Posts in news

Bound is a Dropbox-Connected Audiobook Player

Audiobooks occupy a weird backwater on iOS. Long tucked away in Apple's Music app behind a 'More' button, audiobooks were kicked out of Music with iOS 8.4 and now live alongside eBooks in iBooks. Audiobooks are also one of the most restrictive types of media you can purchase on iTunes. Once downloaded to a device, an audiobook cannot be re-downloaded. Download an audiobook to an iOS device that isn't backed up and if your iPhone or iPad dies, your audiobook dies with it. iTunes audiobooks are, to borrow a Steve Jobs' complaint about Blu-ray disks, "a big bag of hurt."

iTunes is not, however, the only game in town. Services like Audible let you re-download books, and there are plenty DRM-free audiobooks available. But Audible is its own proprietary system and even DRM-free audiobooks cannot sync to iBooks on an iOS device without using a Mac and a cable. Pain points like these are what create opportunities for third party developers like Tim Bueno who has taken the pain out of getting DRM-free audiobooks onto your iPhone with a promising, although imperfect, Dropbox-connected audiobook player called Bound.

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Nintendo Outlines Launch Plans for ‘My Nintendo’ Service and Miitomo iOS App

Following a first announcement in October last year, Nintendo has revealed its launch plans for their first iOS app, Miitomo:

Starting Feb. 17, people will be able to pre-register for Miitomo by signing up for the new Nintendo Account service using their existing email, social media accounts or current Nintendo Network IDs. People who pre-register will be among the first to be notified about the availability of Miitomo when it launches in March. Nintendo will offer a special Miitomo bonus to anyone who signs up for a Nintendo Account between Feb. 17 and launch.

Previously teased as a communication service inspired by the company's Mii avatars and 3DS game Tomodachi Life, here's how the company describes Miitomo today:

Miitomo is a social experience that uses Nintendo's Mii characters, which first debuted on the Wii console, to engage friends in a lighthearted and welcoming environment.

Miitomo will be available on both the iPhone and iPad, and it'll be based on the new Nintendo Account service announced last year. Miitomo will first be released in Japan in mid-March and in 15 other countries by the end of March.

In addition, Miitomo users with a Nintendo Account will be able to take advantage of the new My Nintendo service, which promises to be more than the old Club Nintendo rewards program with a deeper integration with "Nintendo products and services". As detailed in an investor call earlier this week, My Nintendo will enable users to earn platinum points by interacting with Nintendo mobile apps and opening the eShop on a Nintendo console, while gold points will be collected by purchasing downloadable software for 3DS and Wii U. Points can be exchanged for digital content (platinum) or discount codes for eShop titles (gold).

Nintendo has offered further details on how the point system will work in an English version of their investor slides:

In the case of the previous Club Nintendo, we offered points, or “coins,” as a result of our members' purchasing and registering our products. For My Nintendo, the points are gained by members not only as the result of their digital purchases but also as the result of their activities, such as playing games and apps, and interacting with information from Nintendo.

The company notes that, after opening Nintendo Account registrations last December, they have already started providing Japanese users with access to some My Nintendo services. These include personalized game recommendations, which "are crafted for each of them based on their profile, purchase records and play records".

Details on Miitomo are still scarce despite today's announcements – it sounds like users will be able to chat and ask questions, but I'm curious to know if Nintendo is planning to add any gameplay/collectible elements to the app as well. According to Nintendo, more information about Nintendo Account, My Nintendo, and Miitomo will be released "in the coming weeks".

Daylite: The Productivity App for Individuals and Teams, Exclusively for Mac and iOS [Sponsor]

Marketcircle helps individuals, teams, and small businesses on the Mac, iPhone and iPad be more productive with their two apps, Daylite and Billings Pro.

For those of you who don’t know about Daylite, it has been around for almost 15 years. Daylite helps you manage clients, schedules, tasks, projects, emails and new business opportunities, all in one app where they’re interconnected. From a single client you can see who referred them, emails to and from, booked or upcoming appointments, pending business deals and even future followups. Or from a single Project you can see each person and their role, the tasks and who’s responsible, meetings about the project, and notes, all in chronological order. Daylite helps you remember everything so you don't have to worry about anything falling through the cracks. And when you invite team members, you can share this information, assign tasks or check each others calendars before scheduling meetings.

And with the recent release of Daylite 6, Marketcircle has made it even easier to get started. Create an account and login from your Mac, iPhone or iPad, then works with or without an Internet connection. Daylite will sync changes between devices and teammates when a connection is available. Marketcircle includes a 30 day trial for Daylite, with monthly and yearly plans.

You can even read about other companies using Daylite here.

Our thanks to Marketcircle for sponsoring MacStories this week.

Zapier Launches Multi-Step Zaps for Richer Web Automation

The new multi-step editor in Zapier.

The new multi-step editor in Zapier.

I've long been interested in web automation as a complement to my iOS apps and workflows. While I expressed my fair share of skepticism about the practical benefits of web automation in the past – primarily due to a lack of native apps to trigger recipes on IFTTT and Zapier – with time I've learned to appreciate the ability to automate web services and let them perform tedious tasks for me. The fact that I'm increasingly relying on web services with iOS apps that are simple front-ends to data that lives in the cloud might be related, too.1 My use of web automation isn't dramatically creative: I have a couple of Do Button recipes to send automated emails with one tap; I forward YouTube updates and some RSS items to Slack; and, I let a couple of Twitter accounts tweet on my behalf with automated recipes because I'd forget otherwise. Nothing too revolutionary.

