Ryan Christoffel

537 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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Todoist Foundations: Key Refinements Modernize the Popular Task Manager

Today Todoist has launched a major update across all platforms under the branding Todoist Foundations. That name implies a complete ground-up revision to the app, and while that’s accurate in terms of under-the-hood code changes, from a user-facing standpoint this is still the Todoist you know, but with a variety of new features: project sections, a dynamic add button, new task and sub-task views, and more. Todoist’s team also says that Foundations lays the necessary coding groundwork for more substantial features that are coming in the future, such as Boards and an Upcoming View.

Todoist didn’t need a big rethinking, but what it did stand to benefit from was design enhancements and streamlining that makes everything quicker, easier to use, and more flexible, and that’s exactly what this release brings. If you haven’t tried Todoist in a while, Todoist Foundations is a compelling reason to give the task manager another try.

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Arcade Highlights: Card of Darkness

Do you like fantasy-themed games? How about Zach Gage’s work – Flipflop Solitaire, Really Bad Chess, Typeshift, SpellTower, etc.? Would a mobile game brought to life by the art of Adventure Time creator Pendleton Ward be of interest to you? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then Card of Darkness should be one of the first games you download from Apple Arcade.

If you answered no to all three questions, you should probably play Card of Darkness anyways.

Card of Darkness is a roguelike game where each stage contains a grid of stacked cards, with each stack holding a random mix of monsters to defeat, weapons to equip, and potions and treasure to find. There are also magic spell scrolls that help you more easily navigate what can be a treacherous quest to get from the start of the grid to its end. You don’t have to clear every card stack to complete a level, but you do need to forge an open path to the finish line, and every stack you take even a single card from will need to be finished. As you clear each card stack, more stacks further into the grid will be revealed, slowly reducing the amount of cards that stand between you and the end of the grid.

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Roku Devices Gaining Apple TV App Today

Roku announced in a press release that the Apple TV app would be available on its streaming devices starting today:

For the first time ever, Roku users can add the Apple TV app via the Roku Channel Store to discover and watch movies, TV shows and more, including accessing their iTunes video library and subscribing to Apple TV channels directly on Roku devices. Starting November 1, Apple TV+, Apple’s home for all-original shows and movies from the world’s greatest storytellers, will be available on the Apple TV app on the Roku platform.

Like the TV app on Samsung smart TV sets, the Roku version of the app offers access to all iTunes movie and TV show content, as well as all Apple TV channels options, such as HBO, CBS All-Access, and soon Apple TV+. However, content from non-channels like Hulu or Amazon Prime Video, which are accessible on iOS and tvOS devices, will not be present on the Roku version of the TV app because it lacks third-party app integrations. Moving forward though, I expect that all of Apple’s new content partners with the TV app will be full-on channels rather than legacy app integrations.

Earlier this year Apple announced that the TV app would also be arriving on Amazon Fire TV devices and TV sets from more manufacturers, so as we get closer to the November 1 launch of Apple TV+, I expect we’ll see those other vendors all follow Roku’s lead.

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NapBot: Simple Sleep Tracking Powered by CoreML

Sleep tracking is an area of health that Apple hasn’t yet formally moved into, but all signs point to that changing soon. iOS 13 saw the company build more advanced wellness tracking features into the Health app, Beddit was acquired by Apple a couple years ago, and very recently the App Store leaked evidence of a Sleep app that is (or was) in development for Apple Watch. But for the time being, anyone interested in sleep tracking with a Watch or iPhone needs a third-party app.

NapBot is one such app, a new debut from the maker of CardioBot that launched in recent weeks. NapBot applies CoreML to perform automatic sleep tracking when you’re wearing an Apple Watch to bed, the results of which you can then view in either the iPhone or Watch apps.

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Project Geneva: David Smith’s New Approach to Third-Party Watch Faces

Developer David Smith has often expressed a desire to design third-party faces for the Apple Watch, a feature that many users wish Apple offered. But recently, after launching his latest Watch app Geneva Moon (formerly known as Moon++), Smith realized he could take a different view of face customization, inspired by his newest app.

