Federico Viticci

8872 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 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.

He can also be found on his three other podcasts on Relay FM – Connected, Canvas, and Remaster.

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The Future of Workflow

I've loved Workflow since the first beta I was sent in August 2014. Workflow is my most-used iOS app of all time, and, in many ways, it is the reason my iPad Pro can be my primary computer. I've written thousands of words on the app and have created hundreds of workflows for myself and others over the course of two years.

I referred to Workflow as Minecraft for iOS productivity and the modern bicycle for the mind in the past. I stand by those analogies. There's nothing else on iOS like Workflow, which deftly walked the fine line between absurd innovation and Apple rejections with a bold vision and technical prowess. Workflow embraced the limitations of iOS and turned them into strengths, resulting in a power-user app with no competition. After two years, no app gets remotely close to the automation features shipped by the Workflow team.

And now Workflow and its creators are going to be part of Apple and the company's bigger (and more secretive) plans.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had always kept the possibility that Workflow could eventually be discontinued or acquired. In a somewhat prescient move, Stephen quizzed me on this problem a few weeks ago on Connected. My "worst-case scenario" of Workflow going away became the new reality of iOS automation last week.

Workflow as an app is an incredibly good acquisition for Apple, but there's a deeper subtext here. Workflow represents a movement from a large number of users who enjoy working from iOS devices so much, they want to optimize the experience as much as possible. Workflow's goal wasn't to merely provide a capable alternative to the Mac's AppleScript and Automator; Workflow wanted to eclipse legacy scripting environments and usher iOS users into a new era of mobile automation. There's the Workflow app and team – technically impressive and absolutely talented – and there's the bigger theme behind Workflow.

But what has Apple acquired, exactly? Under Apple's control, can Workflow continue on its mission to make automation accessible for everyone? If Apple sees a future in iOS automation powered by Workflow, what else can be done with a virtually infinite budget and stronger ties to the platform? And what does this acquisition mean for Apple's commitment to pro users on iOS?

I've been mulling over these questions for the past week. I don't have any absolute answers at this point, but, after building workflows and following the app's development for two years, I have some ideas on where Workflow can go next.

Below, you'll find two possible scenarios for Workflow as an Apple app, as well as some considerations on how Apple could evolve Workflow into a native feature of iOS devices and a new developer platform.

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Connected, Episode 135: This Might Be Our Fault

Workflow has been purchased by Apple and everyone has feelings about it.

On the latest episode of Connected, we share some initial thoughts on Apple's acquisition of Workflow. I'm working on a feature story about this – in the meantime, this is a good starting point. You can listen here.

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Curtis Herbert on App Store Review Replies

Curtis Herbert, creator of the excellent Slopes for iOS (I wish I was a skier or snowboarder to use his app), has some great tips for developers on dealing with replies to App Store reviews:

I'd recommend every app owner do the following, today. Head into the review section in iTunes Connect and sort by "Most Helpful." These are reviews that customers have voted should be floated to the top, and that's what Apple does. Take a quick look through there and see which ones you can address.

Future customers are most likely to see your replies to these reviews, so that's the best bang-for-the-buck you can do right now. I went further than that, personally, and re-read a ton of my negative reviews and replied to the ones that met the above goals, but you don't have to rush it.

If you're a developer, you'll want to start engaging with customers right away and work through your existing backlog of reviews. I have a feeling the new ability for developers to reply to customers will fundamentally change the tone and utility of App Store reviews.

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Shapego – Beautiful Word Clouds for iPad and iPhone [Sponsor]

Shapego is a full-featured word cloud generator that gives you everything you need to create amazing word clouds for your presentations, marketing, and communication materials.

Whether you are a marketing professional, a teacher, a community manager, or somebody that wants to communicate a message in a visual manner, Shapego is the app you need.

Shapego features a streamlined user interface that was built to fine-tune the appearance, shape, and position of the words that compose your word cloud. Once you are satisfied with your creations, Shapego lets you export to PDF vector documents or layered Photoshop files.

Still have doubts? Here are some real-world use cases:

  • Need to brainstorm on a document and need a quick way to highlight the words that matter most? Shapego can help you by making a word cloud with only the most recurrent words thanks to iOS state-of-the-art Natural Language Processing technologies.
  • Need to express your ideas in a different way? Tired of the old PowerPoint thing? Just create a word cloud with Shapego and accurately position the key words of your message.
  • Need to engage your students? Let them write a description of an object or an animal and use Shapego to have their words laid out in a word cloud that has the shape of what they are describing.

Check out the video teaser and find more information at shapegoapp.com. Shapego is available exclusively on the App Store as a free download with In-App-Purchases.

Our thanks to Shapego for sponsoring MacStories this week.


