Federico Viticci

8705 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.


Health Importer Makes It Easy to Move Health Data Between iPhones

I'm in a minority, but when I get a new iPhone every year, I like to start fresh without reinstalling from a backup. I talked about this before, but, essentially, with the vast majority of my favorite apps storing data in the cloud, starting with a clean installation of iOS is mostly a matter of redownloading and rearranging apps now. In the process, a fresh install of iOS allows me to re-evaluate which apps I actually use and which ones can go – something that helps me keep my devices lean and with plenty of storage available.1

There's one aspect that bothers me every time I decide to install iOS without a backup, though: losing my Health data. In previous years, I was okay with backing up subsets of information to external web services such as Lifesum or the excellent Gyroscope: over time, however, the inability to look at my complete health history in Apple's Health app has become a problem that made me reconsider my stance on not restoring from a backup every year.

Fortunately, Dan Loewenherz has come up with a solution that will allow me to continue my no-restore strategy for the foreseeable future. Loewenherz created Health Importer, a simple $2.99 utility that does exactly what you'd expect: the app restores a backup of the Health database, keeping old entries with every data point logged from your iPhone, Apple Watch, or third-party apps.

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Todoist Launches Native Amazon Echo Integration

Since moving back to Todoist, I've been looking for a way to easily add tasks using the Amazon Echo, which has become a staple in our household for a variety of voice commands. Today, the Todoist team has rolled out a native Amazon Echo integration that lets you create tasks and manage your todo list just by talking to Alexa.

Nathan Ingraham, writing for Engadget:

It works much like you'd expect: you can ask Alexa to add items to the various lists that you have in your Todoist account, and you can also ask it to tell you everything that's on your to-do list for that day. And Alexa works with Todoist's natural language processing, so you can ask it to add things to your list "tomorrow" or "next Wednesday" and it'll know just what you're asking it for. It's not clear if you'll be able to tell Alexa to add items to specific projects or to-do lists in your account -- they probably get added to whatever your default list is for you to sort out on your phone or computer.

The Todoist blog has more details on how the integration works:

Over the past months, we’ve worked closely with Amazon as part of a limited participation beta of their Alexa integration platform, and we’re thrilled to be able to share the results with you today.


When dictating a task, Todoist’s smart date recognition will automatically recognize and add any due date you say. For example, saying, “Alexa, add pay the rent every first of the month to my to-do list,” will automatically add a recurring task to “Pay the rent” to your Todoist, due on the first day of every month. The task will disappear from your Alexa To-do list until the day your task is due.

Essentially, Todoist can now sync its Inbox list with the Echo's own todo list; the Echo's built-in shopping list also gets recreated inside Todoist as an 'Alexa Shopping List' project. This allows you to say "add task to my todo list" instead of using a specific Todoist terminology. There are some caveats (you can't specify Todoist projects, for instance), but this looks like a solid first step.

I configured Todoist with my Amazon Echo earlier today, and everything was up and running in less than two minutes. The Amazon Echo's excellent voice recognition helps Todoist understand natural language queries for due dates, and I've been positively impressed with the speed and consistency so far. I think I'm going to be using this very often.


Walt Mossberg on Siri’s Failures and Inconsistencies

Walt Mossberg, writing for The Verge, shares some frustrations with using Siri across multiple Apple devices:

In recent weeks, on multiple Apple devices, Siri has been unable to tell me the names of the major party candidates for president and vice president of the United States. Or when they were debating. Or when the Emmy awards show was due to be on. Or the date of the World Series. When I asked it "What is the weather on Crete?" it gave me the weather for Crete, Illinois, a small village which — while I’m sure it’s great — isn’t what most people mean when they ask for the weather _on _Crete, the famous Greek island.

Google Now, on the same Apple devices, using the same voice input, answered every one of these questions clearly and correctly. And that isn’t even Google’s latest digital helper, the new Google Assistant.

It's a little odd that Mossberg didn't mention Siri's new third-party abilities at all, but it's hard to disagree with the overall assessment.

