Federico Viticci

9372 posts on MacStories since April 2009

Federico is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of MacStories, where he writes about Apple with a focus on apps, developers, iPad, and iOS productivity. He founded MacStories in April 2009 and has been writing about Apple since. Federico is also the co-host of AppStories, a weekly podcast exploring the world of apps, and Dialog, a show where creativity meets technology.

He can also be found on his two other podcasts on Relay FM – Connected and Remaster.

| Instagram: @viticci |


WallCreator 2.0 Adds Ability to Set Wallpapers, Save and Restore Favorites, Plus Automation Support

WallCreator 2.0.

WallCreator 2.0.

In September, I shared WallCreator, a shortcut to generate wallpapers for iPhone and iPad using gradients or solid colors. The first version of WallCreator allowed you to generate randomized wallpapers with just a couple taps from either the Shortcuts app or Home Screen widget. Because it was built entirely with native HTML and CSS actions, the shortcut had no external dependencies and didn’t require any third-party apps or connections to web servers. Here’s what I wrote:

Here’s the gist of what WallCreator can do: with just a few taps, you can either generate a wallpaper with a solid color or gradient. You can choose to enter your own colors (using their English names or Hex codes) or, even better, let WallCreator generate random solid colors or gradients for you.

You don’t need to worry about anything else: WallCreator will create the right version of a wallpaper for different iPhone and iPad models automatically, without having to specify any option; at the end of the shortcut, you can preview the newly-generated wallpaper and, if you like it, save it as an image to the Photos app. Otherwise, you can tell WallCreator you want to generate another image and start over.

Today, I’m pleased to announce the release of WallCreator 2.0, which has been updated for iOS and iPadOS 14.3 and Shortcuts’ new ‘Set Wallpaper’ action. Among other additions (which I’m going to detail below), WallCreator can now both save and install wallpapers on your device for you. Furthermore, thanks to the comeback of the ‘Set Wallpaper’ action, I’ve been able to create a WallCreator “spin-off” that runs as a headless automation and can change either your Home Screen or Lock Screen wallpaper (or both) on your behalf, with no manual interactions required. This is a pretty big update to WallCreator, so let’s dive in.

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Apple Frames, Now with Support for the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 Pro Max

John Voorhees' iPhone 12 Pro Max Home Screen, framed with Apple Frames.

John Voorhees’ iPhone 12 Pro Max Home Screen, framed with Apple Frames.

When I released the updated version of Apple Frames, my shortcut to quickly put screenshots inside physical frames of Apple devices, in late October, I was only able to add support for the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro. Unlike other shortcuts you may find on the Internet, Apple Frames is based on Apple’s official device images, which are available on the company’s Marketing page here. At the time, the .zip file labeled ‘iPhone 12’ only contained assets for the iPhone 12 and 12 Pro, and I promised I’d add support for the smallest and biggest iPhone models as soon as possible.

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ShortSwitch: A Shortcut to Quickly Import Screenshots and Videos from a Nintendo Switch on Your iPhone and iPad

ShortSwitch for iOS 14.

ShortSwitch for iOS 14.

Last week, Nintendo rolled out a new feature that simplifies importing screenshots and videos taken on a Nintendo Switch on any smart device. As part of the console’s 11.0 firmware, you can now share up to 10 screenshots or a single video capture from the Nintendo Switch media gallery and, by scanning a series of QR codes with your phone or tablet, wirelessly connect your device to the console and save them via a web browser. Although Nintendo’s approach may not be as intuitive or modern as, say, Microsoft automatically saving all screenshots you take on an Xbox console and uploading them to your Xbox account, it is a clever, platform-agnostic solution that will keep working with any device that can scan a QR code and connect to the console’s Wi-Fi network.1

As someone who plays a lot of Nintendo Switch games2 and has always disliked having to share screenshots via Nintendo’s Twitter integration on the Switch, I’ve long wanted an easier way to send images and videos from the console to my iPhone and iPad. As soon as I tested Nintendo’s new feature, I had a feeling I could further speed up the process with Shortcuts and remove the (little) friction left in Nintendo’s system for sharing media between the console and smart devices.

