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The Electrodes Used by Apple’s ECG Watch App Enable Faster, More Accurate Heart Rate Measurements

On 9to5Mac, Zac Hall breaks down how the new electrodes work in the Apple Watch Series 4 based on details published by Apple when it updated watchOS last week with the new ECG app. For now, the ECG app is only available in the US, but that doesn’t mean that others can’t benefit from the hardware that it uses. As Hall explains:

According to Apple, putting your finger on the Digital Crown to capture a heart rate reading also measures faster and with more accuracy as it updates every second versus every five seconds while the measurement is active.

That’s because placing your finger on the Digital Crown completes a circuit between your heart and arms that allows the Watch to record electrical impulses across your chest.

It will take time for the ECG app to gain the approval of regulators worldwide. However, in the meantime, it’s nice to know that the hardware that makes the ECG app possible is enhancing heart rate capture for everyone.

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Drafts 5.5, MultiMarkdown, and CriticMarkup

Tim Nahumck, writing about the latest Drafts update for iOS:

One thing that is included with MultiMarkdown as an option is Critic Markup. Looking through the guide, there are several helpful elements that can be used for editing my writing utilizing Critic Markup. I can highlight some substitutions, additions, and deletions. I can highlight text to show something I might want to work on later. I can also add a basic comment somewhere that won’t be shown in a preview. And with this action, I can easily add any of them with a tap and a text entry, which inserts it in the proper format. This is helpful for creating and previewing the documents in Drafts, and gives users the flexibility to mark up files and save them back to a cloud service. I can see myself using this a lot for longer posts or large reviews. I’ve even modified my own site preview action to render the MultiMarkdown via scripting, as well as updating both my standard and linked post WordPress publishing actions to do the same.

I've always been a fan of CriticMarkup but have never been able to get into it as it wasn't integrated with the text editors I used on iOS. Considering how Drafts is my favorite option when it comes to writing and editing certain annual long-form stories, and given how I came up with my own syntax in previous years to embed comments in Markdown documents, I'm going to give this a try.

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Connected, Episode 221: Speak the Unspeakable Name

Myke, Federico and Stephen talk about their use of Shortcuts, Apple Music heading to the Amazon Echo and a bit of BREAKING NEWS.

On last week's episode of Connected, we discussed our ongoing usage of Shortcuts and what it means for Apple to expand their services to other platforms. You can listen here.

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AppStories, Episode 90 – Taking iOS Photography Further with RAW Camera Apps and Editors

On this week's episode of AppStories, we take on iOS photography by discussing some of our favorite RAW camera apps and photo editors.

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Omni to Offer Optional Subscriptions to OmniFocus and Its Upcoming Web Service

Next month, OmniFocus for the Web will launch as a subscription service for $4.99/month or $49.99 annually. In a post on The Omni Group blog, Ken Case explains that the subscription is necessary to pay the ongoing costs of the web-based version of the popular task manager:

Running it on our computers means we have to maintain those computers, their network connections, power, and so on, as a constantly available online service, for as long as customers use the product. Running that service costs us money every month, so if we want the service to be sustainable we need an income stream which brings in money every month to cover those costs. In other words, this service model requires subscriptions—an arrangement where customers pay us money each month to keep the service going.

In addition to offering a subscription to the web version of OmniFocus, Omni will offer the Pro versions of OmniFocus for iOS and the Mac as a bundle with the web version for $9.99/month or $99.99 annually. As Case further explains, the subscription is entirely optional. The Omni Group will continue to offer its iOS and Mac apps as separate purchases as it does now.

When a historically paid-up-front app introduces subscription pricing, there’s usually an online dustup of unhappy customers who don’t want to subscribe to the apps they use. Although Omni’s announcement was met with a handful of angry tweets, the reaction has been notably muted, which makes sense because the subscription isn’t required. Users who have already purchased the apps can subscribe to just the web service or subscribe to the service plus the apps. The only combination that doesn’t appear to be possible is subscribing to just the iOS and Mac apps.

