Ryan Christoffel

553 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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Microsoft Previews New Office Mobile App, Unifying Word, PowerPoint, Excel, and More in a Single App

Today Microsoft previewed a fascinating new experiment in mobile: a brand new iOS app, simply dubbed Office, that houses versions of Word, PowerPoint, and Excel in one place, integrated with OneDrive, while also including Sticky Notes, Microsoft’s OCR-powered Office Lens camera, and a variety of mobile-friendly actions. Until test slots are full, you can sign up to access the beta version of the app through TestFlight.

For now, the beta version of Office is iPhone-only, but Microsoft states it “will bring this experience to tablets as well.” It will be interesting to see how that pans out, since currently Microsoft requires Office 365 subscriptions to edit in its Office apps on iPads over a certain size, while devices under that size can edit documents for free. It’s likely the new Office app will follow the same restrictions, but we’ll have to wait to find out.

I’ve spent a little time working with the beta version of Office, and I think Microsoft may be on to something here.

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Adobe Creative Cloud App Brings Thousands of New Fonts to iPhone and iPad

Today Adobe released an update to its Creative Cloud app on iPhone and iPad which introduced a set of thousands of fonts that can now be installed on those devices via the new font provider system Apple added in iOS and iPadOS 13. Once installed, fonts from Creative Cloud can be used within any other app that supports custom fonts. The Creative Cloud app is a free download, and all users can download 1,300 fonts in the app for free; users with a Creative Cloud subscription, however, have access to a whopping 17,000 fonts.

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Apple TV+ Now Available: Here’s Its Full Launch Lineup

Apple TV+ is now available, a video subscription service that Apple has been working on for over two years now. The new streaming service debuts in over 100 countries, and can be accessed now inside the TV app on iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple TV, Roku and Amazon Fire TV devices, and select smart TV manufacturers, as well as from tv.apple.com.

Apple TV+ costs $4.99 per month, but all users are offered a 7-day free trial; also, anyone who has purchased a new iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple TV, or iPod touch since September 10 will receive a free year of service. Finally, even if you don’t subscribe at all, Apple has made the first two episodes of all of its series available for free viewing in the TV app.

While the cost of entry is low for Apple TV+, what you get for the price is also fairly limited at the moment. Apple has branded TV+ “the first all-original video subscription service,” which means there’s no back catalog of legacy content, only brand new shows and movies that have never been released before. This angle could be spun as a positive thing in some respects, because many streaming consumers these days care most about new content, but it also means you can quickly watch everything TV+ has to offer and be stuck waiting for more content.

Here’s the full lineup of everything Apple TV+ offers today:

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Twitter iPad Apps Upgraded with Multiwindow Support, Keyboard Navigation

Twitterrific (left) and Twitter (right).

Twitterrific (left) and Twitter (right).

This fall has been a significant season for the iPad. While new hardware has been limited to an updated entry-level iPad, the software changes have more than made up for the dearth of hardware updates. September brought iPadOS, the new branch of iOS that packs advancements like multiwindowing, an upgraded Home screen, and more. Mere weeks after iPadOS launched, macOS Catalina enabled a host of iPad apps to be brought to the Mac, which in some cases meant those iPad apps became more Mac-like as a result.

Thanks to these recent software changes, a couple of key Twitter apps for iPad have been updated to offer key new functionality. Twitterrific has become the first Twitter client to add multiwindow support, enabling creating separate windows for different accounts or different views within the same account. The first-party Twitter app, meanwhile, has recently added extensive support for external keyboards, likely as a side benefit of the app making its way to the Mac. In both cases, the Twitter experience on iPad has been meaningfully improved in ways that power users will appreciate.

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Apple Debuts AirPods Pro, a New Premium Model with Noise Cancelling

Today Apple announced a new, premium model of AirPods which is now available for purchase: AirPods Pro. Rather than replacing the existing second-generation AirPods, Apple is launching AirPods Pro as a separate option for users who want the premium features included in the new Pro model: active noise cancelling, water and sweat resistance, Transparency, and Adaptive EQ. AirPods Pro can be ordered now for $249, and will be in stores on October 30th, just in time for the holiday shopping season.

The new AirPods Pro use two microphones, one that faces outward and one that faces toward the ear for active noise cancellation, adapting the signal 200 times per second. Transparency mode uses the microphones to allow users to listen to music while also hearing their surroundings.

