Federico Viticci

8402 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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Khoi Vinh Is Done with MacBooks

Khoi Vinh:

I’ve been using laptops for decades. The first one I ever owned was a PowerBook 3400c, and I’ve never not owned one since then. But now, in contrast to my iPad, my laptop seems altogether much more cumbersome than I prefer to deal with. It’s much, much heavier and bulkier than my iPad, especially when you factor in its power supply and a carrying case.

It’s much more fragile, too—I regularly toss my iPad around in ways that I would never do with my MacBook—and as a result, it’s much less versatile, at least for me. This is partly because the MacBook also restricts my movement; I have to be sitting or standing in a way that accommodates typing, whereas I have so much flexibility with my tablet that I’ve become accustomed to using it while positioned in just about any variant of laying down, sitting, standing or even walking.

He's not done with OS X – an important distinction.

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CloudKit Gets Server API

A notable addition to CloudKit announced by Apple today – an API for server-to-server requests:

In addition to providing a web interface for users to access the same data as your app, you can now easily read and write to the CloudKit public database from a server-side process or script with a server-to-server key.

Benjamin Mayo explains what this means in practice:

Until now, interaction with CloudKit has been limited to the APIs Apple provided in apps. Although this was useful, it lacked the options for more advanced use — most modern apps rely on servers to perform tasks whilst users are away. With the addition of the web API, developers can create many more types of applications using CloudKit as the backend. For instance, an RSS reader app can now add new feed items to the CloudKit stack from the server. Before, this action could only occur when a user opened a CloudKit-powered app, which was essentially impractical and meant developers had to use other tools.

Somewhat coincidentally, the announcement follows the news of Facebook shutting down Parse, the popular backend-as-a-service tool for developers. I've tried a few CloudKit apps over the past year that would have benefitted from a web counterpart checking for changes in the background – hopefully this change will enable more functionality for those types of apps. A feed reader built entirely off CloudKit with timely updates would be interesting.

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Touch ID and Error 53

Christina Warren has a good roundup of Error 53 – an iOS system error that makes an iPhone unusable (bricked) if it detects a third-party Touch ID module when performing a software update:

Thousands of iPhone users have been left with bricked devices after having their home buttons repaired by non-Apple authorized technicians.

The Guardian on Friday reported on the issue, known as "Error 53" that apparently affects the iPhone 6, 6 Plus, 6S and 6S Plus.

The basic problem happens if you get your iPhone's home button repaired anywhere other than an Apple Store or Apple-authorized repair center. If the home button — which includes the Touch ID sensor — is replaced, you run the risk of getting a dreaded "Error 53" on your phone.

What is Error 53? Well, it basically turns your iPhone into a brick. Why? Well it all ties into the Touch ID sensor on your phone.

As Apple notes in a support document (and in a statement provided to the press today), "iOS checks that the Touch ID sensor matches your device’s other components during an update or restore", but the check could also fail because of an unauthorized or faulty screen replacement.

The problem isn't Apple's underlying reasoning, which makes sense from a security perspective, but the fact that a device gets bricked by an obscure error. Future versions of iOS should change this behavior and Apple should do a much better job at explaining what's going on. A bricked device is an extreme measure (and a badly communicated one) when trying to save money by not going to an Apple retail store is so popular.

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Using Classic Mechanical Keyboards on Modern iPads

Kevin MacLeod, following up on one of the geekiest photos I've seen on Twitter in a while:

You found a mechanical keyboard. An old Apple keyboard, or Dell, IBM, Focus, Acer, Cherry - doesn't matter. It has good mechanical switches, and you want to use it with your iPad.

The good thing is, once you connect your keyboard to the iPad, iOS is fully capable of using it - the keys all work, you don't need to install any drivers, jailbreak anything, or take any special steps. The tricky part is actually connecting these keyboards to your iPad.

I've never tried a mechanical keyboard myself (I probably should, given that I write at my desk quite a bit?), but I know this is going to be a fun weekend project for many.

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Pocket Adds New Typographic Controls for Premium Subscribers

It's nice to see Pocket is continuing to add new features exclusive to Premium subscribers. In the 6.2 update released today, Pocket has introduced 7 new fonts (including two of my favorites – Whitney and Ideal Sans), plus controls for line height and margin width. There's also a new Auto Dark Mode setting (which could be a nice companion to Night Shift on iOS 9.3).

I've been trying Pocket again because of Recommendations (you can follow mine, too), and I had already bought a Premium subscription last year, but I haven't found much utility in the permanent archival and auto-tagging functionalities. More typographic controls is something I deeply appreciate, and I hope we'll see more Premium features this year.

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Connected: Dreaming Is Enough

This week, Stephen and Federico talk about Stephen's 20th Anniversary Mac, Airmail, Federico's new NAS and the iPad Air 3.

If you didn't catch my thoughts on the Synology NAS I bought in the latest Monthly Log for Club MacStories members, this week's Connected elaborates on the subject quite a bit. You can listen here.

