Federico Viticci

8260 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 two podcasts – Connected and Virtual.


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Sidefari Lets You Browse Two Webpages at Once with iOS 9 Split View and Safari View Controller

In my review of iOS 9, I noted how new iPad multitasking features lacked an important functionality that had long been available to desktop users: a way to view multiple screens of the same app side by side. Whether it's documents, conversations, or email threads, there's a clear utility in being able to split the same app in multiple instances, but that's currently not possible in iOS 9.

I'd argue that the ability to view multiple webpages at once would be even more useful than the aforementioned examples. And that's exactly what Sidefari, a $0.99 iPad-only app released today by Francisco Cantu, wants to provide a solution for.

Sidefari uses Safari View Controller to let you open a second webpage in Split View on your iPad. Unlike Browsecurely, Sidefari doesn't display Safari View Controller on the top of the app you're currently using – it's been designed, as the name suggests, as a side companion based on the Safari web views introduced with iOS 9. Whenever you find yourself needing to open two webpages and view them simultaneously, you can invoke Sidefari from the Slide Over app picker and enter Split View. At this point, you have some options: you can use the Sidefari extension to send a webpage from the main app to Sidefari (which needs to be in Split View already to open the URL directly), or you can paste a URL into Sidefari and open the webpage from your clipboard. Sidefari can also hold up to 50 items from your history in the app, but this can be disabled in the Settings.

Sidefari essentially acts as an on-demand Safari View Controller built into an app that does nothing else, and that's been made available for Split View. In its simplicity, I find Sidefari to be an ingenious idea for an app that uses a built-in technology to work around a limitation of Apple's multitasking design in iOS 9. By using Safari View Controller, Sidefari comes with a series of Safari features available by default (such as autofill and Reader); for Safari users, this is a superior alternative to using Safari and a browser like Chrome in Split View, as third-party browsers can't access user data and settings from Safari.1

Sidefari is a clever implementation of Split View and Safari View Controller, and it's only $0.99 on the App Store.

  1. They can, however, offer tabbed browsing, which Safari View Controller doesn't have. 

Nuzzel 2.0 Brings Favorite Feeds for Topics, New Search and Discover Features

In addition to my Twitter client1, Nuzzel is the other Twitter-based app I use every day, whenever I have a moment to check the news. With version 2.0, launching today for iOS, Android, and the web, the team at Nuzzel is hoping to expand the scope and utility of the service beyond Twitter and tweets from the timeline, with new ways to provide content to logged out users and discover articles inside the app.

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Markdown and Automation Experiments with 1Writer

In preparing my reviews of iOS 9 and the iPad Pro, I noticed that my writing process was being slowed down by the lack of multitasking support in my text editor of choice, Editorial. For the past couple of weeks, I've been trying to move some of my Editorial scripts and workflows to 1Writer, with interesting results and potential for the future.

I have written about Editorial at length on MacStories, and I still find Ole Zorn's text editor to provide the most powerful combination of Markdown and plain text automation that's ever been created on iOS. Over the years, I've put together hundreds of workflows thanks to Editorial's visual actions and Python scripting; while some of them were made for fun and intellectual curiosity, the majority of them helped me save time when doing actual work for this website, Relay FM, and Club MacStories. There is no other app with the same feature set and rich Markdown support of Editorial.

Since iOS 9, however, I've been wondering whether part of Editorial's automation could be taken somewhere else, possibly in another app that offered full integration with iOS 9 multitasking. I may have several workflows in Editorial, but I only use a tiny fraction of them on a daily basis for regular work on this website. I'd rather use a text editor that excels at a subset of Markdown workflows and integrates with iOS 9 than a single text editor with every imaginable workflow without proper iOS 9 integration.

It was this realization that pushed me to give 1Writer another look. I first bought the app years ago, but because I had no excuse to explore the world outside of Editorial, I didn't try to recreate any workflows in it. This time around, I was motivated to rebuild the core of my setup in 1Writer, so I took a deep dive into the app's automation engine.

Things will likely change again once Editorial supports iOS 9, but in the meantime I've developed an appreciation for 1Writer's design and features that helped me understand the app better.

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Why Rdio Died

Yesterday, music streaming service Rdio announced they're filing for bankruptcy and that key assets of the company will be acquired by Pandora. Casey Newton has written an obituary for The Verge, with some good points about Rdio's focus on design:

Miner jokes the design was aimed at "snobby album purists." Among its subscribers were a small legion of user interface and user experience designers — one reason you see little touches of Rdio everywhere you look. It’s there in the blurred album art that you now see in the background of other streaming music services. It’s there in the translucent panes and gradients that Apple introduced with iOS 7. It’s there in the redesigned app for Pandora, the company that ultimately acquired it. For its part, Pandora says that Becherer and his team will build a new on-demand product for the company using Rdio’s intellectual property. It is expected to launch in late 2016.

