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 |


MusicBot 1.1 Brings Shazam Integration, Music News and Reviews, Release Dates, Compact UI, and More

In December 2019, I published MusicBot, my all-in-one Apple Music shortcut to play music, get quick access to favorite albums and new releases, rediscover old gems in your music library, and lots more. MusicBot is one of the most complex shortcuts I’ve ever created and, along with Apple Frames, it’s among the shortcuts I use the most on a daily basis.

Over the past 11 months, MusicBot has been downloaded thousands of times from the MacStories Shortcuts Archive, and I’ve been saving a variety of ideas and user requests for features that would extend MusicBot’s capabilities and make it easier to use on iOS and iPadOS 14.

The result is MusicBot 1.1, the first substantial update to the original shortcut that introduces full support for iOS 14’s compact UI and Home Screen widgets, Shazam integration, the ability to read music news and check release dates inside MusicBot, plus other fixes and enhancements.

Let’s dive in.

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Shortcuts Corner: Apple Frames for iPhone 12 and SE, Get Image Resolution, Encode Images to Base64, and Search Articles in Reeder

In this comeback installment of the Shortcuts Corner (I took a break last spring to focus on my Modular Computer story, then WWDC happened, then…you get the idea), I’ve prepared an assortment of image-related shortcuts available for free on the MacStories Shortcuts Archive. Ever since I installed the first betas of iOS and iPadOS 14 on my iPhone and iPad months ago, I’ve been reorganizing my shortcut library with folders. Thanks to this feature, I’ve assembled a collection of simple “utility” shortcuts that I use on a daily basis, but which I never shared on MacStories. This week, I’m sharing three of these shortcuts: one to quickly get the resolution of any image; one to convert any image to JPEG while stripping metadata from it; and the last one to encode any image previously copied to the clipboard in Base64. Following the requests of several readers over the past week, I’ve also updated our popular Apple Frames shortcut with support for the iPhone SE, iPhone 12, and iPhone 12 Pro.

In the Club MacStories edition of the Shortcuts Corner this week, I’ve also created an advanced Reeder shortcut that lets you browse articles in your Read Later account by tag, title, and more. Let’s dig in.

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Using Soor’s Widgets and Magic Mixes

Soor's iOS 14 widgets.

Soor’s iOS 14 widgets.

As I detailed in a recent episode of AppStories, I’ve spent several weeks tweaking my iPhone’s Home Screen and playing around with different approaches to widgets and app icons. The layout I eventually settled on (which you can find in the AppStories show notes) takes advantage of dark mode to create the illusion of widgets “blending” into the wallpaper – specifically, the Soor widgets at the top of the page. Given how I believe Soor’s developer Tanmay Sonawane has taught Apple a lesson when it comes to building Apple Music widgets for iOS 14, and considering the app’s most recent update, I thought I’d write about these widgets in more detail.

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iPad Air Review: Forward-Looking

The new iPad Air.

The new iPad Air.

Ever since its launch in late 2015, the 12.9” iPad Pro has been my primary computer. The combination of a large display – the largest Apple makes for iPads – with software that properly takes advantage of it (see: Split View, multiwindow, multicolumn) makes the 12.9” Pro an ideal blend of laptop-like usability and tablet modularity. If you’re looking for power and flexibility, the 12.9” iPad Pro is the ne plus ultra of the iPad line.

Before the iPad Pro, however, it was the iPad Air 2 that convinced me the iPad could be a suitable replacement for a MacBook. In my review of the iPad Air 2 in early 2015, which I published just a few months before the iPad Pro’s debut, I called the device a “liberating” experience, noting how it struck a balance of high portability and versatility that enabled me to get more work done from more places. In spite of the iPad Pro’s superiority – especially in terms of display size – I’m always going to have a soft spot for the iPad Air as the device where my modern iPad journey began.

For the past few days, I’ve been testing Apple’s latest iPad Air, which comes out this Friday starting at $599 for the 64 GB, Wi-Fi model. While the 10.9” Air won’t replace the 12.9” iPad Pro as my primary machine, I’ve been impressed by this iPad for a different reason: the iPad Air democratizes the notion of “pro iPad”, bringing key features of iPad Pro to more customers, while at the same time looking ahead toward the future of iPad with hardware not seen on the current iPad Pro lineup. The iPad Air sits at the intersection of old iPad Pro features trickling down to the rest of the iPad line and new ones appearing on this model first. This makes the iPad Air a fascinating device to review, as well as a compelling alternative to another iPad of similar dimensions: the 11” iPad Pro.

Five years after the iPad Air 2, I’m intrigued by an iPad Air again. Let me explain why.

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iOS and iPadOS 14: The MacStories Review

Even with (unsurprisingly) smaller releases, Apple is pushing forward with bold ideas across all platforms.

How do you prepare a major new version of an operating system that now spans two separate platforms, which will be installed on millions of devices within a few hours of its release, amid a global pandemic? If you’re Apple, the answer is fairly straightforward: you mitigate the crisis by focusing on a narrower set of features, perhaps prioritizing bug fixes and stability improvements, but then you just have to do the work.