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Nintendo’s Second Mobile Game to Feature “Familiar” Character

Nintendo didn't only announce details for Miitomo and My Nintendo this week. Here's Takashi Mochizuki, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:

Videogame giant on Tuesday posted a sharp drop in quarterly net profit, but it stoked the hopes of fans by promising that its second smartphone game would feature one of the company’s best-known characters.

And:

“The second game won’t be another communication app, and we plan to adopt one of our characters that fans are very familiar with,” Nintendo CEO Tatsumi Kimishima said.

Mario is the obvious choice (as is Pikachu, also given this year's 20th anniversary of the Pokémon franchise), but I've long argued that WarioWare mini-games would be great candidates for multitouch gameplay and, possibly, In-App Purchases. Still, Nintendo has plenty of options to choose from.

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Nintendo Outlines Launch Plans for ‘My Nintendo’ Service and Miitomo iOS App

Following a first announcement in October last year, Nintendo has revealed its launch plans for their first iOS app, Miitomo:

Starting Feb. 17, people will be able to pre-register for Miitomo by signing up for the new Nintendo Account service using their existing email, social media accounts or current Nintendo Network IDs. People who pre-register will be among the first to be notified about the availability of Miitomo when it launches in March. Nintendo will offer a special Miitomo bonus to anyone who signs up for a Nintendo Account between Feb. 17 and launch.

Previously teased as a communication service inspired by the company's Mii avatars and 3DS game Tomodachi Life, here's how the company describes Miitomo today:

Miitomo is a social experience that uses Nintendo's Mii characters, which first debuted on the Wii console, to engage friends in a lighthearted and welcoming environment.

Miitomo will be available on both the iPhone and iPad, and it'll be based on the new Nintendo Account service announced last year. Miitomo will first be released in Japan in mid-March and in 15 other countries by the end of March.

In addition, Miitomo users with a Nintendo Account will be able to take advantage of the new My Nintendo service, which promises to be more than the old Club Nintendo rewards program with a deeper integration with "Nintendo products and services". As detailed in an investor call earlier this week, My Nintendo will enable users to earn platinum points by interacting with Nintendo mobile apps and opening the eShop on a Nintendo console, while gold points will be collected by purchasing downloadable software for 3DS and Wii U. Points can be exchanged for digital content (platinum) or discount codes for eShop titles (gold).

Nintendo has offered further details on how the point system will work in an English version of their investor slides:

In the case of the previous Club Nintendo, we offered points, or “coins,” as a result of our members' purchasing and registering our products. For My Nintendo, the points are gained by members not only as the result of their digital purchases but also as the result of their activities, such as playing games and apps, and interacting with information from Nintendo.

The company notes that, after opening Nintendo Account registrations last December, they have already started providing Japanese users with access to some My Nintendo services. These include personalized game recommendations, which "are crafted for each of them based on their profile, purchase records and play records".

Details on Miitomo are still scarce despite today's announcements – it sounds like users will be able to chat and ask questions, but I'm curious to know if Nintendo is planning to add any gameplay/collectible elements to the app as well. According to Nintendo, more information about Nintendo Account, My Nintendo, and Miitomo will be released "in the coming weeks".


Microsoft Acquires SwiftKey

No productivity app seems to be safe with Microsoft. Following a Financial Times report from yesterday, the company has confirmed they have acquired SwiftKey, makers of the popular keyboard and predictive text engine for iOS and Android:

This acquisition is a great example of Microsoft’s commitment to bringing its software and services to all platforms. We’ll continue to develop SwiftKey’s market-leading keyboard apps for Android and iOS as well as explore scenarios for the integration of the core technology across the breadth of our product and services portfolio. Moreover, SwiftKey’s predictive technology aligns with Microsoft’s investments and ambition to develop intelligent systems that can work more on the user’s behalf and under their control.

In the coming months, we’ll have more to share about how we’ll integrate SwiftKey technology with our Guinness World Record Word Flow technology for Windows. In the interim, I’m extremely excited about the technology, talent and market position SwiftKey brings to us with this acquisition, and about how this further demonstrates Microsoft’s desire to bring key apps and technologies to platforms from Windows to Android to iOS.

SwiftKey is one of the most popular third-party keyboards on both mobile OSes; on iOS, it's often relied upon by users who want a multilingual typing experience in a single keyboard. I'm interested to see how SwiftKey as a keyboard will continue on iOS – custom keyboards haven't received much attention in the past two years, and they're severely limited in how much they can integrate with the rest of the system.

Above all, SwiftKey is good tech for Microsoft. The acquisition gives them access to a large database of typing habits and patterns spanning 100 languages, and it'll likely help them build text features on desktop and mobile. Long term, it's hard to predict how Microsoft's string of mobile app acquisitions will play out, but, right now, it's clear that Microsoft is buying the best apps around.

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