The result is ShortSwitch, a shortcut that automatically recognizes media being shared by a Nintendo Switch over Wi-Fi and which gives you the option to save all items at once in Photos or Files, share them via the share sheet, or copy them to the clipboard. ShortSwitch does this by directly accessing the local web server created by the Nintendo Switch to share media; because it doesn’t need to connect to the Internet or use third-party apps, ShortSwitch runs instantly and allows you to save multiple items at once in just a couple seconds. Even better, you can configure ShortSwitch to run as a Personal Automation on your iPhone and iPad, which means the shortcut will run automatically as soon as you connect your iPhone or iPad to a Nintendo Switch.

You can download ShortSwitch at the end of this article and find it (alongside 220+ other free shortcuts) in the MacStories Shortcuts Archive. Now, allow me to explain how ShortSwitch works and how I put it together.

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Amazon Rolling Out ‘Type with Alexa’ Feature in iOS App

Paul Lamkin, writing at The Ambient:

Amazon is rolling out a new feature within its smart home app. Type with Alexa allows you to send messages to your digital assistant using a keyboard and text messages, rather than using your voice.

The new feature, which is rolling out as part of a public preview - _The Ambient _contributor Jennifer Pattison Tuohy noticed it pop up on her phone - means you can send discreet messages to Alexa for occasions when your voice might not be the best option; think cinemas, on the train, at a funeral and so on.

Sure, you could already search within the app for Alexa Routines and smart home device controls, but the new keyboard based input also allows you to ask queries such as diary updates, calculations, news headlines and the like - as well as acting as a pretty nifty search tool for smart home routines and devices with your Alexa ecosystem.

I also noticed the public preview of this feature in the Alexa app on my iPhone, and I’ve been playing around with it since last night. My first impression is that ‘Type with Alexa’ is what I’ve long wanted from Siri: having a silent conversation with a smart assistant that can control smart home accessories, interact with web services, and play music or podcasts is terrific. Anything you can ask Alexa with normal voice commands can also be typed now, so sending a message such as “play 305 by Shawn Mendes in the kitchen” from your iPhone will result in Alexa playing that song via an Echo speaker in the kitchen. (I’m aware that Google Assistant has offered a typing mode for a long time; however, I don’t use Google’s smart home products.)

Type with Alexa.

Type with Alexa.

I could achieve something similar with Siri by enabling iOS’ ‘Type to Siri’ Accessibility setting. The problem with that option, as I mentioned several times before, is that it replaces Siri’s voice interactions: if you enable ‘Type to Siri’, you’ll no longer be able to issue voice commands and the keyboard will always be displayed instead. I’m not the first one to ask this, but I’d love the ability to have a separate conversation with Siri in iMessage in a future version of iOS.

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Peter McKinnon on Apple’s MagSafe Wallet

I received my MagSafe wallet a few days ago, and it didn’t take me long to observe how I was in complete disagreement with the general consensus from most reviews: the majority of reviewers I follow didn’t like it and criticized its flimsiness; I loved it, couldn’t figure out what issues other people had with putting it in their pockets, and generally found it everything I hoped it would be.

Fortunately, I’m not alone in thinking the MagSafe wallet is great. I wish I could quote a single part from Peter McKinnon’s video about it, but I found myself nodding in agreement with every word, so just go watch the whole thing below. (My thanks to MacStories reader Chuck for sharing this.)

Not only does McKinnon know a lot about leather-based products and wallets, but he also perfectly encapsulates the qualities that make the MagSafe wallet an ideal accessory for people like me: its build quality is terrific; it’s thin and feels good to hold in the hand when paired with an iPhone; thanks to MagSafe, the connection between the iPhone and wallet is strong but it’s still easy enough to remove when you need to access one of your cards. I’ve been using a Bellroy wallet case for over a year; I prefer the MagSafe wallet since it’s less bulky and doesn’t require me to swap cases when I’m back at home. When I’m driving, I can leave the wallet in my pocket and put the iPhone 12 Pro on Belkin’s new MagSafe car vent mount (which I also like a lot), and everything comes together beautifully thanks to the new MagSafe standard.

Based on my usage over the past few days, I think I’m going to be a MagSafe wallet person for the foreseeable future. Imagine if it turns out I’m also going to like the much-criticized MagSafe Duo charger?

Oh.

