Federico Viticci

9456 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.

Mastodon: @viticci@macstories.net

| Instagram: @viticci |

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‘Command-K Bars’ as a Modern Interface Pattern

Maggie Appleton (via Michael Tsai) has written about one of the UI trends I’ve seen pop up more and more lately, and which we mentioned on AppStories several times over the past year: the so-called ‘Command-K’ bars inside apps.

Command bars are command-line bars that pop up in the middle of the screen when you hit a certain keyboard shortcut.They’re also known as ‘command palettes’, ‘command launchers’, or ‘omniboxes’ Traditionally CMD + K, hence the moniker “Command K bars.” But CMD + E and CMD + / have also been strong shortcut contenders.

[…]

They don’t even have to remember its exact name. Fuzzy search can help them find it by simply typing in similar names or related keywords. For example, if I type “make” into a command bar, it’s likely to show me any actions related to creating new items. Even if “make” isn’t part of the action name.

[…]

These bars also do double duty as universal search bars. You’re not only searching through the available actions in an app. You can also search through content like documents, file names, and tasks.

You’ve probably seen these command bars in apps like Obsidian, Craft, Todoist, Arc, Cron, Notion, and lots of others. (On Apple platforms, Things did something similar all the way back in 2018 with a feature called ‘Type Travel’.) It feels like every modern productivity app – especially on desktop – has its own flavor of this interface element nowadays. In a way, this visual trend reminds me of pull-to-refresh before it was standardized by Apple and became a native iOS UI component.

I’m intrigued by Command-K bars as a feature that speeds up keyboard-driven interactions on iPad and Mac while at the same time serving as a search box for an app’s own commands. Think of the typical Command-K bar as a mix of Spotlight, the macOS menu bar, and iPadOS’ keyboard shortcut menu, but as an element that can be invoked from anywhere in an app and dismissed with just a keystroke. As the examples in Maggie’s article show, Command-K bars can be genuinely useful to surface hidden commands and allow power users to save time when using complex apps.

There are plenty of cases where Apple’s apps could benefit from this kind of in-app search makeover. Here’s Notes, for instance, when you activate the ‘Note List Search’ command:

Search inside Notes.

Search inside Notes.

And here’s the rather complex list of keyboard shortcuts supported by Safari:

Keyboard shortcuts in Safari for iPad.

Keyboard shortcuts in Safari for iPad.

I said this on AppStories and I’ll say it again: I think Apple should consider an in-app version of Spotlight that replicates the functionality of Command-K bars and is optimized for keyboard usage on iPadOS and macOS. Modern productivity software is clearly moving in this direction on desktop and the web; I’d like to see Apple apps offer faster keyboard navigation and command discoverability too.

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Apple Frames 3.0: Completely Rewritten, Support for iPhone 14 Pro and Dynamic Island, New Devices, Multiple Display Resolutions, and More

Apple Frames 3.0.

Apple Frames 3.0.

Today, I’m pleased to announce the release of version 3.0 of Apple Frames, my shortcut to put screenshots taken on various Apple devices inside physical frames for iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple Watch.

Apple Frames 3.0 is a major update that involved a complete re-architecture of the shortcut to improve its performance and reliability on all Apple platforms. For Apple Frames 3.0, I entirely rebuilt its underlying file structure to move away from base64 and embrace Files/Finder to store assets. As a result, Apple Frames 3.0 is faster, easier to debug, and – hopefully – easier to maintain going forward.

But Apple Frames 3.0 goes beyond a new technical foundation. This update to the shortcut introduces full compatibility with the iPhone 14 Pro and 14 Pro Max with Dynamic Island, Apple Watch Ultra, and the M2 MacBook Air. And that’s not all: Apple Frames 3.0 also brings full support for resolution scaling on all iPad models that offer the ‘More Space’ display mode in iPadOS 16. And in the process, I also added support for ‘Default’ and ‘More Space’ options on the Apple Silicon-based MacBook Airs, MacBook Pros, and iMac. All of this, as always, in a native shortcut designed for high performance that uses Apple’s official device images and requires no manual configuration whatsoever.

