Federico Viticci

8850 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.

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iPad Diaries: Apple Pencil, Notability, and the Joy of Note-Taking

Please don't judge me by my terrible handwriting. I have other qualities.

Please don't judge me by my terrible handwriting. I have other qualities.

iPad Diaries is a regular series about using the iPad as a primary computer. You can find more installments here and subscribe to the dedicated RSS feed.


Ever since I first got the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, I've wanted to use the Apple Pencil more. However, every time I tried to fit the Pencil into my workflow, I stumbled upon the realization that, no matter the excellence of the tool at hand, I'm no artist.

I spend most of my time typing with a keyboard (either a Bluetooth one or the iPad's software one) and, while it's fun to pretend I know what I'm doing in Linea or Paper, the sad reality is that I'm downright terrible at sketching or drawing. Moreover, unlike others, my background doesn't involve a passionate appreciation of pen and paper. Therefore, I'm attracted by the Pencil's concept and technology, but I don't need it for my main line of work; plus, handwriting stopped being a daily habit after I graduated high school in 2007.

I was inspired by a story Ryan wrote, though, to reconsider if my work routine could still benefit from a different note-taking perspective. Testing fresh approaches and new ideas has always been the underlying theme of my switch to the iPad, after all. So when Ryan shared his thoughts on using the Pencil for non-artistic purposes, I took it as an opportunity to try out the Pencil as a complement to my writing needs rather than a futile diversion.

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AIM Starts Cutting Off Access for Third-Party Apps

Adam Clark Estes:

In what feels like a death blow to everyone’s early-Aughts nostalgia, it looks like AOL will soon cut off third-party access to its famous Instant Messenger service. The service turns 20 years old this year, and at this point, it’s unclear if it will see its 21st birthday.

AOL shared news of this tragedy quietly. Adium users, at least, got a brief warning when they signed on Wednesday morning, explaining that their AIM access had less than a month to live. It reads like sad notice for an imminent memorial service.

Adium was one of the first apps I installed when I switched to the Mac in 2008. (Does anyone remember checking out the latest Adium skins and icons on MacThemes?)

End of an era, though AIM feels like a lifetime ago in the age of Facebook and iMessage.

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The Cases for (and Against) Apple Adopting USB-C on Future iPhones

Jason Snell, writing for Macworld on the possibility of Apple adopting USB-C on future iPhones:

But the Lightning paragraph–that’s the really puzzling one. At first parsing, it comes across as a flat-out statement that Apple is going to ditch Lightning for the USB-C connector currently found on the MacBook and MacBook Pro. But a second read highlights some of the details–power cord and other peripheral devices?–that make you wonder if this might be a misreading of a decision to replace the USB-A-based cords and power adapters that come in the iPhone box with USB-C models. (I’m also a bit baffled by how the Lightning connector is “original,” unless it means it’s like a Netflix Original.)

Still, the Wall Street Journal would appear to be a more visible and reputable source than an analyst or blog with some sources in Apple’s supply chain. It’s generally considered to be one of the places where Apple has itself tactically leaked information in the past. So let’s take a moment and consider this rumor seriously. What would drive Apple to kill the Lightning connector, and why would it keep it around?

I've been going back and forth on this since yesterday's report on The Wall Street Journal. Like Jason, I see both positive aspects and downsides to replacing Lightning with USB-C on the iPhone, most of which I highlighted on Connected. Jason's article perfectly encapsulates my thoughts and questions.

USB-C represents the dream of a single, small, reversible connector that works with every device, and it's being adopted by the entire tech industry. USB-C isn't as small as Lightning but it's small enough. More importantly, it'd allow users to use one connector for everything; USB-A, while universal on desktop computers, never achieved ubiquity because it wasn't suited for mobile devices. USB-C is.

Conversely, Lightning is under Apple's control and Apple likes the idea of controlling their stack as much as possible (for many different reasons). A transition to USB-C would be costly for users in the short term, and it would be extremely perplexing the year after the iPhone 7 fully embraced Lightning.

Furthermore, unlike the transition from 30-pin to Lightning in 2012, Apple now has a richer, more lucrative ecosystem of accessories and devices based on Lightning, from AirPods and Apple Pencil to keyboards, mice, EarPods, game controllers, Siri remotes, and more. Moving away from Lightning means transitioning several product lines to a standard that Apple doesn't own. It means additional inconsistency across the board.

Like I said, I'm not sure where I stand on this yet. These are discussions that Apple likely has already explored and settled internally. I'm leaning towards USB-C everywhere, but I'm afraid of transition costs and setting a precedent for future standards adopted by other companies (what if mini-USB-C comes out in two years?).

In the meantime, I know this: I'm upgrading to USB-C cables and accessories as much as I can (I just bought this charger and cable; the Nintendo Switch was a good excuse to start early) and I would love to have a USB-C port on the next iPad Pro. If there's one place where Apple could start adopting peripherals typically used with PCs, that'd be the iPad.



Connected, Episode 131: The High School Reunion of Phones

This week, Stephen yells at the cloud, Myke gets new emojis and Federico speaks wisdom to the masses.

Another fun episode of Connected this week, with plenty of speculation about USB-C on future Apple devices and what other companies are doing with smartphones in 2017. You can listen here.

