Federico Viticci

8826 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 three podcasts – Connected, Canvas, and Remaster.

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Omni Group Automation

New website dedicated to The Omni Group's upcoming automation features in their apps, created by Sal Soghoian:

By default, all of the macOS versions of the Omni applications offer robust integrated AppleScript and JavaScript (JXA) support for Apple Events scripting on the Mac. These excellent automation tools will continued to be integrated into every macOS version of Omni software.

And in addition, the Omni Group now offers integrated cross-platform JavaScript support for both the iOS and macOS versions of their popular productivity applications. Finally, the power of automation is available regardless of whether you use Omni tools on mobile devices, laptops, or desktops.

As for the technology itself:

OmniJS, the name for Omni’s new version of the JavaScript language, is based on JavaScript Core, the foundation of the JavaScript implementation in WebKit. Using OmniJS, the Omni Group suite of applications will be able to be queried and controlled on both iOS and macOS in ways similar to how they are automated today using the traditional macOS Apple Event-based scripts.

What's most impressive is that The Omni Group is bringing all of these automation features to iOS as well – it's not limited to the Mac. Watch the OmniGraffle videos recorded by Sal to get an idea of the functionality automation will unlock. I'm genuinely excited about all this.

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Canvas, Episode 29: Workflow – Magic Variables

In this episode, Fraser and Federico update the Workflow series for the major new feature that debuted in Workflow 1.7 - Magic Variables.

On the latest episode of Canvas, we decided to release an extra show for our Workflow series all about Magic Variables and why they're a fundamental change to the app. You can listen here.

If you haven't listened to the previous episodes of the Workflow series yet, now's a great time to catch up.

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iPad Diaries: Advanced File Management and Research with DEVONthink

As I wrote in my story on one year of iPad Pro, I consider cloud services a necessity for managing files on iOS. Dropbox and iCloud Drive make it possible to keep the same sets of documents and app libraries synced across devices, but, more importantly, they help overcome iOS' file management woes through centralized storage spaces. In the article, I espoused the flexibility of Documents and its tight integration with Dropbox, noting how Readdle had built the missing iPad file manager with features Apple omitted from their iCloud Drive app.

Since early January, I've been thinking about my larger writing projects scheduled for 2017 and whether Documents can scale as a reference and research tool. Looking back at 2016 and the time I poured into organizing and referencing files for my iOS 10 review draft in Scrivener (which I covered here), I realized that neither Scrivener's built-in file manager nor Documents could meet the basic requirements I have set for this year's review. These include the ability to search different file types with advanced operators as well as a system to reference individual files and folders throughout iOS with local URLs. It was during this meta-research phase1 that I decided to try DEVONthink To Go again.

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Connected, Episode 129: Game of Sorrow

This week, Stephen tries something new, Federico talks about camping, and Myke looks forward to a new television show.

On this week's Connected, we discuss Apple's upcoming Planet of the Apps show and a bunch of other fun topics. You can listen here.

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Remaster, Episode 28: The Current State of Games on the iPad

The gaming scene on iOS is a vibrant place, but what about the iPad specifically? Is the App Store the right market for games on larger screens? Where are all of the tailor made gaming experiences?

On this week's Remaster, we take a serious look at the state of gaming on the iPad, including the future of console-quality games for iOS and developers' relationship with Apple. You can listen here.

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Making More Outside the Mac App Store

After seeing the results of Kapeli's exit from the Mac App Store, Rogue Amoeba's Paul Kafasis compared sales of Piezo from the Mac App Store and their direct web store as well:

After seeing Kapeli’s chart, I was curious about the App Store’s impact on Piezo’s sales. The restrictions and limitations of the Mac App Store ultimately led us to remove Piezo on February 12th, 2016. We’ve now been selling it exclusively via our site for a year. This has provided about as perfect a real-world test case as one could hope for. Piezo’s removal came with minimal publicity, the price has remained constant at $19, and we’ve had no big updates or other major publicity for it in either 2015 or 2016.

His conclusion is perfectly reasonable:

In our case, however, it’s clear that we were serving Apple, rather than Apple serving us. By removing Piezo from the Mac App Store, we stopped paying a commission to Apple for the many customers who had found Rogue Amoeba on their own. Better still, we were able to improve the quality of the product while simplifying our work considerably. Ultimately, that alone was enough to convince us that leaving the Mac App Store was the right move. The subsequent revenue increase we’ve seen is merely a nice bonus.