Geneva Moon exists mainly to provide a complication which displays an astronomically accurate representation of the moon. It takes advantage of the new ability in watchOS 6 for Watch apps to be offered independently of iOS counterparts, so you can download Geneva Moon directly from the Watch’s App Store and then install its complication on your watch face. Smith’s experience with this app inspired him to shift his focus from the aspects of watch faces that Apple doesn’t let developers customize, to the extensive areas that they can. He writes:

The Infograph face's customizable areas. (Source: david-smith.org)

The Infograph face’s customizable areas. (Source: david-smith.org)

I have extensive control over what is shown here and for many of the watch faces, this area makes up the vast majority of the screen. Other than the design of the watch hands or appearance of the digital time numerals, I can do a whole lot with the complication tools I already have.

To that end, I’m starting a journey I’m calling Project Geneva, in which I’m going to see just how far I can push customizability and design of complications for the Apple Watch.

Though Apple doesn’t permit the distribution of third-party watch faces, by focusing on creating new complications that can be used across a variety of different first-party faces, Smith will provide users more flexibility in crafting each existing face to their own preferences and needs.

To a degree, third-party faces are already here. An entire watch face can’t be customized, but for those faces which are largely populated by complications – which many are – there exists enormous freedom for developers and users alike to craft their ideal watch face.

I can’t wait to see what new complications are spawned by Project Geneva, and hope other developers may take inspiration from Smith’s new initiative themselves.

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The Future of Apple Music

Sophie Charara interviewed Apple’s Zane Lowe for Wired about where Apple Music is heading next. One answer, interestingly enough, is a greater focus on radio:

Apple doesn’t break out Beats 1 monthly listening figures; various commentators have speculated they are relatively low, the official line is “tens of millions”. What we do know is that one of Lowe’s priorities is to merge the two elements of Apple’s £9.99 a month Music offering: its Spotify-style streaming service and the Beats 1 radio shows.

“I want more people to listen and discover this stuff,” says Lowe. “And I want to integrate what we do at Beats 1 into Apple Music more thoroughly. I would guess there are still subscribers who don’t realise Elton John has done over 200 shows. Those shows are works of art in their own right.”

Apple Music for years has been producing quality radio work, yet the way that’s been surfaced hasn’t been the most discoverable. Promoting existing radio shows in more places sounds like a positive step forward, and I hope another addition would be an option for push notifications when there’s a show you want to listen to live. Apple could put a little bell icon, YouTube-style, on a show’s artwork in the app for enabling such notifications, because unless you schedule a show into your normal routine, you’ll almost certainly never think to listen to it at the right time.

Another potential content area for greater exposure would be the interviews Zane Lowe and his colleagues do with artists regularly, which Apple Music often features in both audio and video forms. To me those interviews feel like a perfect fit for highlighting in Apple Podcasts as well as the Music app. Apple has actually dabbled in that, such as with a Billie Eilish interview earlier this year, but I think it’s an area ripe for expansion.

One other change Apple’s pursuing, according to Lowe, will bring about increased initiatives around live music:

There’s also the matter of how livestreams fit into the picture. After events with Shawn Mendes, French rap group PNL and Tyler the Creator, who did a live performance of his album IGOR, streamed on Apple Music the night before it came out, Lowe says “live music is definitely on the horizon” for the service. It’s all part of the team’s bid to “eventise” – his word – album launches. In the case of Tyler the Creator, “fans can tune in, then after watching it maybe you go to the album.”

Making album launches more of an event could be an effective way to compel a switch to Apple Music over Spotify. If Apple can arrange live content with a wide appeal timed with an album launch, then people will tweet about that live content as it’s being shared, and anyone not on Apple Music will feel like they’re missing out.

