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Connected, Episode 164: My Mother Has a Bunch of Keyboards

Live in Chicago, the boys discuss the Google Home Mini's rough launch, the future of AR at Apple and Federico's baker.

We had so much fun recording this episode of Connected live in Chicago last night. We rarely get to record Connected in person, so this episode is extremely special to me. You can listen here.

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Microsoft Outlook for Mac Undergoing Major Redesign

Tom Warren of The Verge reports on Outlook for Mac details shared at the Microsoft Ignite conference last month:

A lot of the changes look very similar to the Outlook for iOS app, with a single-line ribbon and a smaller set of default commands. Reducing complexity is one of the key aims of the redesign, to make it easier for new and existing Outlook users to navigate the email app.

A new customizable ribbon will let Outlook for Mac and Windows users control which buttons are available, so you can tailor the email interface to your own common tasks. The left navigation panel will include quicker access to folders across multiple accounts, and looks like the switcher in Outlook for iOS.

Outlook for iOS has long been among the top email clients on the mobile platform. It pairs a clean, beautiful interface reminiscent of iOS’ with the power user features Apple appears content to ignore. Moving Outlook for Mac away from its traditional desktop roots and further into the modern era looks to be a clear win.

The full Ignite session detailing future Outlook changes is available on YouTube.


Canvas, Episode 46: Versions

Making, accessing and using versions of files is something that has been built into some iOS apps for a while now but few know how to access the feature.

On this week’s Canvas, Fraser and I take a look at our favorite options for dealing with file revisions on iOS, including my workflow for collaborating with the MacStories team. You can listen here.

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Movie Studios Launch Movies Anywhere Service

Services that promise to consolidate your digital movie collection in one place have come and gone over the years, so I was initially skeptical when I heard about Movies Anywhere, a new US-only service launched by Disney and other movie studios. However, after some preliminary testing of the service, I’m optimistic that Movies Anywhere stands a chance to become the first such service to catch on.

As reported by The Verge:

The big difference here is selection. Warner Bros., Universal, Sony Pictures, and Twentieth Century Fox have all signed on to Movies Anywhere. Along with Disney’s films, that gives the service a launch library of more than 7,300 titles.

Another differentiator with Movies Anywhere is platform support:

The promise of “buy once, watch anywhere” only works if a customer’s preferred device supports the service in question. The Movies Anywhere app will be available for iOS, Apple TV, Android, Android TV, Amazon Fire devices, and as part of Roku’s offerings. It will also support Chromecast, and titles will also [be] watchable through the service’s standalone website. And while apps for competing services have usually been clunky or awkward, the brief demo we saw of the Movies Anywhere app looked sleek and well-designed.

Movies Anywhere also gives customers the choice of where to buy their movies, though not without caveats on iOS.

Movies Anywhere will let customers browse for titles they’re interested in within the app itself, then allowing them to complete the purchase with their retailer of choice at the very end. (Android users will have the ability to purchase from Google Play, Amazon, or Vudu; those with Apple devices will only be able to purchase from iTunes, unless they head to a browser to purchase from a competitor directly.)

I tried to purchase a movie from the Movies Anywhere iOS app and sure enough, the only option was to buy it from iTunes. The workaround is to log into the Movies Anywhere service in Safari or another web browser, which will present you with the full menu of purchasing options. One other limitation that affects all platforms is that Movies Anywhere does not tell you how much a movie costs on each service. If you’re looking for a bargain, you’ll have to follow the link to each service to see how much they charge.

In the limited time I’ve had to try Movies Anywhere, I’ve been impressed. Logging into iTunes and Amazon Prime Video was quick and easy, and the movies I own on both providers showed up almost instantly in the iOS app and on the Movies Anywhere website. Playback happens in the Movies Anywhere app in a player that supports subtitles, closed-captioning, AirPlay, chapters, 15-second skipping ahead and back, and the option to pick up where you left off or start over if you exit the player. If Movies Anywhere can continue to grow its library of titles, the promise of all your movies anywhere you want them may finally become a reality.

Movies Anywhere is available on the App Store (US only).


Connected, Episode 163: U2 Red

Stephen’s keyboard is disintegrating as Federico explains AirPlay 2, and Sonos and Google have new products out for the holiday season.

On this week’s Connected, we also consider some of the potential problems for Sonos’ third-party integrations and take a look at the Pixel 2. You can listen here.

