Ryan Christoffel

407 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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Thinking Different: Keys to Adopting an iPad-First Workflow

No matter how tech-inclined a person may be, no one sits down at their first computer and instantly finds themselves at home with the device. We all have our own tales of computing learning curves – figuring out how menus, file systems, and other traditional software elements work. Similarly, when making the move from one type of computer to another, there's an adaptation cost in acquainting yourself with all that's new. This is true when switching from a PC to a Mac, and also a Mac to an iPad.

Before the iPad Pro debuted in late 2015, transitions from Mac to iPad were extremely scarce. The iPad's hardware and software were both far too limited to compel many switchers. The software has advanced since that time – thanks to Split View, drag and drop, and Files, it's far easier to work on an iPad than before – but there's plenty more progress still to be made. The hardware, however, is where the iPad has shined most, especially with the newest iPad Pros.

Compare the iPad Pro's hardware to Apple's modern Mac lineup and the difference is striking. The iPad has Face ID, while Macs are stuck with Touch ID; the iPad has a Liquid Retina display with ProMotion, and Macs are still Retina only; the iPad Pro benchmarks comparably to the most powerful portable Macs; iPads can include LTE, while Macs cannot; and where Mac keyboards are vulnerable to specs of dust, the iPad's Smart Keyboard Folio can endure any crumbs you throw at it – plus, with the iPad you can choose the keyboard that's best for you. To top off all these advantages, the iPad Pro is also more affordable than most Macs.

Software limitations aside, the iPad clearly has a lot going for it; the iPad Pro is a more attractive Mac alternative than ever before. But moving to the iPad still involves some growing pains. The longer you've used a traditional computer, the harder an iPad transition can be. There are a few key things, however, that can help make your iPad adoption a success.

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Tim Cook Calls for US Privacy Regulations in Time Op-Ed

User privacy is one of the social drums Tim Cook has been consistently beating for years now, and today that's continuing in an even stronger way with a new op-ed by Apple’s CEO published by Time. Cook writes:

I and others are calling on the U.S. Congress to pass comprehensive federal privacy legislation—a landmark package of reforms that protect and empower the consumer. Last year, before a global body of privacy regulators, I laid out four principles that I believe should guide legislation:

First, the right to have personal data minimized. Companies should challenge themselves to strip identifying information from customer data or avoid collecting it in the first place. Second, the right to knowledge—to know what data is being collected and why. Third, the right to access. Companies should make it easy for you to access, correct and delete your personal data. And fourth, the right to data security, without which trust is impossible.

In addition to outlining these four principles, Cook gets more specific in calling for a particular organization to be formed that counteracts a “shadow economy that’s largely unchecked” whereby people’s data is sold by retailers and other companies without express knowledge or consent. He writes:

Meaningful, comprehensive federal privacy legislation should not only aim to put consumers in control of their data, it should also shine a light on actors trafficking in your data behind the scenes. Some state laws are looking to accomplish just that, but right now there is no federal standard protecting Americans from these practices. That’s why we believe the Federal Trade Commission should establish a data-broker clearinghouse, requiring all data brokers to register, enabling consumers to track the transactions that have bundled and sold their data from place to place, and giving users the power to delete their data on demand, freely, easily and online, once and for all.

Apple has established a consistent practice of standing for user privacy, partly owing to its highly publicized standoff with the FBI in 2016, but it seems that in 2019 the company wants that value to be even more pronounced. First there was the unavoidable banner at CES touting the iPhone's privacy advantage, and now today's op-ed. It will be interesting to see if any of the ideas Cook pushes bring about productive discussion on this issue, leading to practical change in US policy.

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Apple Launches Smart Battery Cases for iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR

Apple today updated its online store with the addition of three new products: Smart Battery Cases for the iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR. Every version of the case costs $129, regardless of iPhone size. Each new case is available in both Black and White, and the designs resemble that of the previous Apple Smart Battery Cases, with a silicone exterior and a large bulge on the back to accommodate the battery.

The Smart Battery Case is compatible with Qi chargers, so you can still take advantage of wireless charging while using the case. These are the quoted charge estimates for each case:

  • XS: 33 hours talk time, 21 hours Internet use, and 25 hours video playback
  • XS Max: 37 hours talk time, 20 hours Internet use, and 25 hours video playback
  • XR: 39 hours talk time, 22 hours Internet use, and 27 hours video playback

In the past, Apple hasn't made Smart Battery Cases available for Plus-sized phones, so it's great to see that now, regardless of your iPhone size, you can get a case that raises battery life to meet the needs of heavy use.


CES Roundup Part 2: Accessories, HomeKit Devices, and More

Earlier this week we rounded up all of the important Apple-related announcements from the first couple days of CES. Some of the highlights were major TV manufacturers adding AirPlay 2 and HomeKit support, the first HomeKit doorbell, and accessories to complement Apple's latest devices. If you haven't seen it yet, be sure to check out that first roundup.

As much ground as we covered in that initial piece, the convention has continued on these past few days with plenty more announcements worth noting. Here are more of the top accessories, HomeKit devices, and other interesting products announced at CES.

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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.