Federico Viticci

8710 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.


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.


2Do Is Going Free (with In-App Purchases)

Fahad Gilani, developer of 2Do (one of my favorite task managers on iOS), has decided to adopt a 'free with In-App Purchases' model after years of a traditional 'paid upfront with free updates' app. He writes:

It’s about choices, or the lack thereof. I’m disappointed to say this, but after having to continually support and develop 2Do on various platforms for over 8 years, the free updates model has begun to lose its lustre. Folks that know me (and there aren’t too many of those in the wild), know how I really feel about subscriptions, in-app purchases and anything that nags the user for more money than they’ve originally paid.

Past several years what I’ve truly been waiting for is a solution that’s in-between in-app purchases, subscriptions and paid upgrades. Instead, what we got out from this year’s WWDC was “Subscriptions for all!”. I don’t know about you, and your opinion on this may differ, but I’d personally hate to see the 10+ apps I use frequently to turn into a $2.99+ monthly subscription. I appreciate that there’s a difference between a Service and an App, but nowadays everyone’s begun to portray their app as a service. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not comfortable with that thought; even as a developer.

And here's how it's going to work, starting with Android and moving to other platforms:

In short, even after the trial expires, the app will continue to offer all of its features, except for Sync, Backups and Alert Notifications (i.e. turn into a dumb, but useful to do list). In order to enable those, the user could upgrade to the full version by paying once.

Nothing changes for folks that have already purchased the app. You won’t have to pay again (on Android there isn’t currently a way to determine if you’ve already paid for the app, however I’ll figure something out so it remains free). The app will still be priced the same, only the model changes a bit to allow it to be previewed for free.

This comes a week after The Omni Group has announced that all their apps will become free downloads with trials and unlocks handled by one-time In-App Purchases. I sense a trend consolidating for developers of productivity software on iOS; I hope Apple is okay with this use of In-App Purchases and that it'll scale in practice. If this allows developers of pro iOS apps to build better sustainable businesses for years to come, I'm all for it.


iPhone 7 Plus Depth Effect Is Legit

Fascinating take by Stu Maschwitz on the iPhone 7 Plus' Portrait mode, coming with iOS 10.1:

So don't ask if Depth Effect is perfect. A better question is if its failures are distracting. And I have certainly taken some test photos where they are. But the funny thing about test photos is that there's often nothing worth photographing in them, so you just stare at the problems. In my own testing, whenever I've pointed Portrait Mode at something I actually care about, the results have been solid.

So back to the question of whether we should care about a fake blur applied in post to a telephone photo. When I tweeted the above shot, someone replied with a reasonable question: wouldn't I love the photo just as much without the effect? I replied no, and added:

Composition matters, and focus is composition in depth.


Canvas, Episode 20: iWork 3.0

This week Fraser and Federico take a tour of iWork 3.0.

With the launch of iWork 3.0 alongside iOS 10, Fraser and I decided to explore the new features (including collaboration) and talk about the state of iWork in the latest episode of Canvas. You can listen here.

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The Omni Group Is Moving to Free Downloads with In-App Purchases

Ken Case, writing on The Omni Group's blog, has announced a notable change for the company's download model on the App Store:

The underlying problem, as noted above, is that downloading the app has a fixed cost. We’ve always set that cost to be the standard price of our app, leaving us no way to charge less. But what if we take a fresh look at this problem, and make our downloads free? You know, like every iPhone app in the Top Grossing List has already done? It’s not that they don’t sell anything—or they wouldn’t be on that list. They just don’t sell the original download. (Which we’ve never done on our own store either.)

With the original download free, we can implement any pricing options we want to offer customers through In-App Purchases. We can offer our standard unlocks of Standard and Pro, of course. But we can also offer a free 2-week trial which unlocks all of the features of Pro and Standard, letting you freely choose between them. We can offer a discounted upgrade to the new Standard. And we can offer free upgrades to the new versions to any customers who recently purchased the old app.

Well, I’m pleased to share that that’s exactly what we’re going to do—starting next month, with the App Store edition of OmniGraffle 7.

You don't get a better sign of the times than this. The Omni Group was the poster child of finding success on the iOS App Store with paid upfront pro software priced like desktop apps. But as Case argues, most apps in the Top Grossing charts have switched to a "free with In-App Purchases" model. That seems to be the clear path forward for developers who want to build sustainable software while also ensuring users can properly test their apps and take advantage of discounted upgrades.

It doesn't surprise me that The Omni Group – unlike other developers who keep hoping Apple retrofits the App Store for purchase mechanisms of a decade ago – went ahead and took a fresh approach to figure this out. The new policy isn't limited to the upcoming OmniGraffle 7: every Omni app for Mac and iOS will move to a free download with one-time In-App Purchases to buy the full feature set.

Omni's solution seems elegant and straightforward. The apps are free to download and they can be used as viewers when unlicensed; the free trial is an In-App Purchase set at Tier 0 that counts down 14 days; the full apps are unlocked with Standard and Pro levels of In-App Purchases. The only negative aspect I can think of is that In-App Purchases aren't available to Family Sharing, but that's on Apple to fix.

If Omni's approach works well in practice (and I can't imagine why it wouldn't), I can see a lot of developers following their model.