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Supertop Seeks to Start a Conversation About Drag and Drop Best Practices

With the goal of encouraging a dialogue among developers, Supertop, the maker of Castro, has published a series of suggested best practices for implementing drag and drop on iOS. As Oisin Prendiville explains:

Ideally, experiences that users have in one app should stand to benefit them in others. As a community of developers and designers we should be looking to agree upon shared best practices to provide a consistent user experience. There’s an opportunity here to help users understand and embrace drag and drop as a powerful way to interact with touch devices, just as they have on the desktop for years.

The post considers five implementation aspects of drag and drop complete with animated GIF examples of ‘dos and don’ts.’

As we’ve discussed on AppStories, Castro’s execution of drag and drop is one of the best we’ve seen since iOS 11’s introduction. That makes the app an excellent jumping off point to frame the conversation among the broader iOS development community. I hope others take Supertop up on its offer to discuss these topics further because users could stand to benefit a lot from a set of canonical approaches to drag and drop.


The Limitations of watchOS Development

Benjamin Mayo recently built his first watchOS app, a companion to his iOS app for scanning and creating QR codes, Visual Codes. On his blog he outlines his experiences developing for the Apple Watch, focusing particularly on how limited third-party developers are with their apps.

Apple engineers are using a completely different technology stack to create the system apps. They get to real write real iOS apps with a watchOS appearance theme, essentially. Third-party developers have to use WatchKit — a completely separate abstracted framework that exposes only high-level interface objects (whilst creating UIKit components under the covers).

The current WatchKit API leaves no room for invention. iOS innovations like pull-to-refresh came about because the iPhone OS UI frameworks were flexible enough to let developers and designers run wild with their own ideas, if they wanted to. Some of these custom controls worked so well Apple later incorporated them as standard components in UIKit. That free reign creativity simply can’t happen on the watch at the moment. Apple defines what is possible.

Apple has clearly invested a lot into advancing the Apple Watch from a hardware perspective, and even in the native OS experience – both key areas to grow. But Mayo puts the spotlight on an area that’s clearly lagging behind.

In past years the lack of tools available to make third-party watchOS apps was less important, as the Watch itself still bore several key limitations – slow hardware, a confused OS, and being tethered to the iPhone. Few developers cared about being creative with Watch apps because everyone knew the Watch could barely handle the vanilla apps of the time anyways. It’s a testament to the recent evolution of the Watch as a product that WatchKit’s shortcomings now appear so disappointing.


Design Like the Notch Isn’t There

After revealing the iPhone X to the world on September 12th, Apple updated its Human Interface Guidelines and introduced a series of developer videos to address, among other topics, designing iOS apps with the iPhone X’s notch in mind. Designer Max Rudberg provides a comprehensive overview of Apple’s treatment of the notch. As Rudberg explains:

Apple is choosing to highlight the fact that the screen reaches the top left and right corner of the device. So the recommendation is clear. As a good platform citizen, one should follow their lead. By doing so, you likely have better chances to be highlighted by Apple in the App Store, or even win an Apple Design Award.

Eventually, they will get rid of the notch. It could be 2, 5, or even 10 years, but it’s a stop gap, not a permanent design solution. In the meantime, treat it like the elephant in the room. We all know it’s there, but for the most part, you should design as if it’s not.

Rudberg illustrates his article with screenshots of each point he covers and the dimensions of each screen elements adjacent to the notch. It’s not a substitute for reading the Human Interface Guidelines and watching Apple’s videos, but Rudberg’s article is a great place for developers to start when considering how to design for the iPhone X.


Apple Music Bot Joins Facebook Messenger

Apple Music has released a bot on Facebook Messenger, joining over 200,000 other active bots. According to Facebook’s announcement:

The Apple Music experience on Messenger is unique in that it allows Apple Music subscribers on iOS to play complete songs, right in the app. Of course it will enable listening and sharing of 30-second sound bites cross-platform (Android and iOS) to non-subscribers. You can even send an emoji to the bot and it will suggest a playlist – try sending 🔥 or even ✨❓🚌 to see what Apple Music bot suggests – and know what’s playing live on Beats 1 and see which shows are coming up next. And if you’re interested in becoming an Apple Music subscriber, you can also easily start your 3 month free trial via a native, seamless flow.

With a potential audience of over 1.3 billion people and competitors like Spotify on Facebook Messenger with a bot of its own, it makes a lot of strategic sense for Apple to be involved too. Signing up for a free trial is only a couple taps away in the bot interface, which I imagine should help Apple Music grow its subscriber base too.