In my time as an iOS (then iOS and iPadOS) reviewer, I never thought I’d have to evaluate an OS update with the social and political backdrop of iOS 14. Let’s face it: when the COVID-19 outbreak started fundamentally changing our lives earlier this year, at some point many of us – including yours truly – thought that, among more serious and severe repercussions, our tiny corner of the Internet would see no new phones, OS updates, videogame consoles, or other events over the course of 2020. Or that, at the very least, changes in hardware and software would be so minor, they’d barely register in the grand scheme of things as tech companies and their employees were – rightfully so – adjusting to a new, work-from-home, socially distant life. Yet here we are, over a year after the debut of iOS and iPadOS 13, with brand new versions of both operating systems that were announced, as per tradition, at WWDC a few months ago. Remove all surrounding context, and you wouldn’t guess anything has changed from 2019.

Context is, however, key to understanding Apple’s background and goals with iOS and iPadOS 14, in a couple notable ways.

First, I think it’s safe to assume slowing down to reassess the state of the platform and focus on quality-of-life enhancements and performance gains would have worked out in Apple’s favor regardless of the pandemic. In last year’s review, I noted how the first version of iOS 13.0 launching to the public wasn’t “as polished or stable as the first version of iOS 12”; in a somewhat unpredictable twist of events, managing the iOS 13 release narrative only got more challenging for Apple after launch.

Late in the beta cycle last year, the company announced certain iOS 13 features – including automations in Shortcuts and ETA sharing in Maps – would be delayed until iOS 13.1, originally scheduled for September 30th. Following widespread criticism about bugs, various visual glitches, and stability issues in iOS 13.0, Apple moved up the release of iOS 13.1 and iPadOS (which never saw a proper 13.0 public release) by a week. Despite the release of a substantial .1 update, the company still had to ship two additional patches (13.1.1 and 13.1.2) before the end of September. Before the end of 2019, all while the general public was lamenting the poor state of iOS 13’s performance (just Google “iOS 13 buggy”, and you’ll get the idea), Apple went on to ship a total of eight software updates to iOS 13 (compared to iOS 12’s four updates before the end of 2018). The record pace, plus the mysterious removal of features that were originally announced at WWDC ‘19, suggested something had gone awry in the late stages of iOS 13’s development; it wasn’t long before a report covered Apple’s plans to overhaul its software testing methodology for iOS 14 and 2020. The pandemic may have forced Apple to scale back some functionalities and deeper design changes this year, but it’s likely that a decision had been made long before lockdowns and work-from-home orders.

Second, context is necessary because despite the pandemic and rocky rollout of iOS 13 and its many updates, Apple was still able to infuse iOS and iPadOS 14 with fresh, bold ideas that are tracing a path for both platforms to follow over the next few years.

On the surface, iOS 14 will be widely regarded as the update that brought a redesigned Home Screen and a plethora of useful quality-of-life additions to the iPhone. For the first time since the iPhone’s inception, Apple is moving past the grid of icons and letting users freely place data-rich, customizable widgets on the Home Screen – a major course correction that has opened the floodgates for new categories of utilities on the App Store. In addition to the upgraded Home Screen, iOS 14 also offers welcome improvements to long-standing limitations: phone calls can now come in as unobtrusive banners; Messages borrows some of WhatsApp’s best features and now lets you reply to specific messages as well as mention users; Siri doesn’t take over the entire screen anymore. There are hundreds of smaller additions to the system and built-in apps in iOS 14, which suggests Apple spent a long time trying to understand what wasn’t working and what customers were requesting.

iOS and iPadOS 14 aren’t just reactionary updates to criticisms and feature requests though: upon further examination, both OSes reveal underlying threads that will shape the evolution of Apple’s platforms. With compact UI, the company is revisiting a principle introduced in iOS 7 – clarity and content first – with fresh eyes: the UI is receding and becoming more glanceable, but the elements that are left are as inviting to the touch as ever – quite the departure from Jony Ive’s overly minimalistic, typography-based approach. We see this trend everywhere in iOS 14, from phone calls and Siri to widgets, new toolbar menus, and Picture in Picture. Intents, the existing technology behind SiriKit, Shortcuts, and intelligent Siri suggestions, is also at the center of widget personalization. Intents already was one of Apple’s most important frameworks given its ties to Siri and on-device intelligence; iOS 14 proves we haven’t seen all the possible permutations and applications of Intents yet.

Then, of course, there’s iPad. In iPadOS 14, we see the logical continuation of pointer and trackpad support introduced earlier this year in iPadOS 13.4: now that users can control an iPad without ever touching the screen, Apple is advising third-party developers to move away from iPhone-inspired designs with apps that are truly made for iPad…and somewhat reminiscent of their macOS counterparts. We can see the results of this initiative in modernized system apps that take advantage of the iPad’s display with a sidebar, multiple columns, and deeper trackpad integration – new options that every iPad app developer could (and, according to Apple, should) consider going forward. Although some of the iPad’s oft-mentioned ongoing struggles remain unaddressed in iPadOS 14 (see: multitasking and window management), Apple is embracing the iPad’s nature as a modular computer this year, and they feel comfortable leaning into lessons learned with the Mac decades ago.

