Last month, after a long beta period I’ve participated in for the past few months, the official Obsidian app for iPhone and iPad launched on the App Store. I’ve covered Obsidian and my approach to writing my annual iOS review in it on both AppStories and Connected; because I’m busy with that massive project and an upcoming major relaunch of the Club (hint hint), I don’t have time right now to work on a proper standalone, in-depth review of Obsidian for MacStories. So, given my time constraints, I thought it’d be fun to do a multi-part series for Club members on how I’ve set up and have been using Obsidian as my Markdown text editor and note-taking app of choice.
For the past three weeks, I’ve been running the developer beta of iOS and iPadOS 15 on my iPhone 12 Pro Max and M1 iPad Pro, respectively. Common wisdom says you’re not supposed to install early developer builds of iOS and iPadOS on your primary devices; I have to ignore that since work on my annual iOS and iPadOS reviews starts as soon as the WWDC keynote wraps up, which means I have to get my hands on the latest version of the iPhone and iPad operating systems as quickly as possible. As I explained on AppStories, putting together these reviews is some of the most challenging work I do all year, but it’s rewarding, I have fun with it, and it gives me a chance to optimize my writing setup on an annual basis.
The result of jumping on the beta bandwagon early is also that, at this point, having used iOS and iPadOS 15 daily for over three weeks, I have a pretty good sense of what’s going to be popular among regular users, which features power users are going to appreciate, and what aspects of the OSes still need some fine-tuning and tweaks from Apple. And with both iOS and iPadOS 15 graduating to public beta today1, I have some initial impressions and considerations to share. You could also see this story as advance work for this fall’s proper review, and you wouldn’t be mistaken: in this article, I’m going to focus on areas of iOS and iPadOS 15 that I’ll also cover more in depth later this year.
Let me cut to the chase: I don’t think iOS and iPadOS 15 are massive updates like iOS and iPadOS 13 or 14 were. There are dozens of interesting new features in both updates, but none of them feels “obvious” to demonstrate to average users like, say, dark mode and iPad multiwindow in iOS and iPadOS 13 or Home Screen widgets in last year’s iOS 14. And, for the most part, I think that’s fine. The wheel doesn’t have to be reinvented every year, and the pandemic happened for everyone – Apple engineers included.
In many ways, iOS and iPadOS 15 remind me of iOS 10 and 12: they’re updates that build upon the foundation set by their predecessors, bringing welcome consumer additions that, while not earth-shattering, contribute to making iOS more mature, intelligent, and deeply integrated with Apple’s ecosystem.
If you’re installing the iOS 15 public beta today and want to show it off to your friends, know this: Live Text in the Camera and custom Focus modes make for the best demos, followed by the new Weather app and rethought multitasking controls on iPad. SharePlay is neat but can feel already dated now that more countries are rolling out vaccinations and returning to a semi-regular social life; the new Safari needs more work; Mail is surprisingly unchanged despite the rise of remote work in the past year. That’s how I would describe iOS and iPadOS 15 in two sentences as of the first public beta released today.
Of course, however, I want to share a bit more about iOS and iPadOS 15 while I’m busy working on my annual review. So for this preview story, I’ve picked three areas of iOS and iPadOS 15 I’ve spent the most time testing and tinkering with over the past few weeks. This year, I’m including a ‘What I’d Like to See Improved’ sub-section for each of the areas I’m covering in this story. I thought it’d be fun to summarize my current criticisms and suggestions for each feature, and it should be interesting to revisit these in the fall when iOS and iPadOS 15 are released.
Let’s dive in.
Sami Fathi, writing for MacRumors on an API change spotted in the second developer beta of iOS 15:
Currently, apps are limited to the amount of RAM they can use, regardless of the amount available on the device. For example, despite the highest-end M1 iPad Pro featuring 16GB of RAM, on iPadOS 14, apps are limited to only use 5GB. 16GB of RAM is the highest amount of RAM ever offered in an iPhone or iPad, and the 5GB limitation means that apps aren’t able to utilize even half of what the iPad Pro has to offer.