Adding subscriptions as an option adds complexity to OmniFocus’ business model, but the upside is choice. Instead of migrating its entire user-base to subscriptions, customers can keep using OmniFocus the way they already do. They also gain the option to subscribe to OmniFocus for the Web when it becomes available in January. The approach strikes me as the right balance for an app like OmniFocus, on which users have relied since the earliest days of the App Store.

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Apple’s Machine Learning Journal Posts Paper on How Siri Works on the HomePod in Noisy Environments

Apple’s online Machine Learning Journal has published a paper on the methodologies the HomePod uses to implement Siri functionality in far-field settings. As Apple’s Audio Software Engineering and Siri Speech Teams explain:

Siri on HomePod is designed to work in challenging usage scenarios such as:

  • During loud music playback
  • When the talker is far away from HomePod
  • When other sound sources in a room, such as a TV or household appliances, are active

Each of those conditions requires a different approach to effectively separate a spoken Siri command from other household sounds and to do so efficiently. The report notes that the HomePod’s speech enhancement system uses less than 15% of one core of a 1.4 GHz A8 processor.

Apple engineers tested their speech enhancement system under a variety of conditions:

We evaluated the performance of the proposed speech processing system on a large speech test set recorded on HomePod in several acoustic conditions:

  • Music and podcast playback at different levels
  • Continuous background noise, including babble and rain noise
  • Directional noises generated by household appliances such as a vacuum cleaner, hairdryer, and microwave
  • Interference from external competing sources of speech

In these recordings, we varied the locations of HomePod and the test subjects to cover different use cases, for example, in living room or kitchen environments where HomePod was placed against the wall or in the middle of the room.

The paper concludes with examples of filtered and unfiltered audio from those HomePod tests. Regardless of whether you’re interested in the details of noise reduction technology, the sample audio clips are worth a listen. It’s impressive to hear barely audible commands emerge from background noises like a dishwasher and music playback.

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Gaming the App Store

David Barnard, developer of apps like Weather Up and Launch Center Pro, has written an extensive overview of tactics that are commonly used each day to game the App Store. He writes:

Any one of these tactics might seem somewhat bland individually, but when tens of thousands of apps deploy multiple tactics across many categories of apps, the impact can be measured in hundreds of millions of users and likely billions of dollars.

Tactics mentioned include employing specific keywords, buying fake reviews, implementing misleading subscriptions, and more. The idea is that bad actors can squeeze the most money out of users by following the approach Barnard outlines, which ultimately provides a bad user experience that degrades the App Store’s reputation.

Barnard concludes the article with a challenge to Apple:

Featuring an app is a great carrot, and Apple doesn’t generally feature apps that so blatantly flaunt App Store manipulation and user hostile tactics, but the carrot of getting featured pales in comparison to how much money can be made by gaming the App Store. It’s well past time for Apple to employ more carrots to create great experiences on the App Store, and to use a bigger stick on those manipulating the App Store and creating terrible user experiences for Apple’s customers.

I love this idea as a potential solution to encourage quality apps on the App Store. The revamped App Store from iOS 11 with daily feature articles is great, as are things like the Apple Design Awards at each WWDC, but if Apple wants to retain a strong quality brand for the App Store, it wouldn't hurt to find more ways to reward good developers.

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Made on iPad

Michael Steeber, writing for 9to5Mac:

The new iPad Pro has ignited conversations about the future of computing and new possibilities for creative work. Paired with a second-generation Apple Pencil, the hardware unlocks potential that has driven many professionals to re-evaluate how iPads best fit in their lives. My own experience with the new iPad Pro has been a journey of discovery. To expand my horizons and help others get more out of their devices, I asked the creative professional community to share their own iPad workflows.

From digital illustration to managing a business, the vast range of ways people are working on iPads proves there’s no one right way or wrong way to use them. Some have embraced iOS as their platform of choice for every task. Some use a Mac and an iPad in concert to create powerful workflows that highlight the capabilities of each device. Others are developing entirely new ways of working that simply couldn’t exist before.

Fantastic idea by Steeber, and a collection of great examples of all kinds of people using the iPad for all kinds of professional work. Another reminder that we – as tech press – can only cover a fraction of the tasks an iPad is able to accomplish.

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