Apple Frames 3.0 is the biggest, most versatile version of Apple Frames to date, and I’m proud of the results. Let’s dive in.

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Stage Manager in iPadOS 16: At the Intersection of Bugs, Missing Features, and Flawed Design

Stage Manager in iPadOS 16.1.

Stage Manager in iPadOS 16.1.

This article wasn’t supposed to go like this.

iPadOS 16 is launching to the public today, and it carries a lot of expectations on its shoulders: for the first time since the introduction of the original iPad in 2010, Apple is embracing a Mac-like windowing system that lets you use up to four windows at the same time on the iPad’s screen. You can even resize them and make them overlap. If you’ve been following the evolution of the iPad for a while, you know that’s very unusual.

But the reason this story was meant to be different isn’t to be found in Apple’s design philosophy for iPadOS 16. Typically, MacStories readers would expect a full-blown ‘The MacStories Review’ to go alongside a new version of iPadOS. That’s what I’ve been doing for over seven years at this point, and I don’t like breaking my writing patterns. When something works, I want to keep writing. That’s precisely why I had to stop writing about iPadOS earlier in the summer and until last week.

Stage Manager, the marquee addition to iPadOS that lets you multitask with floating windows, started crashing on my M1 iPad Pro in mid-July and it was only fixed in early October. When I say “crashing”, I mean I couldn’t go for longer than 10 minutes without iPadOS kicking me back to my Lock Screen and resetting my workspaces. And that was only the tip of the iceberg. For nearly two months, I couldn’t type with Apple’s Magic Keyboard or use keyboard shortcuts when Stage Manager was active. Before it was pulled by Apple and delayed to a future release, external display support in Stage Manager was impossible to rely on for production work. The list goes on and on and on.

Normally, I would use the introduction of my iOS and iPadOS reviews to tell you how I’ve been living and working with the new operating system every day for the past three months. I’ve always tried to publish annual OS reviews that are informed by practical, consistent usage of a new operating system which, I hope, has led to highly opinionated, well-researched stories that can stand the test of time. That kind of story hasn’t been possible for me to produce with iPadOS 16 yet.

Effectively, I’ve only been able to sort-of use iPadOS 16 with Stage Manager on my M1 iPad Pro again for the past two weeks. Before that, it’s not that I didn’t want to use iPadOS 16 and Stage Manager because I hate progress; I literally couldn’t unless I was okay with my iPad crashing every 10 minutes. So, at some point over the summer, I made the call to revert to Split View and Slide Over – which are still the iPad’s default multitasking mode in iPadOS 16 – and I’d check back in on Stage Manager on each beta of iPadOS 16. It was only around two weeks ago that, despite some lingering bugs I’ll cover later, I was able to finally leave Stage Manager enabled and go back to where I was when I published my iPadOS 16 first impressions article in July.

Think about my position this way: there’s a hole from early August to early October in my typical “reviewer summer” during which I couldn’t use the biggest addition to iPadOS 16 at all. The fact that Apple delayed, slimmed down, and kept iterating on Stage Manager until the very last minute seems to suggest I wasn’t the only one desperately trying to make it work.

I started using iPadOS 16 and Stage Manager again two weeks ago; what kind of “review” should this be?

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The New iPad and iPad Pro Review: Mixed Signals

The new iPad Pro and iPad.

The new iPad Pro and iPad.

Last week on Thursday, I received review units of the new 10th generation iPad and 6th generation iPad Pro. I’ve spent the past few days testing and getting work done with both of them – including finishing a big story about Stage Manager I’m going to publish in a few hours on MacStories.