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14-Year-Old Developer Created Game for Apple Arcade’s Launch

Patrick Klepek writes for VICE about the 14-year-old developer, Spruce Campbell, whose game Operator 41 was part of the Apple Arcade launch:

“When I saw the Apple Arcade announcement in March I dropped everything and decided to build a whole new game for Arcade,” [Campbell] told VICE via email. “I thought that the games that really fit Apple Arcade will probably be designed for it from the ground up, so I came up with a stealth game that would work on all the Arcade platforms.”

Campbell has quite a personal story. As Klepek notes, the young developer taught himself to code starting at the age of 8, and when he was 12 he designed a game, CyberPNK, that netted him a BAFTA award. He also received a scholarship to attend WWDC this June, which is where he was able to personally pitch Operator 41 to Apple for Arcade inclusion. Campbell says following that pitch:

“I went back to the dorms, and over the next week I was accepted onto the service,” he said. “I’d say that was the luckiest moment of production—so many stars had to align for me to be accepted onto the service and everything went so well.”

Klepek’s concluding words put into perfect context what this story means for the potential of Arcade’s future.

Operator 41 doesn’t have many reviews. It didn’t get a big marketing push, and wasn’t on Apple’s big stage…But what’s remarkable is that Operator 41 exists at all, and shows Apple having a willingness to give people a shot. Apple Arcade isn’t a place where, like the App Store, anything can get published. There is a curation element. Campbell wasn’t signed because he made a hit that Apple thinks will bring new people into Apple Arcade. In this case, Apple decided it was worth including a game by a mostly unknown 14-year-old designer.

Arcade’s launch has been fantastic, and with the near-certainty of more stories like Campbell’s moving forward, the service’s future looks bright.

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Tripsy Review: The Ultimate Trip Planner for iPhone and iPad

Summer may be over, but there’s never really an offseason for planning future vacations or business trips. We all have our own methods of trip planning – where we store important documents, how to set an agenda and share that agenda with family or friends – but I’d guess most of us aren’t entirely satisfied with our current planning systems. Important information can be scattered across different apps, services, or analog files, which is fine but not ideal. Tripsy aims to solve that problem.

Tripsy isn’t entirely new to the App Store, having first launched almost a year ago, but it recently received a major 2.0 update alongside iOS 13’s debut. While I never used the previous version, the new Tripsy is exactly the tool I’ve wanted for trip planning for a long time. The app serves as a one-stop shop for organizing all of your trip-related information: you can add Apple Maps points of interest to your agenda, scheduling them to specific times and days, add notes to each saved location, store important travel documents in the app, and share your full trip data with fellow travelers. All of this functionality is enhanced by a strong app experience thanks to system features like multiwindow on iPad, Sign In with Apple, dark mode, and more.

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Apple Maps’ Northeast Expansion Visualized

Yesterday Apple began the full rollout of its new maps for the Northeastern United States. And right on the heels of that release, Justin O’Beirne has meticulously documented and compared Apple’s new work with the mapping data that it replaces. He begins by highlighting Apple’s progress toward launching its new maps throughout the U.S.:

With this latest expansion, Apple’s new map now covers 27.5% of the U.S.’s land area and almost half of its population (47.2%).

Apple has promised that its new maps would be available to all U.S. users by the end of 2019, so the rollout – which began last September with iOS 12 – will need to significantly accelerate from now through December.

The bulk of O’Beirne’s post lets the new maps speak for themselves. Pulling from significant locations all throughout the Northeast, O’Beirne showcases direct comparisons between the old and new maps. As has been seen in other parts of the U.S., Apple’s new maps feature significant expansions of vegetation, new details for features like ball fields and small parks and rivers, and even road enhancements. Apple’s Look Around feature, which competes with Google Street View, is also now available in some of these Northeastern locations, such as in New York City.

Maps in iOS 13 is a big update, particularly if you’re in an area that has the new Apple-designed maps. I’m excited to have the new maps arrive in New York City, and look forward to getting some hands-on time with them over the coming weeks.

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