Federico Viticci

8630 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, and mobile software. He can also be found on his two podcasts – Connected and Virtual.


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watchOS 3 and Wheelchair Users

John Brownlee, writing for Fast Company on support for wheelchair users in watchOS 3:

Each test subject was allowed to use their own wheelchair, which they fitted with special wheel sensors. In addition, many were outfitted with server-grade geographical information systems, which collected extremely precise data on their movements through the world. The number of calories burned, meanwhile, were determined by fitting test subjects with oxygen masks, and precisely measuring their caloric expenditure as they pushed.

In the end, Apple collected more than 3,500 hours of data from more than 700 wheelchair users across all walks of life, from regular athletes to the chronically sedentary, in their natural environments: whether track or trail, carpet or asphalt. From this data, they learned how to adjust watchOS 3's algorithms to track wheelchair users.

This is the kind of work that truly makes an impact on how people live their lives.


The Elements of Stickers

With stickers coming to iMessage in iOS 10, Connie Chan has posted a great overview of stickers in WeChat and Line and why they're more than glorified emoji:

Besides invisible messages, bigger and predictive emoji, full-screen effects, and movie/TV GIFs, Apple recently announced that stickers, too, are finally coming to its most popular app, iMessage. It’s no surprise that messaging is the company’s most popular app — if smartphones are like extensions of our fingers, then messaging is like touching people and things.

What is surprising — especially when compared to the more mature messaging ecosystem in Asia — is that many people still tend to treat stickers (i.e., the ability to easily incorporate pre-set images into texts) as just-for-fun frivolity, when they’re an important visual digital language fully capable of communicating a nuanced range of thoughts. For example, a single sticker could convey very different messages: “I’m so hungry I could collapse” or “I miss you” or “I’m sound asleep snoring”. Complex feelings, actions, punch lines, and memes are all possible with stickers.

(via Jeremy Burge's excellent Emoji Wrap newsletter.)


Connected, Episode 97: 70% Optimistic

Federico's back, to talk about iOS 10 and Messages while Stephen gets sad about his Thunderbolt Display.

I'm back on Connected this week, which features one of the (many upcoming) segments on the progress with my iOS 10 review. You can listen here.

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Apple’s Data Collection in iOS 10

Ina Fried, writing for Recode, got more details from Apple on how the company will be collecting new data from iOS 10 devices using differential privacy.

First, it sounds like differential privacy will be applied to specific domains of data collection new in iOS 10:

As for what data is being collected, Apple says that differential privacy will initially be limited to four specific use cases: New words that users add to their local dictionaries, emojis typed by the user (so that Apple can suggest emoji replacements), deep links used inside apps (provided they are marked for public indexing) and lookup hints within notes.

As I tweeted earlier this week, crowdsourced deep link indexing was supposed to launch last year with iOS 9; Apple's documentation mysteriously changed before the September release, and it's clear now that the company decided to rewrite the feature with differential privacy behind the scenes. (I had a story about public indexing of deep links here.)

I'm also curious to know what Apple means by "emoji typed by the user": in the current beta of iOS 10, emoji are automatically suggested if the system finds a match, either in the QuickType bar or with the full-text replacement in Messages. There's no way to manually train emoji by "typing them". I'd be curious to know how Apple will be tackling this – perhaps they'll look at which emoji are not suggested and need to be inserted manually from the user?

I wonder if the decision to make more data collection opt-in will make it less effective. If the whole idea of differential privacy is to glean insight without being able to trace data back to individuals, does it really have to be off by default? If differential privacy works as advertised, part of me thinks Apple should enable it without asking first for the benefit of their services; on the other hand, I'm not surprised Apple doesn't want to do it even if differential privacy makes it technically impossible to link any piece of data to an individual iOS user. To Apple's eyes, that would be morally wrong. This very contrast is what makes Apple's approach to services and data collection trickier (and, depending on your stance, more honest) than other companies'.

Also from the Recode article, this bit about object and scene recognition in the new Photos app:

Apple says it is not using iOS users’ cloud-stored photos to power the image recognition features in iOS 10, instead relying on other data sets to train its algorithms. (Apple hasn’t said what data it is using for that, other than to make clear it is not using its users photos.)

I've been thinking about this since the keynote: if Apple isn't looking at user photos, where do the original concepts of "mountains" and "beach" come from? How do they develop an understanding of new objects that are created in human history (say, a new model of a car, a new videogame console, a new kind of train)?

Apple said at the keynote that "it's easy to find photos on the Internet" (I'm paraphrasing). Occam's razor suggests they struck deals with various image search databases or stock footage companies to train their algorithms for iOS 10.

Remaster, Episode 12: E3 2016

Just back from E3 2016, Shahid shares his personal history with E3, and gives the lowdown on what was announced this year.

Shahid did an amazing job telling his E3 stories in the latest episode of Remaster. You can listen here.

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Dropbox Adds Scanning Feature to iOS App

Alongside some welcome improvements to their desktop client, Dropbox announced today they're adding a document scanning feature to their iOS app:

With document scanning, you can now use the Dropbox mobile app to capture and organize scans from whiteboards, receipts, and sketches, so your ideas are right at your fingertips. Dropbox Business users can even search inside the scans.

The feature is detailed here, and it looks like it's been integrated with the '+' button to behave as any other file you'd manually import into Dropbox.

I don't think of Dropbox as an app on my phone – it's my online filesystem, which is why right now I'm struggling to imagine using it to scan documents. Essentially, I keep Dropbox on my iOS devices for two reasons: to share files with others and to grant other apps access to Dropbox. I don't spend a lot of time in the Dropbox app itself.

However, it appears that Dropbox has done a nice job in streamlining the functionality as much as possible, and I like how they're moving more and more features to Business-only users, so I'm going to give this a try.