Like Mossberg, I think Siri has gotten pretty good at transcribing my commands (despite my accent) but it still fails often when it comes to doing stuff with transcribed text. Every example mentioned by Mossberg sounds more of less familiar to me (including the egregious presidential debate one).

Five years on, Siri in iOS 10 is much better than its first version, but it still has to improve in key areas such as consistency of results, timeliness of web-based queries (e.g. Grammys, presidential debates, news stories, etc.), and inferred queries (case in point). Despite the improvements and launch of a developer platform, these aspects are so fundamental to a virtual assistant, even the occasional stumble makes Siri, as Mossberg writes, seem dumb.


iPhone 7: Computer from the Future

After nearly two years spent using a 5.5-inch iPhone, I'm accustomed to not having a compact phone anymore. The iPhone 6 Plus and 6s Plus have reshaped my iPhone experience for a simple reason: they give me more of the most important device in my life.

Thus, I was a little skeptical – even surprised – when Apple gave me a gold 256 GB iPhone 7 review unit (with a leather case) two weeks ago. I didn't think I would be able to enjoy a smaller iPhone, but, despite my initial resistance, I set up a fresh install of iOS 10 and used the iPhone 7 exclusively for two weeks.

I'm glad I did. While I'm still pining for a 7 Plus1, using the iPhone 7 showed me that there's more to this year's iPhones than the lack of a headphone jack.

In many ways, the iPhone 7 feels like a portable computer from the future – only in a tangible, practical way that is here with us today.

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Shazam Adds iMessage App

Mitchel Broussard, writing for MacRumors:

Popular music-detecting app Shazam today rolled out an update that adds support for the service within Messages, so users can send new artist and song discoveries directly to friends and family members.
The only user interface option within the Messages app for Shazam is "Touch to Shazam," so whenever a song is playing nearby, allow the app to listen and once it does it'll create a card to send to the current contact. The created message can be tapped on to jump into Shazam, buy the track on iTunes, or listen to it on Apple Music.

This is clever: if you're in iMessage and want to share a song you're listening to, you don't have to go look for the Shazam app. Between iMessage and interactive notifications, I like what Shazam is doing with iOS 10.


Where Will Google Assistant Live?

Google held an event earlier today where they announced a new line of Android phones, a smart speaker called Google Home, a Daydream VR headset, and more. MacRumors has a good recap of all the news.

As an Apple user, what grabbed my attention was the multi-platform nature of Google Assistant, the company's take on Siri powered by advanced AI and third-party service integrations. As explained by Jacob Kastrenakes at The Verge, Google Assistant will be available in three places, with some initial differences:

Google is almost certainly going to combine the different forms of its Assistant eventually so that they're all more-or-less equal in terms of features (save for, you know, stuff like screen search on a speaker). But for now, it’ll be occasionally limiting of what you can do.

And if you’re wondering how Google Now factors into all of this, well, join the club. Google says some of the stuff in Now that makes sense to be in an assistant will migrate over there — but how and when that will happen is anyone’s guess.

These inconsistencies may be part of why Google is keeping Assistant exclusive to just a few of its own products for the time being. It's a core feature of those products, but it's still in early stages, with mixed up features and ways to use it.

Obviously, Google Assistant is never going to be as prominent on iOS as it is on Android and other Google hardware, but I hope Google will update their iOS apps to bring Assistant's features to iPhone and iPad users.

Right now, Assistant can be accessed in a conversational form inside Allo, Google's messaging app that I only keep installed because of its Assistant support. The Google app is limited to Google Now (which I enjoy because of its time to leave and package tracking updates), but I'd expect it to gain Assistant in the future, simulating a Siri-like interface like Microsoft did with Cortana on iOS. Or perhaps Google could launch a full-fledged Assistant app on iOS, bundling text interactions (which Siri doesn't have) and voice activation in a single utility. I'm curious to see how (and when) Google brings more of its Assistant to Apple's devices.