Ryan Christoffel

378 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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Apple Publishes ‘Best of 2018’ Lists for Apps, Music, Books, and More

Apple today published its picks for the best media in 2018 across its various platforms and services. These include selections for best app on iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV, as well as top picks in categories of music, TV and movies, podcasts, and books. Alongside these editorial selections, Apple has published top charts for the year across the App Store, Apple Music, Apple Podcasts, and Apple Books.

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Gaming the App Store

David Barnard, developer of apps like Weather Up and Launch Center Pro, has written an extensive overview of tactics that are commonly used each day to game the App Store. He writes:

Any one of these tactics might seem somewhat bland individually, but when tens of thousands of apps deploy multiple tactics across many categories of apps, the impact can be measured in hundreds of millions of users and likely billions of dollars.

Tactics mentioned include employing specific keywords, buying fake reviews, implementing misleading subscriptions, and more. The idea is that bad actors can squeeze the most money out of users by following the approach Barnard outlines, which ultimately provides a bad user experience that degrades the App Store’s reputation.

Barnard concludes the article with a challenge to Apple:

Featuring an app is a great carrot, and Apple doesn’t generally feature apps that so blatantly flaunt App Store manipulation and user hostile tactics, but the carrot of getting featured pales in comparison to how much money can be made by gaming the App Store. It’s well past time for Apple to employ more carrots to create great experiences on the App Store, and to use a bigger stick on those manipulating the App Store and creating terrible user experiences for Apple’s customers.

I love this idea as a potential solution to encourage quality apps on the App Store. The revamped App Store from iOS 11 with daily feature articles is great, as are things like the Apple Design Awards at each WWDC, but if Apple wants to retain a strong quality brand for the App Store, it wouldn't hurt to find more ways to reward good developers.

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YouTube Stories Expand to Broader Base of Creators

YouTube's take on the popular Stories format from Instagram and Snapchat was previously only available to select YouTubers, but starting today it's rolling out to all accounts with over 10,000 subscribers. Sarah Perez, writing for TechCrunch:

YouTube is beginning to roll out Stories to a wider set of creators, giving them access to the new creation tools that include the ability to decorate the videos with text, stickers, filters, and more.

The feature is very much inspired by rival social apps like Snapchat and Instagram – except that, in YouTube’s case, Stories disappear after 7 days, not 24 hours.

The idea behind YouTube Stories is to give creators any easy way to engage with their fans in between their more polished and produced videos. Today’s creators are no longer simply turning a camera on and vlogging – they’re creating professional content that requires editing and a lot of work before publication, for the most part.

While I haven't encountered any of my favorite YouTubers using Stories yet, I hope that changes after today. While Instagram's IGTV seems like it hasn't taken off very well, plenty of YouTubers remain heavy users of Instagram Stories. If YouTube Stories can offer a similar experience, without users needing to leave YouTube, it could be a really solid addition to the platform.

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Popular iOS Podcast Player Castro Sold to Tiny

Big announcement from Supertop's blog today:

We have some news to share. Tiny has purchased a majority stake in Castro. We are still shareholders and will continue working on the app full time.

The post goes on to explain the reasons for this transfer of ownership.

Castro has reached a size where the demands of running the business have been pulling us in too many different directions. We haven’t been able to focus as much on the core work of designing and building a product. Selling to Tiny gets Castro access to more resources, contacts and expertise. By growing the team we can specialize our roles to be more focused individually and get more done collectively. We can get back to what we’re good at and what we love doing.

Castro underwent a business model transition earlier this year, moving from paid up front with Castro 2 to free with Castro 3 alongside the launch of the Castro Plus subscription option. It sounds like that shift has led to an increased amount of administrative work for Supertop's development team, which should be alleviated thanks to this acquisition. The post concludes:

We’ve started work on Castro 4. The plan is to improve the design to bring more listeners into the Castro flow. We’re excited, because for the first time in five years of work on Castro, we’ll have the resources to focus exclusively on it as product designers and developers, without contract work to distract us, and with a team around us to handle the administrative tasks.