The context of 2020 is what makes iOS and iPadOS 14 so fascinating and, to a certain extent, fun to review. On one hand, we have two major OS updates that may or may not have been impacted by the global pandemic in their focus on fewer groundbreaking additions and more consistent improvements across built-in apps; on the other, just like any other year, we have a suite of overarching themes and potential implications to dissect.

But for all those users still pausing over that ‘Install’ button, pondering whether updating their most important communication and work-from-home devices is worth it, there’s only one consideration that matters:

Will this go any better than last year?

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    Introducing WallCreator: A Shortcut to Create iPhone and iPad Wallpapers with Solid Colors and Gradients

    WallCreator for iOS 14.

    WallCreator for iOS 14.

    Two years ago in our MacStories Weekly newsletter for Club MacStories members, I shared a shortcut that enabled creating wallpapers for iPhone and iPad featuring solid colors or gradients of your choice. Given the newfound popularity of the Shortcuts app and the amazing custom Home screens people are putting together with widgets in iOS 14, I thought I’d play my part and revisit the shortcut by simplifying it and adding new features. The shortcut is now called WallCreator and you can download it for free (alongside 220 other shortcuts) from the MacStories Shortcuts Archive.

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    Two Weeks with iPadOS 14: Redefining the Modern iPad Experience

    My iPadOS 14 Home Screen.

    My iPadOS 14 Home Screen.

    For the past two weeks, I’ve been using the developer beta of iPadOS 14 on my 2018 12.9” iPad Pro – my main computer and production machine. Although I feel like it’s too early for me to offer a definitive assessment of iPadOS 14, I figured it’d be interesting to share some initial thoughts on the evolution of the iPad platform now that iPadOS 14 is available as a public beta as well. These are just some of the key takeaways and “core themes” I’ve been mulling over since WWDC; I plan to dig deeper into every aspect of iPadOS 14 in my annual iOS and iPadOS review in the fall.

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    How I Use Custom Perspectives in OmniFocus

    My custom perspective setup.

    My custom perspective setup.

    A few weeks ago, we released the latest product under the MacStories Pixel brand: MacStories Perspective Icons, a set of 20,000 custom perspective icons for OmniFocus Pro. You can find more details on the product page, read the FAQ, and check out my announcement blog post here. The set is available at $17.99 with a launch promo; Club MacStories members can purchase it at an additional 15% off.

    As part of the release of MacStories Perspective Icons (which, by the way, takes advantage of a new feature in OmniFocus 3.8 to install custom icons with a Files picker), I wanted to write about my perspective setup in OmniFocus and explain why custom perspectives have become an integral component of my task management workflow.

    Let me clarify upfront, however, that this article isn’t meant to be a primer on custom perspectives in OmniFocus. If you’re not familiar with this functionality, I recommend checking out this excellent guide over at Learn OmniFocus; alternatively, you can read The Omni Group’s official perspective documentation here. You can also find other solid examples of OmniFocus users’ custom setups around the web such as these two, which helped me better understand the power and flexibility of perspectives in OmniFocus when I was new to the app. In this story, I’m going to focus on how I’ve been using perspectives to put together a custom sidebar in OmniFocus that helps me navigate my busy life and make sense of it all.

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    Tot’s New Share Extension

    Craig Hockenberry, writing on The Iconfactory blog:

    We’re happy to announce a new version of Tot with some features frequently requested by the app’s legion of fans.

    The main focus of today’s release are system extensions that allow Tot to co-exist with other apps. To this end, we’ve added a Sharing extension for both iOS and macOS. Additionally, there’s also a widget for iOS that lets you quickly access any of Tot’s dots. Like everything else in Tot, attention was paid to minimizing friction, allowing information to be collected as quickly as possible.

    Tot’s new share extension is, quite possibly, the best one I’ve ever tried for a plain text note-taking app. In an intuitive, compact UI, the extension offers everything I need: I can pick one of Tot’s seven dots; I can choose to append or prepend text to a dot; the extension even lets me pick the number of line breaks I want to put between a dot’s existing content and the new text I’m inserting into a note. And here’s the best part: the upper section of the share extension’s popup has a full, scrollable preview of the selected dot, so I can see what the entire note will look like before appending or prepending text. Tot is the first note-taking app I’ve used that gets this aspect of sharing text/links to an extension right.

    Tot's new share extension

    Tot’s new share extension

    It may be considered a small enhancement to the app, but Tot’s new extension shows how much consideration went into designing an experience that is both powerful and willing to get out of the way as quickly as possible. I wish more note-taking apps offered a share extension similar to The Iconfactory’s app, which, months after its original release, I still use as my go-to scratchpad every day.

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