Ryan Christoffel

394 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 Details iPad Pro Manufacturing Techniques and Flatness Standards

A new product launch wouldn't be complete without some level of controversy, and for the 2018 iPad Pro models the kerfuffle has centered around bending. Some users have reported their devices being slightly bent out of the box, and Apple even confirmed to The Verge that this is the expected result of its manufacturing process. Today the company is adding to that explanation via a new support document on its website titled 'iPad Pro unibody enclosure design.'

The document explains how every cellular iPad model undergoes a special manufacturing process called co-molding.

In this high-temperature process, plastic is injected into precisely milled channels in the aluminum enclosure where it bonds to micro-pores in the aluminum surface. After the plastic cools, the entire enclosure is finished with a precision CNC machining operation, yielding a seamless integration of plastic and aluminum into a single, strong enclosure.

Interestingly, this co-molding process isn't used as an excuse for some iPads' slight bends, but instead it's presented as evidence of Apple pursuing even stricter flatness standards than ever before. The following paragraph states:

These precision manufacturing techniques and a rigorous inspection process ensure that these new iPad Pro models meet an even tighter specification for flatness than previous generations. This flatness specification allows for no more than 400 microns of deviation across the length of any side — less than the thickness of four sheets of paper. The new straight edges and the presence of the antenna splits may make subtle deviations in flatness more visible only from certain viewing angles that are imperceptible during normal use. These small variances do not affect the strength of the enclosure or the function of the product and will not change over time through normal use.

In other words, the latest iPad Pros are actually held to a stricter standard for flatness than previous iPads, but even the smallest variations may now be more visible than on previous models due to the new straight edges of the device.

The support document closes with reminders about existing Apple policies: that all products purchased from Apple include a 14-day return policy, and hardware defects outside Apple's stated specifications are covered by a standard one-year warranty.

The iPad Pro's bending controversy has reached nowhere near the level of attention as that of the iPhone 6 Plus a few years back, but it's nice to finally receive official word from Apple on the subject. If your iPad is bent enough that it's obvious and noticeable in daily use, there's a decent chance the bend exceeds 400 microns, and thus would be covered under warranty. With slighter bends, however, it seems those are a cost we have to pay for enjoying the iPad Pro's boxy, straight-edged new design.


Apple Announces Record App Store Sales During Holidays

Hot on the heels of yesterday's announcement regarding disappointing holiday iPhone sales, today Apple has better news to share: the App Store enjoyed a record breaking sales period recently, with over $1.22 billion in App Store spending taking place between Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. This marks the biggest sales week ever for the App Store, and it was followed by the biggest single day ever: New Year's Day 2019 brought $322 million in sales, up from last year's then-record $300 million.

Apple's press release provides more color on some apps and categories that were particularly successful:

Gaming and self-care were the most popular categories of app downloads and subscriptions during the holidays. Globally, multiplayer games including Fortnite and PUBG were among the top downloaded games over the holidays, along with Brawl Stars, Asphalt 9 and Monster Strike. Productivity, Health & Fitness and Education apps are already capturing the attention of customers in the first few days of the year with 1Password, Sweat and Luminosity charting in their respective categories.

$1.22 billion is a major increase from last year's $890 million figure, and a remarkable number for one of Apple's most profitable services. As Apple continues beating the drum that services are of growing importance to the company, news like this helps prove that claim's validity.


Apple Adds AI Head, John Giannandrea, to Executive Team

Today Apple announced that one of its most recent high profile hires, John Giannandrea, has been added as the twelfth member of the company's executive team. His title is now Senior Vice President of Machine Learning and AI Strategy. From the press release:

“John hit the ground running at Apple and we are thrilled to have him as part of our executive team,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “Machine learning and AI are important to Apple’s future as they are fundamentally changing the way people interact with technology, and already helping our customers live better lives. We’re fortunate to have John, a leader in the AI industry, driving our efforts in this critical area.” 

News of Giannandrea's hiring at Apple first broke in April at The New York Times. Apple didn't formally announce the hire, however, until July. And here we are just a few short months later, with another press release from Apple announcing his promotion.

Giannandrea's role involves leadership of Siri, machine learning, and other artificial intelligence projects, all of which are right up his wheelhouse due to his former role as Google's chief of search and artificial intelligence. While it's hard to say from the outside what kind of difference his influence is making at Apple, this move is a good sign that the company's pleased with his early months of work. Perhaps we'll get to see the fruits of his labors at WWDC 2019.