Today, Zapier – the power-user (and paid) alternative to IFTTT – is launching multi-step zaps (the equivalent of recipes in IFTTT), which I was able to test for the past week. I've long preferred Zapier to IFTTT for the additional controls that it offers when building complex web automations. Zapier lets you assign filters to actions, you can parse data from email messages with a dedicated Zapier Parser service, and, generally speaking, everything is built with an eye for people who, like me, want to tweak as much as possible. Multi-step zaps fit squarely into this strategy and they're, by far, the most powerful solution I've tried to chain multiple web services together and save time.

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Apple Q1 2016 Results: $75.9 Billion Revenue, 74.8 Million iPhones, 16.1 Million iPads Sold

Apple has just published their financial results for Q1 2016 for the quarter that ended in December 2015. The company posted revenue of $75.9 billion. The company sold 16.1 million iPads, 74.8 million iPhones, and 5.3 million Macs, earning a quarterly net profit of $18.4 billion.

“Our team delivered Apple’s biggest quarter ever, thanks to the world’s most innovative products and all-time record sales of iPhone, Apple Watch and Apple TV,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “The growth of our Services business accelerated during the quarter to produce record results, and our installed base recently crossed a major milestone of one billion active devices.”

“Our record sales and strong margins drove all-time records for net income and EPS in spite of a very difficult macroeconomic environment,” said Luca Maestri, Apple’s CFO. “We generated operating cash flow of $27.5 billion during the quarter, and returned over $9 billion to investors through share repurchases and dividends. We have now completed $153 billion of our $200 billion capital return program.”

For the first time, Apple has included supplemental material alongside its financial results, noting that "in constant currency, Q1’16 revenue would have been $5 billion higher". "$100 of Apple’s non-U.S. dollar revenue in Q4’14 translates into only $85 U.S. dollars today", the company noted in a document available here.

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Google Paid Apple $1 Billion to Keep Search Bar on iPhone

Joel Rosenblatt, reporting for Bloomberg:

Google Inc. is paying Apple Inc. a hefty fee to keep its search bar on the iPhone.

Apple received $1 billion from its rival in 2014, according to a transcript of court proceedings from Oracle Corp.’s copyright lawsuit against Google. The search engine giant has an agreement with Apple that gives the iPhone maker a percentage of the revenue Google generates through the Apple device, an attorney for Oracle said at a Jan. 14 hearing in federal court.

It's not surprising at all that Google is paying Apple for the benefit of being the default search engine on iOS, but this is the first time it has been confirmed, and a dollar figure provided. But it is also an awkward revelation for Apple, which has recently started to more aggressively position itself as the company that protects its user's privacy. Remember Tim Cook's note on "Apple's commitment to your privacy"?

A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realize that when an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy.

Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple.

Apple's subtle (or perhaps not so subtle) privacy dig at Google looks a bit absurd and hypocritical in light of this court transcript. Apple may not build a profile on its users to sell to advertisers, but it lets Google do that (by default) and then profits from Google's actions.

Unsurprisingly, Google and Apple weren't happy about the disclosure by an Oracle attorney and sought to seal and redact the transcript. As Bloomberg reports;

The specific financial terms of Google’s agreement with Apple are highly sensitive to both Google and Apple,” Google said in its Jan. 20 filing. “Both Apple and Google have always treated this information as extremely confidential.”

The transcript vanished without a trace from electronic court records at about 3 p.m. Pacific standard time with no indication that the court ruled on Google’s request to seal it.


Apple Releases New Music Memos App, Updates GarageBand with Live Loops, Drummer, iPad Pro Support, and More

Apple's new Music Memos app.

Apple's new Music Memos app.

For a long time, musicians and songwriters have been using Apple's Voice Memos and Notes apps to capture their moments of inspiration and save song ideas using audio clips and text annotations directly on the iPhone and iPad. The company took notice of the trend – exemplified in this interview with Taylor Swift and Ryan Adams last year – and released Music Memos, a brand new (and free) app aimed at enabling everyone to record their musical ideas, organize them, and develop them with intuitive tools directly on iOS devices.

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Igloo: An Intranet You’ll Actually Like [Sponsor]

We all struggle with productivity. We are constantly pressured to accomplish more, and to do it quicker. There is no one definitive way to accomplish that, and we have all devised our own little method to make things work.

At Igloo, they think your way is the best way, they just want to support you, and make your way better.

Work has evolved and your tools should too. Never email yourself a file again. Bring your company into the 21st century - send your IT guy to try Igloo Software for free.

Igloo is an intranet you’ll actually like.

Our thanks to Igloo for sponsoring MacStories this week.

Facebook’s WhatsApp Is Now Free

WhatsApp announced earlier today that it would be removing its annual subscription fee (US$0.99 per year, after the first year). From Re/code's report of the announcement:

"It really doesn’t work that well,” Koum [WhatsApp founder] said Monday, speaking at the DLD conference in Munich. He noted that while a buck a year might not sound like much, access to credit cards is not ubiquitous. “We just don’t want people to think at some point their communication to the world will be cut off.”

Until now, WhatsApp has been free for the first year and 99 cents for additional years. It will stop charging subscription fees immediately but it will likely be a few weeks before the payments infrastructure is completely out of all versions of the app. And, in case you were wondering, you won’t be able to get back your buck if you have already paid for this year.

WhatsApp will stay ad-free, and instead the company will begin testing new tools that will enable WhatsApp users to communicate with businesses and organizations. The WhatsApp blog post about this announcement gives the example of being able to communicate with your bank about whether a recent transaction was fraudulent. Which, as Re/code's report points out, is a familiar strategy:

It’s the same idea behind Facebook Messenger, the company’s other standalone messaging service. With Messenger, Facebook already offers users the chance to chat with businesses, and it’s building out other features, like payments or the ability to hail a ride through Uber.