When fitting the AirPods Pro for the first time:

… advanced algorithms work together with the microphones in each AirPod to measure the sound level in the ear and compare it to what is coming from the speaker driver. In just seconds, the algorithm detects whether the ear tip is the right size and has a good fit, or should be adjusted to create a better seal.

The AirPods Pro also use a new feature called Adaptive EQ that:

automatically tunes the low- and mid-frequencies of the music to the shape of an individual’s ear — resulting in a rich, immersive listening experience. A custom high dynamic range amplifier produces pure, incredibly clear sound while also extending battery life, and powers a custom high-excursion, low-distortion speaker driver designed to optimize audio quality and remove background noise. The driver provides consistent, rich bass down to 20Hz and detailed mid- and high-frequency audio.

The AirPods Pro have changed the way music playback and phone calls are controlled too:

Switching between Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency modes is simple and can be done directly on AirPods Pro using a new, innovative force sensor on the stem. The force sensor also makes it easy to play, pause or skip tracks, and answer or hang up phone calls. Users can also press on the volume slider in Control Center on iPhone and iPad to control settings, or on Apple Watch by tapping on the AirPlay icon while music is playing.

According to Apple, the AirPods Pro case provides total battery lasting 24 hours playing music and 18 hours talking on an iPhone, while a single charge of the AirPods Pro provides 5 hours of music listening with noise cancellation off and 4.5 with it turned on. Like the second-generation AirPods, the Pro model also features the H1 chip and can be charged wirelessly with a Qi charger. The AirPods Pro come with a USB-C to Lightning cable and require iOS 13.2.

Earlier this year Apple debuted the first follow-up to the original 2016 AirPods model, changing very little about the device: the second-generation AirPods offered always-on Hey Siri support, an optional wireless charging case, and some connectivity improvements. By contrast, AirPods Pro represent a true evolution for the AirPods line.

It makes sense, however, that the new model doesn’t replace its predecessor, but merely accompanies it in an expanded lineup. Most AirPods customers likely don’t want or need noise cancelling functionality, so the standout feature of AirPods Pro is targeted toward a smaller niche of customers. Following Apple’s pattern with its other products, there’s now a mass-market, lower-cost version of AirPods and a Pro model that offers something extra, but at a higher price tag.

One area Apple could have differentiated AirPods Pro even further is by providing new color options, but white remains the only available finish. As nice as a darker shade would be, from a marketing standpoint it’s hard to argue against maintaining the status quo with AirPods’ iconic white finish. When your product can be effortlessly recognized in public, you don’t change that.


Apple TV+ Review Roundup: Apple’s Originals Met with Mixed Reception

Apple’s streaming video service, Apple TV+, launches this Friday, November 1st. Ahead of its launch, today the first reviews dropped for the service’s tentpole originals: The Morning Show, See, For All Mankind, and Dickinson. Overall the critical takes are extremely mixed: though I haven’t seen any reviews that are outright negative, and there are a few which are very positive, the majority of reviews seem to lie somewhere in-between those two extremes.

For All Mankind appears the best-received Apple series, with Dickinson perhaps the second most-praised; however, that may be due to the added pressure placed on The Morning Show and See as Apple’s top two draws. Though many reviewers found things to praise about each show, such as Jennifer Aniston’s strong performance in The Morning Show, and the incredible visuals of See, the majority of their critical emphasis was on the ways these series fail to live up to high expectations.

One common note struck by reviewers is that with most Apple TV+ shows, only three episodes per series were provided for review, which made it difficult to adequately evaluate each first season. Perhaps tellingly, For All Mankind had the most episodes screened for critics, and it’s the most-praised show.

Below is a roundup of excerpts from various reviews that help provide a good overview of what to expect from Apple’s first original series.

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Apple’s TV App Arrives on Amazon Fire TV Devices

Benjamin Mayo, reporting for 9to5Mac:

Apple today released the Apple TV app for Amazon TV devices, starting with the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K and the older HD model. Support for Amazon Fire TV Cube, Fire TV (3rd generation penchant design) and some other models is coming soon.

The TV app experience on Amazon’s platform mirrors the functionality of the Roku app, which launched last week. Users can watch their purchased iTunes movies and TV shows, access Apple TV Channel subscriptions and watch Apple TV+ content when the streaming service launches on November 1st.

This isn’t a surprise, as the impending launch of Apple TV+ meant all previously-announced TV app platforms were likely to arrive before November 1st. Now that the app is available on Roku and Fire TV devices, plus Samsung TVs, the only platforms still waiting for support are smart TV sets from LG, Vizio, and Sony.

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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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