Rdio wasn't the first music streaming service I tried, but it was the first one I loved, and that was because of its tasteful design and focus on albums and discovery. You could tell that the people who made Rdio loved music and the idea of sharing music. They cared. And ultimately, focusing too much on design touches while avoiding basic aspects like growth and marketing spelled the end of the company.

There's no doubt in my mind – Rdio was the most elegant streaming service. Its social, discovery, and playback features (good queue management, sort by label, heavy rotation among friends, excellent weekly releases – just to name a few) were simply unrivaled. Rdio was great.

I used to write about Rdio a lot, and you can still find all my old posts and screenshots here. I'll miss Rdio.


“A Fundamental Point of Interface”

From Tony Chambers' interview with Jony Ive on the Apple Pencil:

I think there’s a potential to confuse the role of the Pencil with the role of your finger in iOS, and I actually think it’s very clear the Pencil is for making marks, and the finger is a fundamental point of interface for everything within the operating system. And those are two very different activities with two very different goals.

So we are very clear in our own minds that this will absolutely not replace the finger as a point of interface. But it is, and I don’t think anybody would argue, a far better tool than your finger when your focus becomes exclusively making marks. The traditional pencil could have been replaced by a dish of powdered charcoal, which you dipped your finger into to make marks with. And that didn’t happen.

The interview also has some interesting thoughts by Ive on avoiding to model the Pencil after specific physical tools.


Connected: I’m Holding a Billboard

This week, the guys talk about their iPad Pros and what the device means for the future.

This week's episode of Connected is a good one: we talked about the iPad Pro, answered some listener questions, and spent some time discussing pricing for pro apps on the iOS App Store. You can listen here.

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New Tricks for Old Dogs

Jason Snell, who's been a using a Mac for 26 years, has been trying to do as much as possible on an iPad Pro for the past few days. His takeaway is spot on:

That’s sort of how I view the iPad and the Mac today: One is not fundamentally better than the other, but the Mac is the one I know by heart. The Mac is the one on which I’ve built numerous scripts and workflows and shortcuts to make my work manageable. Leaving it isn’t something I can do lightly, and would need to provide large, tangible benefits.

As I argued in today's Connected, instead of continuing to spend time on discussing what is a "computer" and what's "better" for other users, perhaps we'd be better served by understanding what works for us.

This "Mac vs. iPad" debate is taking us nowhere. Today – right now – millions of people are using phones, laptops, and tablets as their computers. They couldn't care less about the traditional idea of a computer. Most of them don't even call them "computers" anymore. That's powerful and empowering. It gets rid of the weight of any preconceived notion of how technology should be used. For some, this change is uncomfortable. For others, it's liberating. And somewhere along this spectrum, there's the "computer" for each one of us.

As far as Apple devices go, I believe it'd be more interesting (and intellectually motivating) to talk about how OS X and iOS can improve in their individual areas and as part of the iCloud ecosystem. Exploring the present and imagining where we could go next, rather than telling others how they're supposed to get work done.

Jason's probably not going to stop using a Mac, and I'm going to keep using an iPad. No one's right or wrong here.

Use whatever works for you.


Behind the Scenes of Austin Mann’s iPhone 6s Camera Review

For the past few years, Austin Mann's iPhone camera reviews have been at the top of my list of articles I want to read whenever a new iPhone is released. This year, Austin went to Switzerland to test the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, with some impressive results.

Today, he posted a behind the scenes video that is possibly even more fascinating than the photos themselves as you can see how everything was made and, more importantly, where. Pretty amazing to see what Austin and his team go through to make their reviews possible. The video is 17 minutes long, but worth watching until the end.


iPad 2015 Display Technology Shoot-Out

In their annual iPad display technology shoot-out, the experts at DisplayMate have compared the new displays of the iPad mini 4 and iPad Pro to 2014's iPad Air 2. The result surprised me:

The nicest surprise this year is the tremendous improvement in the display quality and performance of the iPad mini 4 after the poor showings of previous minis – the mini 4 is now very impressive and breaks many Tablet display performance records. The iPad Pro has also made a strong entrance and first appearance.

If you're into this kind of technical overview, you may want to save a couple of hours to dive deep into this. Incredible research.