Remaster, Episode 31: ‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’ Review

Federico and Myke give their review of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

On the latest Remaster, we go deep into Breath of the Wild with our thoughts on the game after 60-70 hours, tips on gameplay, and more. You can listen here.

Sponsored by:

  • Blue Apron: A better way to cook. Get three meals free with your first purchase, and free shipping.
  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Enter offer code INSERTCOIN at checkout to get 10% off your first purchase.
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How Drake and Apple Music Broke Streaming Records with More Life

Fascinating look by Micah Singleton at how Drake's latest mixtape More Life broke streaming records on Apple Music despite not being exclusive to it:

After setting a record with 89.9 million streams in its first 24 hours on Apple’s streaming service — over 33 million streams ahead of Sheeran’s Divide in its first 24 hours on Spotify, which has around 80 million more users — it’s clear Drake and his favorite music service have cracked the streaming formula.

So how did Apple manage to break a record with an album that's also available on Spotify, with only 20 million users compared to Spotify’s 100 million? The answer, according to the Apple Music team, is the power of Beats 1 and OVO Sound Radio.

For Drake, Beats 1 has essentially replaced SoundCloud, the platform he once dominated and released singles through — a move that Jackson and Apple VP of apps and content Robert Kondrk said was a risk for Drake at the time. “We weren’t a proven hit, we weren’t a proven entity at all, whatsoever,” says Jackson. SoundCloud just got a shoutout from Chance The Rapper at the Grammys, but the service has been having a rough time since Drake left, with Recode reporting it recently had to raise a $70 million debt round just to stay afloat.

I still wish Beats 1 shows were easier to access and discover, but clearly the system has been working out well for Drake.

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iPad Diaries: Working with Zip Archives

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.


Compressing files into archives and extracting them into a specific location is one of the most common desktop tasks that is still surprisingly tricky to adapt to the iPad.

Unlike macOS, the iPad doesn't come with a built-in Archive Utility app that takes care of decompressing archives, nor does iOS include a native 'Compress Files' system action to create and share archives. I'd wager that anyone who works from an iPad deals with file archives on a regular basis, whether they come from email clients, Dropbox links shared by colleagues, or uploads in a Slack channel.

Archives – and the popular .zip format – are a staple of document-based workflows and file management, but the iPad isn't well-equipped to handle them. Working with .zip files on iOS is among the most frequent questions I receive from iPad-first users every week; effectively, Apple only offers basic integration with iOS' Quick Look when it comes to file archives. Fortunately, just like advanced file management, we have some solid third-party options and automation to help us.

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Apple Acquires Workflow

Workflow, the popular automation app for iOS and one of my major areas of focus on MacStories, has been acquired by Apple.

Matthew Panzarino, reporting for TechCrunch:

Apple has finalized a deal to acquire Workflow today — a tool that lets you hook together apps and functions within apps in strings of commands to automate tasks. We’ve been tracking this one for a while but were able to confirm just now that the ink on the deal is drying as we speak.

[...]

Apple confirmed the deal, and has said the following about Workflow:

“The Workflow app was selected for an Apple Design Award in 2015 because of its outstanding use of iOS accessibility features, in particular an outstanding implementation for VoiceOver with clearly labeled items, thoughtful hints, and drag/drop announcements, making the app usable and quickly accessible to those who are blind or low-vision.”

According to Panzarino, Workflow's Ari Weinstein, Conrad Kramer, Nick Frey, and Ayaka Nonaka are joining Apple; the Workflow app will continue to be available on the App Store, and it'll become a free download later today.

Workflow doesn't need an introduction on this website. I've been covering the app since its debut in 2014, and have been following every update until the last major version, which brought the fantastic addition of Magic Variables. You can catch up on over two years of Workflow reporting and tutorials here, and access even more advanced workflows in our dedicated section on the Club MacStories newsletter.

At this stage, it's not clear what Apple's plans for Workflow in the long term might be. I have a few theories, but this isn't the time to speculate. I'll say this, though: Workflow has been the driving force behind my decision to embrace the iPad as my primary computer. Workflow is a shining example of the power of automation combined with user creativity and its underlying mission has always been clear: to allow anyone to improve how iOS can get things done for them in a better, faster, more flexible way. Workflow is the modern bicycle for the mind. There's nothing else like it.

I want to personally congratulate the Workflow team for building a beautiful product that has enabled thousands of people to be more productive from iOS every day. I hope that Apple will continue to believe in the vision behind Workflow's automation. If Apple takes Workflow seriously, its automation – now deeply integrated with iOS and private APIs – could fundamentally reinvent iOS for power users, especially on the iPad.

It's an exciting time for iOS productivity and automation. I can't wait to see what Apple's newfound interest in automation is going to produce.