These are relatively easy iPads to review with a fairly straightforward narrative around them. The new iPad Pro is an iterative update that shows us Apple has seemingly hit a plateau in terms of innovation with this particular design – save for one feature that truly surprised me. The new base model iPad is a massive update compared to its predecessor, adding an all-new, iPad Pro-inspired design and a brand new accessory – the Magic Keyboard Folio – that has turned out to be one of my favorite accessories Apple has launched in recent years. I’ve had a ton of fun playing around and working with the new iPad over the weekend; if you’re in the market for an 11” tablet, you shouldn’t sleep on this one.

When considered individually, these new iPads are solid options in their respective categories – each delivering on the different goals Apple set out to accomplish for these product lines in 2022.

It’s when you zoom out and take a broader look at the new state of the iPad lineup that things become…a bit more confusing.

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Creating Lock Screen Widgets for Specific Notes via the Apple Notes URL Scheme

All I wanted was a widget.

All I wanted was a widget.

A few days ago, as I was playing around with my Lock Screen on iOS 16, I wondered: would it be possible to use the hidden Apple Notes URL scheme to create widget launchers to reopen specific notes in the Notes app?

That led me down a fascinating rabbit hole filled with hidden Shortcuts tricks and discoveries I thought would be useful to document on MacStories for everyone to see.

You know, for posterity.

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iOS 16: All the Things I Didn’t Like

Earlier this week, I published my review of iOS 16. As you may have seen, throughout the eight chapters of the story, I pointed out some of the flaws of iOS 16 and aspects I didn’t particularly like. That gave me an idea.

First, however, allow me to thank to everyone who read, enjoyed, and recommended the review. I’m glad the story resonated with MacStories readers. I take my responsibility to work on these annual reviews very seriously, and I’m excited about having found a format that lets me review a sprawling operating system such as iOS in a review that’s still approachable and fun to write.

Anyway: as I was writing the review, I realized that I had several complaints about things I didn’t like in iOS 16 (shocker, I know). So I had an idea: I asked Finn Voorhees1 to work on an update to my Obsidian plugin that lets me compile chapters of the review into a single Markdown file. This update, which will be released for Club MacStories+ and Premier members this Saturday, enabled me to mark specific passages of the review as “complaints” and extract them all at once. You will be able to use this new plugin option however you want: it’s going to work for any kind of text you want to highlight from a long-form story in Obsidian.

That being said, I compiled all my iOS 16-related complaints, organized them into sections, and you can find them below.

Here are all the things I didn’t like in iOS 16, which I hope Apple will fix in the future.

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iOS 16: The MacStories Review

Customization is back, and Apple’s having fun again.

When is the last time your iPhone truly surprised you?

The answer to this question is a fascinating Rorschach test that can say a lot about a person’s relationship with Apple’s mobile platform. Some might say it was over a decade ago, when they feasted their eyes upon the Retina display for the first time in 2010. Some might say it happened when the iPhones got bigger – and sales skyrocketed – with the iPhone 6 lineup in 2014. Others might argue that it happened with Face ID on the iPhone X, or the first time they tried Portrait or Night mode, or perhaps when they first took an ultra-wide shot.

My point is: if you ask someone about the last time an iPhone truly surprised them, chances are they’ll reply with a hardware feature. That’s not a shocker: Apple prides itself upon the tight integration they’ve been able to achieve between the iPhone’s hardware and iOS; they’ve successfully managed to turn their design philosophy into a selling point of their entire ecosystem.

People buy iPhones because they know they’re going to work well for a long time, and, usually, because the model they’re getting has a cool new gimmick they want to try. For this reason, it’s not absurd to postulate that, by and large, the iPhone’s software serves to enable hardware sales and subscriptions. I do not mean this pejoratively: I like Apple’s approach, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing annual reviews about their operating systems. But I also recognize that on the iPhone (the situation is the exact opposite on iPad) the software now largely takes the backseat compared to hardware and services.

Which is why whenever the iPhone’s software truly surprises me, I get excited.

