDF statements of monthly activity
  • View information about their Apple Card Monthly Installments
  • Set up and remove bank accounts
The new card.apple.com landing page.

The new card.apple.com landing page.

The timing of this new web portal coincides nicely with a special promotion Apple just started, which offers new Apple Card users a $50 credit to use toward Apple services. Just a couple weeks ago, Apple Card also gained special 0% financing options for a host of Apple products, including Macs, iPads, AirPods, and more.

I’ve been an Apple Card user since the beginning and love it. While I don’t expect to use the web interface on a regular basis, it’s a great option for people who need it, and I’m happy to see Apple continue to make the product more appealing.


Connected Trio Host Interview with Members of Apple’s iPad Team

Federico, Stephen, and Myke had a special surprise on this week’s episode of Connected, their podcast about Apple, technology, and general shenanigans. Episode 301, titled We Should Be Developers, features an interview with Apple’s Jenny Chen, who works on the Apple Pencil team, and Stephen Tonna, who works in iPad product marketing.

The interview covers the new Scribble feature in iPadOS 14 and other Apple Pencil enhancements, the philosophy behind iPad app design, including the new sidebars and dropdown menus of iPadOS 14, and also how the iPad’s versatility of input methods needs to be kept in mind by app developers.

There are a ton of great insights into how Apple’s team thinks about the iPad and approaches its evolution. If you’re an iPad user, you won’t want to miss it.

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Apple News Loses The New York Times

Kellen Browning and Jack Nicas, writing for The New York Times:

The New York Times said on Monday that it was exiting its partnership with Apple News, as news organizations struggle to compete with large tech companies for readers’ attention and dollars.

Starting on Monday, Times stories were no longer appearing alongside other publications’ articles in the curated Apple News feed available on Apple devices.

The Times is one of the first media organizations to pull out of Apple News. The Times, which has made adding new subscribers a key business goal, said that Apple had given it little in the way of direct relationships with readers and little control over the business. It said it hoped to instead drive readers directly to its own website and mobile app so that it could “fund quality journalism.”

This is a major loss for Apple. According to an Apple statement in the piece, the publication “only offered Apple News a few stories a day,” but losing access to the most prestigious newspaper in the US is nonetheless a bad look.

Apple News readers will doubtless still have plenty of quality journalism options to choose from, yet perhaps the most significant problem for the company is that this move may inspire other partners to follow suit. Apple’s 125 million monthly News readers are a formidable audience, and few publishers have near the clout of The New York Times and thus can’t necessarily afford to take similar risks. However, Apple News has long held a reputation – fair or not – for failing to be very profitable for most publications, so this move could indeed spark a larger exodus if Apple doesn’t work hard to keep its partners happy.

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How the watchOS 7 Handwashing Feature Works

Brian Heater at TechCrunch has published a detailed explanation of how the upcoming handwashing feature for Apple Watch works:

The feature, which is built directly into the forthcoming version of watchOS, is designed to work like fitness tracking in a number of ways. For starters, if the user opts into it, it’s designed to automatically trigger when handwashing is detected, starting a countdown timer of 20 seconds. The accelerometer is the key piece of hardware here, waiting for the specific handwashing pattern — which apparently adopts a number of different methods, depending on who’s actually doing the scrubbing.

The system uses machine learning models to tackle different methods, but the system gets an additional nudge from the Watch’s microphone. Along with motion, the app listens for the sound of running water. Even that’s not enough, though — after all, eco sinks have become increasingly popular, meaning that there’s often less water sound to be listening for. The sound of squishing soap takes care of that last bit. It’s got a unique enough audio signature so as to confirm that handwashing is taking place.

Interestingly, the piece notes that this feature has been in the works for years, it isn’t simply a reaction to the current pandemic. I haven’t tried the feature yet, but I’m anxious to see if it works as advertised. If it’s unreliable, I’ll surely leave it turned off, but if it works well it could be a valuable aid to preventing the contraction of COVID-19. At the very least, I’m always happy to see Apple explore new areas of health.

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Everything Changing in Apple Notes and Reminders in iOS and iPadOS 14

Notes and Reminders in iOS 14.

Notes and Reminders in iOS 14.

Apple Notes and Reminders are two of my most-used apps, and each has received significant updates in iOS and iPadOS 14. Though neither app’s improvements have been held up as tentpole features of this fall’s releases, Apple has nonetheless given noteworthy attention to making the user experience for each app better in a variety of key ways. You won’t find fundamental evolutions in how either app works, but these updates prove the power of iteration. From visual tweaks that make everything look and feel more modern, to quality of life enhancements, and more substantive new features, the list of total changes is surprisingly rich.

After a few days of use, here’s everything new I’ve discovered in Notes and Reminders.

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