At this point, I don't understand why any independent developer would want to sell apps exclusively through the Mac App Store. The lack of meaningful improvements since 2011 don't justify Apple's high commission anymore. The Mac App Store has always been a second-class citizen; today, Mac developers like Rogue Amoeba are better served by controlling their own destiny.

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Workflow 1.7 Introduces Magic Variables for Easier, More Powerful Visual Automation

Magic Variables in Workflow 1.7.

Magic Variables in Workflow 1.7.

At its core, Workflow is a visual programming app that deals with variables. Data flows through actions and is altered by the user until it has to be stored in a variable – a local reference that can be recalled in subsequent steps.

Since the app's original release, the Workflow team has done a commendable job at abstracting the complexity behind variable creation and management, but the feature itself is a vestige of traditional programming languages. The manually-saved variable is fundamentally ill-suited for Workflow's visual approach predicated on direct manipulation of actions. Workflow revolutionized several automation concepts, yet it was always anchored in the common practice of declaring variables between actions.

For the past year, I've been lamenting the sluggishness involved with setting variables and extracting additional details from them. Anyone who's ever created complex workflows has likely come across the same problem:

  • There's a "master variable" that contains rich metadata (such as an iTunes song or an App Store app);
  • You want to extract details from the master variable – e.g. an app's name, icon, or price;
  • Each of the variable's sub-items has to be extracted by repeating a combination of 'Get Variable-Get Details of Variable-Set Variable' over and over.

Not only did this limitation make workflows slower to create – it also made variables difficult to explain and workflows harder to read for people who aren't proficient in iOS automation.

As someone who writes about iOS workflows on a weekly basis, I've been thinking about this issue for a while. Every time I had to explain the inner workings and shortcomings of variables, I kept going back to the same idea: Workflow needed to get rid of its clunky variable management altogether.

Here's what I proposed when Workflow 1.5 launched in May 2016:

"Instant Variables" to get details of a macro variable without doing the Get Variable-Get Details-Set Variable dance every time. You could save a lot of time if instead of fetching details of a variable multiple times you could use a single master variable and only specify where necessary which sub-details to use;

With today's 1.7 update, the Workflow team isn't introducing Instant Variables. Instead, they've rebuilt the engine behind variables on a new system called Magic Variables, which completely reimagines how you can create workflows and connect actions for even more powerful automations.

More than a mere tweak for power users, Magic Variables are the next step in Workflow's goal to enable everyone to automate their iOS devices. By making workflows easier to create and read, Magic Variables are the app's most important transformation to date, and the result far exceeds my expectations.

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Stagehand Review: Living Platforms

One of my first memories of a portable platform game takes place in the summer of 1996 and it involves Super Mario Land 2 for the original Game Boy. I was 8, and until that point, my only console experience had been with a Super Nintendo my parents bought me for Christmas. I could play with it a few hours each week, which didn't satiate my infinite curiosity for videogames. When I saw Super Mario Land 2 on a friend's Game Boy, I was taken aback by two distinct aspects: the contagious fun of a platformer (my only SNES game was Stunt Race FX – don't ask) and its ubiquitous availability – provided you had enough daylight and 4 AA batteries.

Later that year, I convinced my mom to buy me a Game Boy. A couple of years later, I got a Game Boy Color. For the past 20 years, portable consoles and Nintendo's Mario games have shaped my taste in videogames and defined my moments of quiet downtime. From Super Mario Advance 1 and 3 (both remakes of games I had never played) to New Super Mario Bros and, to an extent, the recent Super Mario Run for iOS, all my favorite 2D platform games agreed on a basic idea: you control a surprisingly athletic plumber who runs and jumps from left to right.

Conversely, Stagehand, the latest creation by Big Bucket (makers of The Incident and Space Age), upends decades of platformer conventions by turning the genre on its head. You don't maneuver a character with meticulously timed jumps across retro-styled stages filled with floating platforms and spikes; rather, you sloppily modify the stage itself with touch, dragging platforms to accomodate the hero's run and making sure he doesn't run headfirst into cliffs, fall into pits, or get eaten by the inexorable advance of the left side of the stage.

Stagehand is an endless runner combined with a dynamic platform game, only you don't control the character – you facilitate his run by reshaping the stage around him.

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Connected, Episode 128: Better Pizza and Better Pasta

Myke has caused a chain-reaction of purchases, Stephen talks about the PowerPC transition and Federico tries some apps.

On this week's Connected, Myke makes some great points about the iPad's sales compared to the Mac, and I explain why I've been using Twitterrific and Apple News. You can listen here.

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