Castro is one of the best podcast clients on iOS, so I'm thankful that today's announcement doesn't spell its end. On the contrary, it sounds like there's reason to be hopeful about the app's future in Tiny's hands. Only time will tell, of course, so I'll be curious to watch the app's update cycle over the coming year.


Hopes and Expectations for Apple’s 2019


Forward-looking columns about Apple's business in the new year are usually saved for late December, but I wanted to get ahead of all those pieces because we now know what Apple's full 2018 product lineup looks like. While new AirPods and the AirPower charging mat are both suspiciously still absent, and one or both could in theory be launched via press release any time, most likely what we have now from Apple is what we'll be left with until after the new year begins. As such, today seems like a great time to start sharing hopes and expectations for the year ahead.

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Google Integrates Assistant App with Siri Shortcuts on iOS

Google released an exciting update for its Assistant iOS app today, bringing support for Siri shortcuts and, for the first time, opening lines of communication between the two competing assistants.

Siri and the Google Assistant have historically been unable to work together in any way, but thanks to the opening up of Siri via shortcuts in iOS 12, that changes now. With the latest update, you can set up a shortcut in iOS to immediately, via Siri, trigger any command you'd like to give Google's Assistant.

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My Today at Apple Experience

It took nearly 18 months of Apple's regular Today at Apple promotions through keynote events and press releases, but I finally had my interest in the program piqued. As I wrote earlier this month, whereas every other Apple product is analyzed to death by writers, podcasters, and YouTubers, the company's retail stores and Today at Apple program are often ignored by tech media. But Apple's increased trumpeting of its retail initiatives, in the face of a collective shrug from the press, made me wonder what exactly we're all missing out on here. I mean, if the company is passionate enough about Today at Apple to host over 18,000 sessions per week, then there must be something special about the program.

So I attended my first session.

Last Monday morning I opened the Apple Store app and booked a session at Apple Fifth Avenue called "Photo Lab: Crafting Your Shot Co-created with Chase Jarvis." As I suspect is true of most iPhone owners, I love taking pictures with my phone, but I know absolutely nothing about the ins and outs of quality photography. As a result, the Photo Lab session seemed like a great place to start.

Much of the time when Apple promotes Today at Apple, it highlights sessions taking place in its global flagship stores, with beautiful open forums and enormous wall displays. My experience was a lot more low-key, as the Fifth Avenue location is currently approaching two full years in temporary housing as major renovations to its previous location near completion. While the revamped Fifth Avenue store will undoubtedly come with all the beauty and grandeur of locations like Michigan Avenue and Regent Street, for now the site lacks all those modern bells and whistles; rather than taking place in a forum, my Today at Apple session took place around a small table that sat eight participants.

I'm not going to get much into the specifics of the session's contents, which were solid overall; instead, I want to share three simple takeaways from this first Today at Apple experience. They're the three main things that were on my mind following the session, and after rewatching portions of Apple's October event in Brooklyn, I realized that my takeaways actually line up with statements shared by executives at the event.

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Pocket Casts 7: A Host of Improvements Make the App Feel Brand New

It's been over two years since the last major version of Pocket Casts debuted. A lot has happened in the podcasting world since then, including Pocket Casts itself being acquired by a consortium of radio stations and podcast companies. The app has also faced strong competition from alternatives like Overcast and Castro. Pocket Casts remains one of the best third-party podcast clients on iOS, but it has started to show its age of late. Updates to the app over the last year have been fairly minor and unimpressive. In hindsight though, it's easy to understand why: the app's development team has been plugging away on a major new update that's officially launched today.

Pocket Casts 7 makes the podcast client feel modern again. It introduces a new design alongside important features like Siri shortcuts and AirPlay 2 support, Up Next syncing, episode search, Listening History, and a lot more. If you haven't given the app a try in a while, now is definitely the time to do so.

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