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Downloading YouTube Videos on iPad with youtube-dl and a-Shell

Greg Godwin, writing at NonProfit Workflows:

There are various apps for the Mac that’ll download YouTube videos, but there’s nothing comparable for the iPad. I discovered that it’s possible to download these videos using the iCab browser if you change the user agent, but I could never get this to work consistently. There is a command-line program you can run called youtube-dl that will download videos from YouTube (and other sites). The problem is, the iPad doesn’t ship with a Terminal app like the Mac does, so while I could do this on my Mac, I struggled to find a way to use this command on my iPad.

Greg has written an excellent tutorial on how to install the (recently reinstated) youtube-dl utility (which I’ve been using to download YouTube videos on my Mac mini for years) and use it on iPad via a-Shell. I followed their tutorial and was able to get youtube-dl up and running on my iPad Pro – with support for encoding files via ffmpeg – in literally two minutes. There’s probably less of a need for downloading YouTube videos on iPhone and iPad now that the YouTube app supports native 4K playback on Apple platforms, but I think it’s great to be able to download videos offline for research and archival purposes regardless. I always like to download the best possible version of a video in the WebM format, which plays beautifully at crisp 4K in the free VLC app for iPad.

One crisp Tyler.

One crisp Tyler.

Side note: I’ve been trying to use this shortcut to pass the URL of the current video from Safari/YouTube to a-Shell via the share sheet. Unless I’m missing something obvious, the a-Shell app launches but doesn’t run my command, which is passed as a ‘Text’ parameter to its Shortcuts action.

Update: Thanks to MacStories reader Jay, I was able to make a-Shell’s Shortcuts action work by switching from single- to double-quotes. I’ve made a shortcut that lets you pass a YouTube URL from either Safari or the YouTube app to a-Shell – which will start downloading it – so you don’t have to type the command (and related options) manually each time. You can find it below and in the MacStories Shortcuts Archive. Also, don’t miss this tip by Greg on navigating a-Shell’s local folder structure.

youtube-dl

Download a video from YouTube using youtube-dl and the a-Shell app for iPhone or iPad. The shortcut accepts any YouTube URLs passed from Safari or the YouTube app via the share sheet. Detailed instructions on how to set up youtube-dl and a-Shell can be found here.

Get the shortcut here.

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MacStories Shortcuts Icons and Perspective Icons: 40% Off from Black Friday to Cyber Monday

MacStories Shortcuts Icons and Perspective Icons are 40% off for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

MacStories Shortcuts Icons and Perspective Icons are 40% off for Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Black Friday and Cyber Monday are upon us, and we’ve prepared something truly special to celebrate the occasion at MacStories: starting today through Monday, November 30, MacStories Shortcuts Icons and Perspective Icons are available at 40% off their regular price.

To purchase MacStories Shortcuts Icons at $17.99 rather than the usual $29.99, click the ‘Buy’ button below:

Similarly, to purchase our Perspective Icons at $14.99 rather than the usual $24.99, click the ‘Buy’ button below:

All sales are final. You can read our license and terms of use here and here.

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iOS 14.2, JIT, and Emulation at Full Performance

I meant to link this on MacStories last week: Apple lifted some of the limitations surrounding JIT (just-in-time compilation) for apps in the recently released iOS 14.2, which is enabling developers of emulation software, such as Delta and DolphiniOS, to run their apps at full performance on iPhone and iPad.

Filipe Espósito, writing for 9to5Mac, covered this a couple weeks ago and interviewed Riley Testut, the creator of AltStore (the non-jailbreak-based alternative App Store) and Delta, the popular emulator for old Nintendo consoles:

As described by Testut, Apple has added support for JIT compilation in iOS 14.2 beta 2 — but this has never been publicly mentioned by the company. The support was maintained throughout the betas and was kept in the final release. The developer believes this is an official implementation rather than a mistake by Apple, but there’s no way to confirm this for now.

And they quoted Testut saying:

For example, with JIT Delta could in theory emulate more powerful systems such as PS2, GameCube, and Wii; without JIT, we’d need to wait several more years before the hardware was capable of that. At first I was skeptical, but am now leaning more towards thinking this was an intentional change.

Hopefully, Apple will not revert this in a future update to iOS and iPadOS.