Software-related surprises are more rarefied on iOS these days, but the kind of people who are reading this story can point to a few examples in our recent history. Apple buying Workflow, turning it into a system app, and outright claiming that Shortcuts is the future of automation was a surprise. The extent to which Apple integrated dark mode in iOS 13 was a surprise.1 The arrival of two iPad features – Picture in Picture and inter-app drag and drop – on iPhone felt like a surprise. But, of course, no modern feature comes close to the surprise that we all witnessed with iOS 14 two years ago: a renewed focus on user personalization with custom Home Screen widgets and the ability to create multiple Home Screens.2

That’s why, following last year’s welcome (if perhaps a tad uninspired) quality-of-life update that was iOS 15, I’m excited about a new version of iOS again.

iOS 16, launching today for a variety of iPhone models dating back to the iPhone 8, marks Apple’s triumphant return to user personalization, with a twist: while in 2020 customization might have felt like a happy consequence of Apple’s engineering, this time the company has intentionally marketed iOS 16 as an update that will make an iPhone feel truly your own. As we explored in June and July, the first thing you see on your iPhone – the Lock Screen – is fundamentally changing in iOS 16. With the ability to create multiple Lock Screens, choose from a diverse collection of wallpaper sets, and customize each one with widgets, you’ll now have endless possibilities for the screen you always see when you pick up your iPhone.

Sure, there’s an argument to be made for Lock Screen widgets also being developed in service of new hardware, but I don’t think that takes away from the breadth of this feature and how Apple created a whole narrative around wallpapers, widgets, photos, and Focus modes this year. As you’ll see, the customizable Lock Screen will be the main character of this review: I’ve had a lot of fun exploring different permutations of my Lock Screen this summer, and I’ve been able to test dozens of widgets from third-party developers, which I’ll also showcase in this story.

In keeping with my theory that modern iOS updates always need to have a little bit of something for everyone, there’s a ton of other (some bigger, some smaller) features I’ll be covering in this review.3 Messages, one of my most used apps on iPhone, has received a substantial update with the ability to edit and un-send messages, making it, in some ways, even superior to WhatsApp for me now. Mail – of all apps – has gotten a major upgrade with modern features such as scheduled send and, almost unbelievably, a revamped search that actually works. Reminders has officially turned into a serious task manager with even more filters for smart lists and the ability to create and share templates with others.

The new Lock Screen takes center stage this year and everything else pales in comparison to the massive update it received, but, overall, I find iOS 16 a more fun and useful update than iOS 15.

So, as with every September: let’s dive in.

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  1. Then again, wasn't that in service of OLED displays? ↩︎
  2. Perhaps the iPhone 14 Pro's Dynamic Island will be another major surprise for iPhone users. Fascinatingly, it's going to be a unique blend of hardware and software that shows how Apple has been playing the long game with their design strategy for the past few years, which is now paying off. However, the iPhone 14 Pro is not out yet and I haven't tested the Dynamic Island, so that's beyond the scope of this review. ↩︎
  3. That's in addition to the apps and features we've already covered in our annual OS Summer Series on MacStories↩︎

Shortcuts in iOS 16: The Potential of App Shortcuts for Everyone

App Shortcuts in iOS 16.

App Shortcuts in iOS 16.

A note from Federico: This year, I’ve decided to try some new things for my annual iOS 16 review. Some you’ll see on Monday. One of them is previewing small excerpts from the review in the OS Preview series on MacStories and MacStories Weekly for Club MacStories. Today, I’m posting a preview of a section of the Shortcuts chapter here, and a section of the Everything Else chapter in MacStories Weekly. I hope you enjoy these. I’ll see you for the full story – and more reveals – on Monday.


In iOS 16, the Shortcuts app hasn’t undergone a major redesign or technical rewrite; instead, Apple’s efforts have focused on adding more actions for system apps, extending the developer API, bringing more stability, and making Shortcuts more approachable for new users.