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AutoSleep 6: Effortless Sleep Tracking More Accessible Than Ever

If you've followed MacStories for long, you probably already know that AutoSleep is one of our favorite sleep tracking apps on iOS. The app stands out for offering a frictionless, effort-free experience. Where other sleep trackers may require you to start and stop sleep tracking manually, AutoSleep takes the burden of remembering those tedious tasks off your plate. If you wear an Apple Watch to sleep, the app will automatically detect your sleep patterns even without a separate Watch app installed. If you don't have a Watch, or simply don't wear it to bed, the app will track your sleep through other methods. Whatever your habits are, AutoSleep has you covered.

Today marks the debut of AutoSleep's latest major iteration: version 6.0, which introduces new wellness features, refined graphs and color schemes, sleep hygiene trends, Siri shortcuts, an improved Watch app, and more. It's an extensive update that simplifies some aspects of the app while branching out into fresh, innovative areas of health tracking.

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Things 3.8 Brings Dark Modes to the iOS Task Manager

This fall when macOS Mojave introduced a systemwide dark mode feature, Things added support for the new mode in version 3.7. The iPhone and iPad versions of the app, however, were left out. A lack of feature parity across platforms is always unfortunate, but that was especially true this time around because our John Voorhees  highlighted Things as having his single favorite dark mode implementation.

There's good news though: we didn't have to wait long for Things’ dark mode to make its way to iOS. Launching today in version 3.8, Things has added two different dark modes on both iPhone and iPad, one of which is suited particularly well to OLED iPhones.

Accessible via a new Appearance screen in Things’ Settings, there are now options for Light, Dark, and Black modes for the task manager. The former is the default appearance of the app we’re all well acquainted with, while the latter two are brand new. Both alternate appearances employ blue as the app’s accent color, with the main difference being the background color. Dark mode uses a nice shade of gray, while Black mode employs an OLED-optimized true black.

Each of Things’ appearance options can be set manually, or there's an option to have the app switch modes automatically depending on your display's brightness. Once you activate this toggle, you'll see an option to choose between Dark and Black options for automatic switching, as well as a brightness threshold at which Things will change its appearance. The app’s use of display brightness to change modes should work well for users who have iOS’ Auto-Brightness feature activated, but I wish there was an automatic switching function for those who, like me, have that turned off.

Things 3.8 doesn't introduce any other new features, but adding two beautiful dark modes is enough to make this a noteworthy release. Cultured Code has a strong reputation for thoughtful design, and its dark modes are a standout example on iOS.

Things 3.8 is available on iPhone and iPad.


HomeRun 1.1 Enables Creating Custom Watch Complications

HomeRun is a simple Apple Watch utility for controlling HomeKit scenes from your wrist. Where Apple’s Home app for the Watch can be clunky to navigate, especially if you have more than a couple HomeKit devices set up, HomeRun makes controls easily accessible for all your scenes. And today, with version 1.1, HomeRun has introduced custom complication creation, making it possible to have different launcher complications for each of your configured scenes.

Inside the HomeRun app on iPhone, the Complications screen in version 1.1 appears largely the same at first glance, but once you start tapping around you'll discover that Watch complications are now fully customizable. Visit the detail view for a specific watch face and you'll be able to update any and all complications for that face with custom colors and icons to accompany your selected scenes. The Series 4 Watch's Infograph face, for example, presents options to customize both the corner slot and circle slot complications.

Creating custom complications works just like setting up scenes for the main Watch app itself, with the same set of colors and glyphs available in both places. That means the excellent assortment of glyph options for scenes are all accessible as complication icons as well.

When it launched last month, HomeRun enabled adding scenes as complications to your watch face, but you had to use the app's icon for each complication. Custom complications were a natural next step for the app, and I'm thankful we didn't have to wait long for them to arrive.

HomeRun 1.1 is available on the App Store.


Sofa Review: A Simple Tool for Tracking Movies, TV Shows, Books, and Podcasts

We live in a time when media options are growing at a fast pace. It's a golden age for television, with great shows debuting all the time; the film industry is being transformed by the infusion of new competition from streaming giants like Netflix; podcasts are becoming more mainstream by the day; and despite books not being in a similar growth phase, new titles are still being written constantly. In this crowded media landscape, it's hard to keep track of all the great content waiting to be enjoyed.

In the past I've kept notes in Apple Notes containing lists of TV shows, movies, podcasts, and books to check out. Lately, however, I've been using an app called Sofa.

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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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