In the second betas of iOS and iPadOS 15, released to developers yesterday, Apple is introducing a new entitlement that developers may request that will expose their apps to more memory. Apple says that this entitlement will inform the system that an app “may perform better by exceeding the default app memory limit.” Apple’s developer documentation doesn’t specify how much extra RAM an app may be exposed to and also says this is limited to “supported devices.”
I’ve rarely found myself in a scenario where my iPad Pro needed more than 5 GB of RAM, but I’m also not a professional user of apps such as video or graphic editors that may take advantage of more RAM. This is an entitlement that Apple will need to grant developers who request it, and I’m curious to see how many apps will receive it later this year (or if this option will convince more developers of pro apps to finally bring them to iPad). I find it fascinating – but not surprising at all – that Apple is introducing this possibility while they’re pushing adoption of multiwindow and modern multitasking in iPadOS 15.
In iPadOS 14, if you hold down the Command key, you can see a list of app-specific features and their key equivalents. It’s like a quick-reference card for keyboard shortcuts. In iPadOS 15, it’s been expanded to become more like the iPad equivalent of the Mac menu bar—not only does it list keyboard shortcuts, but it can list every command in the app, and you can click any of them to execute them. iPad apps that build out the Mac menu bar for their Catalyst version can pick this feature up for free. It’s another way that the Mac and iPad are trading features and complementing one another.
Then there’s the Globe key. Hold it down in any app in iPadOS 15, and you’ll see a different set of commands, all of which can be applied globally. (Get it?) These menus are full of shortcuts to switch to the home screen (Globe-H), open a Quick Note (Globe-Q), activate Control Center (Globe-C), and pretty much any other system-level area.
I particularly like Snell’s suggestion regarding these new global keyboard shortcuts and the Shortcuts app in the future. As I explained on Connected this week, I’ve been using iPadOS 15 since the first beta came out at WWDC, and I’m still learning all kinds of new keyboard shortcuts that are now supported by the system. Impressively, the new Globe modifier has been associated with all sorts of system functions, including Siri and Control Center.
If you use a third-party hardware keyboard that doesn’t have a Globe key, you can always remap another one in Settings ⇾ General ⇾ Keyboard ⇾ Hardware Keyboard ⇾ Modifier Keys. And while the keyboard shortcuts menu can be dismissed by holding the Globe key (or ⌘, for app-specific commands) again or clicking outside of it, you can also press the ⌘. shortcut (which is the equivalent of an Escape button on iPadOS) to instantly close it. Lastly, you can start typing while the menu is shown to quickly filter commands by name.
Earlier today, Apple officially opened their new flagship retail store in Rome, Italy. Located on the popular Via del Corso street in the city’s historical center, the new store – which we previously covered here – is located in the historic Palazzo Marignoli, a 19th century building that has been renovated by Apple and painstakingly restored to its former glory.
I, along with our designer and photographer Silvia Gatta, was able to visit the Via del Corso store yesterday ahead of its grand opening to the public. Coincidentally, the occasion also marked the first time Silvia and I were able to visit the center of Rome free of red-zone restrictions since October 2019, when we took an amazing tour of Rome to demonstrate the iPhone 11’s camera capabilities before the pandemic hit our country in early 2020.
Besides the underlying sense of euphoria for seeing the Spanish Steps again and being around tourists for the first time in nearly 18 months, we came away impressed with what Apple has accomplished with its new Rome retail store. The Via del Corso store is an outstanding exercise in blending Rome’s rich architectural history with the modern reality of Apple’s computers and wearable devices – a challenge that the company didn’t take upon lightly, and which has, in fact, shaped the overall identity of the Via del Corso store.
Let’s take a look.
In recent years, the narrative surrounding the iPad platform, and particularly its more advanced Pro line, has largely focused on the great divide between the iPad’s hardware and software. It’s a story we’ve had to grapple with for a while now: it was clear with the original iPad Pro in 2015 that its software – still called iOS at the time – needed to take better advantage of the 12.9” display, but we had to wait until 2017’s iOS 11 to receive drag and drop between apps; similarly, the iPad Pro was redesigned in late 2018 with the Liquid Retina Display and a gesture-based interaction system, but it was only in 2019 that Apple relaunched the iPad’s software as a standalone platform parallel to iOS but optimized for iPad.