The last point is both important and likely the reason why some Shortcuts power users will be disappointed by this year’s update. There isn’t a lot for them in this new version of the app: as we’ll see in my iPadOS review, there’s no integration with Files quick actions, no support for Stage Manager actions, and no system-wide hotkeys still. If you’re an advanced Shortcuts user and were wishing for more system-level enhancements in addition to stability this year: I hear you, but we’ll talk about this later on.

What we do have in iOS 16 is a fascinating new feature to get newcomers started with the Shortcuts app, a grab bag of useful new actions for Apple apps, and some solid developer-related enhancements that will make third-party actions much better than before. Let’s take a look.

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A Month with iOS and iPadOS 16: A New iPad Era

iPadOS and iOS 16.

iPadOS and iOS 16.

Sometimes I truly have excellent timing with my stories.

As you may recall, a couple of months ago in the lead-up to WWDC, I published an article on my experience with using the M1 Max MacBook Pro for six months. That story was born out of a desire to get to know macOS again after years of iPad-only work; as I shared at the time, my curiosity was also the byproduct of Apple’s incoherent narrative for iPad power users for the past couple of years. Great hardware held back by lackluster software had long been regarded as the core weakness of the iPad platform; I hadn’t always agreed with the Apple community’s “consensus” on this, but an M1 iPad Pro carrying MacBook Pro-like specs with no new pro software features to take advantage of it was, indeed, a bridge too far. So when I published that story just in time for WWDC, I did it because a) that’s when it was ready and b) I wanted to bring some chaotic energy into the iPad discourse and see what would happen.

Like I said, sometimes I do have excellent timing with my stories. And in this case, not even my wildest expectations could have predicted that, in one fell swoop a week later, Apple would reimagine iPadOS around desktop-class apps and a brand new multitasking with external display integration, a new design, and – the unthinkable – overlapping, resizable windows with iPadOS 16.

Today, Apple is releasing the first public betas of all the operating systems that will launch to the wider public later this year: iOS 16, iPadOS 16, macOS 13 Ventura, and watchOS 9. We’re going to have overviews of all these public betas today on MacStories.1 As you can imagine given my annual reviewer responsibilities, I installed both iOS and iPadOS 16 as soon as they became available after the WWDC keynote on my iPhone 13 Pro Max and 12.9” iPad Pro with M1, and I’ve been using them as my daily drivers for the past month.

Obviously, I have some early thoughts and first impressions to share on iPadOS 16: it is fundamentally changing my relationship with the iPad platform and my workflow, which has been untouched for years since the introduction of multiwindow in iPadOS 13. Stage Manager, while still in need of refinements in several areas, is a game-changer for people like me, and it signifies a major course correction on how Apple thinks about iPadOS for power users.

But I should also say that I’m equally intrigued by iOS 16, which marks Apple’s return – after two years – to user customization with a drastic revamp of the Lock Screen, which can now be personalized with widgets, multiple wallpaper sets, and deep integration with the Home Screen, Focus, and even Apple Watch. The new Lock Screen is the proper follow-up to iOS 14 widgets we’ve been waiting for, and it’s going to be the feature that will push millions of people to update their iPhones to iOS 16 right away later this year. Besides the Lock Screen, there are dozens of other quality-of-life improvements to built-in apps and system intelligence that have caught my attention in iOS 16 in the past month, from the welcome updates to Mail and Reminders to system-wide unit conversions based on Live Text, Safari tab groups, and more.

There’s a lot to uncover in iOS and iPadOS 16, and I can’t possibly get into all of it today with this story. All the details and final opinions will have to wait for my annual review in the fall. Instead, below you’ll find a collection of initial thoughts, impressions, and suggestions for aspects of iPadOS and iOS 16 I’d like Apple to improve this summer. As with last year’s preview story, I’m going to include two recap segments at the end of each section with a list of improvements I’d like to see in iPadOS and iOS 16 before the public release.

Let’s dive in.

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