Viewtiful Joe and Metroid Prime running in DolphiniOS on my iPad Pro. Both games occasionally drop to 30fps, but playing them at 4K is amazing regardless.

Viewtiful Joe and Metroid Prime running in DolphiniOS on my iPad Pro. Both games occasionally drop to 30fps, but playing them at 4K is amazing regardless.

I’m an AltStore subscriber, and I’ve been playing old GameCube and Wii games on my iPad Pro with beta versions of AltStore and DophiniOS for the past week. Being able to play Viewtiful Joe and Metroid Prime1 at 4K60fps on an iPad Pro with a connected DualShock 4 controller is incredible, and something I never thought would be possible 17 years ago, when those games originally launched. What’s even more impressive is that, obviously, neither the GameCube nor Wii were capable of native 4K output at the time (as it simply didn’t exist), so not only can an iPad Pro emulate those consoles at full performance with JIT now, but it can even upscale them to 4K without any issues.


  1. I can’t believe Nintendo hasn’t remastered Metroid Prime: Trilogy for the Nintendo Switch yet. ↩︎
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Custom Shortcut Icons No Longer Open the Shortcuts App First in iOS 14.3 Beta 2

Juli Clover, writing at MacRumors about a tweak to Shortcuts in iOS 14.3 beta 2:

Apple in iOS 14.3 is streamlining the Home Screen customization process by simplifying the way that app shortcuts work. With the launch of iOS 14, users quickly discovered that Shortcuts could be used to replace traditional app icons to create an entirely customized ‌Home Screen‌ look.

Unfortunately, while these Home Screens created with Shortcuts looked fantastic, the experience was less than ideal because launching an app through shortcuts required the Shortcuts app to open briefly, slowing the app opening process. In iOS 14.3 beta 2, that’s no longer the case because shortcuts no longer have to route through the Shortcuts app.

As Reddit users discovered after installing yesterday’s beta, launching an app through Shortcuts on the ‌Home Screen‌ in iOS 14.3 pops up a banner at the top of the display, but the full Shortcuts app no longer opens, so there’s less of a delay when using a custom icon to launch apps.

When I covered the new Shortcuts widget in my review of iOS and iPadOS 14, I noted how disappointing it was that shortcuts added to the Home Screen as custom icons couldn’t take advantage of compact UI, which makes shortcuts dramatically faster to run. This single tweak has major implications for casual and power users alike, and it’s fascinating for a couple reasons.

First, it shows that Apple is very much aware of the fact that millions of people are personalizing their Home Screens with custom icons that are actually shortcuts based on an ‘Open App’ action. As of iOS 14.2, those custom icons don’t open the linked app directly: they take you to Shortcuts first, which then launches the app you need; it’s an annoying limitation, and it’s why I couldn’t get into customizing my Home Screen icons – when I tap a Safari icon, I want Safari to open immediately. With iOS 14.3, that’s going to be the case, and I have to assume Apple is doing this because of the popularity of this technique over the past few months. Even better, when folks who customized their Home Screens update their devices to iOS 14.3, all their custom icons will instantly switch over to the new direct-launching behavior – they won’t have to recreate those custom shortcuts from scratch.

Second, compact UI means that running shortcuts from the Home Screen as custom icons will once again be better than doing so via widgets. In iOS 14.3 beta 2, custom icons and widgets run shortcuts exactly the same way, except that you can place more custom shortcut icons on a single Home Screen page than widgets. I lamented the low information density of the Shortcuts widget in my iOS and iPadOS 14 review as well; with iOS 14.3, I’ll be able to place four custom shortcut icons in the same slot where a single Shortcuts widget would go, and I won’t have to sacrifice the convenience of compact UI. When it comes to custom shortcut icons that open apps, I just wish Apple would add an option to get rid of the confirmation banner that pops up every time you launch an app via a custom icon. Is that banner really necessary after you’ve launched that custom shortcut dozens of times?

I’ve updated both my iPhone and iPad to iOS 14.3 beta, and I guess I’ll have to spend some time rethinking my Home Screen (again) to include several MacStories Shortcuts Icons alongside app icons, replacing the Shortcuts widgets I added last month. This is going to be fun, and I hope Apple will continue to improve this feature with an option to disable the confirmation banner.

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