The perception since the iPad Pro’s introduction is that its hardware has consistently leapfrogged its software, leaving many to wonder about the untapped potential of iPadOS and a third-party app ecosystem that could have been vastly richer and more powerful if only iPadOS allowed developers to write more complex apps. Effectively, “too good for its software” has long been the iPad Pro’s hardware mantra.
The 2021 iPad Pro, launching publicly this Friday, doesn’t alter that public perception at all. If anything, this new iPad Pro, which I’ve been testing in the high-end 12.9” flavor with 2 TB of storage for the past week, only widens the chasm between its hardware and software: it’s an absolute marvel of engineering featuring the Apple-designed M1 chip, a brand new Liquid Retina XDR display, and 16 GB of RAM1 that hints at a powerful, exciting future for its software that just isn’t here yet.
I say this as someone who’s been using the iPad as his main computer for nearly a decade at this point: from a mere hardware standpoint, the new iPad Pro is everything I could have possibly dreamed of this year, but it leaves me wanting for so many other iPadOS features I’d love to see Apple address at its developer conference next month.
The new 12.9” iPad Pro hits all the right notes as a modular computer that can be a tablet with an amazing display, a powerful laptop, and an extensible workstation; its hardware is a remarkable blend of tablet-first features and technologies first seen on Apple’s line of desktop computers. It’s hard to believe the company was able to deliver all of it in a device that is only 6.4mm thin. However, the new iPad Pro’s more powerful nature doesn’t fundamentally change my daily workflow. At least not with its current version of iPadOS that will (likely) be obsolete in two weeks.
Let’s dive in.
Chaim Gartenberg, writing for The Verge, on one of Shortcuts’ most annoying limitations in iOS 14 – its obsession for showing notifications for anything it does:
Apple, I assume, mandates notifications because Shortcuts are extremely powerful tools for automating things on your iPhone, and it’s easy to imagine unscrupulous use of them.
But the thing is, the power of Shortcuts is to automate things in the background that I don’t want to have to deal with, whether that’s automatically disabling rotation lock when I open or close an app, open an app with a custom icon, or change the wallpaper when the battery life is low. A big glaring notification every time I do something detracts from that idea. I want my phone to be quietly helpful, not shouting in my face every time it does what I asked it to.
Years ago in my review of iOS and iPadOS 13, I argued in favor of adding an “expert mode” to Shortcuts so power users could turn off confirmation prompts for automations (which Apple removed the following year) and other notifications. Two years later, I think this goes well beyond expert users.
Since the release of iOS 14, millions of people have turned to Shortcuts as a way to customize app icons on their Home Screens. And every time they tap one of those custom icons, they have to see an alert that tells them the action they just performed was, in fact, performed. Imagine if your Mac showed you an alert every time you opened an app saying ‘You opened an app’. That’s pretty much what Shortcuts does whenever you run an automation or a shortcut added to the Home Screen.
Given the popularity of custom icons powered by Shortcuts in iOS 14 and the universal disdain for its notifications, I would be very surprised if there’s no way to turn these off in iOS 15.
As announced by Spotify earlier today, the company is rolling out a redesigned ‘Your Library’ page in its iOS and Android apps that should make it easier to browse your music collection and podcast episodes with a new grid view, better filters and sorting options, and more. From the Spotify Newsroom:
Your collection of music and podcasts is a representation of you—and it’s something deeply personal. But with 5,000+ hours of content released globally every day on Spotify and hundreds of those saved in Your Library, we know it’s crucial to be able to quickly find what you’re looking for, jump back into your latest discovery, or rediscover a beloved track you saved years ago.
Starting today, we are rolling out a new version of Your Library to all Spotify mobile users. Now, you’ll have a more streamlined way to easily explore your collection and find your saved music and podcasts faster. Your Library’s updated design and added features will enable you to spend less time looking for content and organizing your collection, and more time rediscovering the music and podcasts you’ve loved over the years. And as always, keep adding even more content for a library that grows alongside you into the future.
I’m particularly intrigued by grid view and the new filters to switch between music and podcasts. I’m also curious to see if this new design applies to the iPad app (which continues to pale in comparison to Apple Music’s solid iPad client) or not.