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The iMessage App Store’s Discoverability Problems

Adam Howell sums up some of the major issues affecting the iMessage App Store and iMessage apps:

I love the idea of the iMessage App Store. I love Apple’s focus on privacy. I love building on top of an app I use all day everyday. But not only is the iMessage App Store dying —I’m afraid it might already be dead.

I agree with most of his design and functionality-related points. Using stickers and iMessage apps requires too much effort; a lot of users are still confused by iMessage-only apps; and I don't understand why Apple thought Digital Touch was so important. I like his proposed solution for iMessage app activation, too.

On curation, though, I believe Apple has been doing a decent job with refreshing featured apps and sticker packs on weekly basis. A few months ago, Apple's editorial team also started highlighting iMessage apps and stickers on the front page of the iOS App Store, which must drive some visibility. Every week, we discover new stickers to feature in our newsletter also thanks to Apple's curation and the store's top charts, which are dominated by Disney stickers as it's a massive brand that has absolutely nailed the idea of selling "premium" iMessage sticker packs.

Aside from design and functional issues (in short, Apple should redesign the entire iMessage app drawer), I think the reality most iMessage apps are facing is a repeat (at a smaller scale) of what happened with the main App Store. Apple should make meaningful improvements to make developers' lives easier, but it's always going to be a tricky business to figure out in such a competitive landscape.

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Record Bird Is Apple Music’s Missing Discovery Tool for New Releases

When it comes to keeping track of new music releases from my favorite artists, streaming services have always been a disappointment. After nearly eight years of streaming music every day, I've realized that the problem lies on the two ends of the New Releases spectrum: these days, services either prioritize front page curation skewed towards new pop, R&B/hip-hop, or EDM tracks (the most popular and lucrative genres), or they algorithmically suggest new releases for artists I may like, but which I'm not necessarily familiar with.

I've tried all of the major streaming services since 2009, and only two of them have gotten close to my ideal implementation of "Here's everything artists you already know have released or are about to release".

Rdio (forever in our hearts) had a solid New Releases section featuring a mix of variegate editorial picks culled from a variety of genres, labels, and trends. Unlike the modern equivalents in Spotify and Apple Music, I remember Rdio's New Releases page1 offered a more balanced, heterogeneous mix of new songs.

Spotify, on the other hand, has invested heavily on algorithmic and serendipitous discovery of songs, but it still hasn't quite figured out how to display every new release from every artist you care about. Spotify can send emails for new release highlights, but those are only a subset of new releases from your favorite artists – usually, only the most popular ones. Other Spotify features are similarly focused on highlights.

In comparing the treatment of new music releases among different services, I realized that this is largely what Apple had set out to solve with Connect in Apple Music: a way to follow all your favorite artists and view updates for their announcements – whether they were new songs, video clips, tour dates, or photos.

Apple Music Connect, however, has faltered due to Apple's inability to scale a music-centric network (twice) and because it was predicated on a commitment from artists – both superstars and smaller acts – to post regular updates on their Connect feeds. After an initial spur of song previews and photos published on Connect, Apple Music's network has mostly turned into a ghost town of sporadic updates, often automatically cross-posted to other networks (without any exclusivity), with hashtags that can't be tapped and shortened links that open Safari webpages after multiple redirects. It's not a good user experience. Apple Music Connect is an afterthought; it's also been regarded as such by Apple itself with the removal of the dedicated page in iOS 10.

Fortunately, there are still people who understand what a music lover with a broad range of preferences wants from a tool designed to discover new music. For the past couple of months, I've been using Record Bird, a free iPhone app hailing from Austria, to check on updates from my favorite artists every day, stream songs, watch videos, and even read related stories.

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iOS 10.2.1 Has Reduced Unexpected iPhone 6s Shutdown Issues

Matthew Panzarino, writing for TechCrunch following a statement from Apple:

Over the past couple of iPhone versions users have complained of “unexpected” shutdowns of their devices. Some iPhone 6, 6s, 6 Plus and 6s Plus devices could basically go dark unexpectedly, forcing a user to have to plug them into an outlet to get them to power back on.

Apple has been working on this very annoying bug and it says it has come up with a fix of sorts that should mitigate the problem on a majority of iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s devices. The fix is actually already on your iPhone if you have installed iOS 10.2.1 — something that around 50 percent of iOS users have already done. After letting the fix simmer on customer devices, Apple now has statistics to share on how it has improved the issue, citing 80 percent reduction on iPhone 6s and 70 percent reduction on iPhone 6 devices.

These unexpected shutdowns were a different issue than the iPhone 6s battery recall. From personal experience, I've heard quite a few friends mention how their iPhones' serial number weren't eligible for the battery replacement program despite frequent shutdowns. iOS 10.2.1 should fix that, and Apple is also rolling out a new message in the Settings app in case a device's battery has to be replaced.

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Remaster, Episode 29: Waiting for the Switch

We are just one week away from the Nintendo Switch. What do we know?

The Nintendo Switch is launching in a week. On the latest Remaster, we go over the latest details we know about the console, the games that have been announced, and all the hardware we're buying. You can listen here.

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