Posts in stories

Workflows of a Casual Apple Pencil User

One year ago, Apple launched a new product to accompany its first ever iPad Pro: the Apple Pencil. Presented not as a replacement for touch input, but as a tool geared toward specific tasks, the Pencil immediately endeared itself to creatives who sketch or illustrate. In the weeks following the announcement, I remember scouring Twitter and Instagram for any first impressions I could find from people who had tried this new device. Some of the best came from Apple's visits to Disney and Pixar, where many of my favorite movie makers seemed thrilled about the Pencil. It looked like the perfect tool for artistic tasks.

Apple's pride in creating the Pencil has been clear since they first announced it. In its already jam-packed September 2015 keynote, the company dedicated significant time and attention to the product, including a video introduction from Jony Ive and three live demos that put the Pencil to use. In this past March's keynote, when Apple announced the 9.7" iPad Pro, Phil Schiller called the Pencil "the greatest accessory Apple has ever made." High praise from a proud parent.

My initial take on the Pencil was that it seemed like a great device, but it wasn't for me. I don't sketch, I'm not a fan of handwriting notes, and using the Pencil for system navigation never appealed to me. But I bought one to give it a try. Apple's return policy made sure no money would be wasted if the Pencil became merely a pretty paperweight in my life. Within a few hours of use I discovered that while the Pencil isn't a daily-used tool for me, it is a device that, for specific tasks, I would never want to be without.

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The In-Between Macs

The current MacBook Pro line is a little bit of a mess. Even after brushing aside the last-generation machines that are still for sale, the current offerings are confusing. Both 15-inch models come with the Touch Bar, but only two of the three 13-inch models offered do.

That $1,499 non-Touch-Bar-but-still-in-the-new-skinny-case 13-inch MacBook Pro is what I'm typing on right now. It's a great little laptop. The screen is gorgeous, battery life is great and it's more than fast enough for what I need when I'm not in front of my 5K iMac.

It's a weird machine, though. I'm sure Apple left the Touch Bar — and two Thunderbolt 3 ports — out solely to hit the price point, which is already higher than the model it replaces.

My guess is that this MacBook Pro will either drop in price or be replaced in the future as the Touch Bar trickles down.

Until then, it's in the ranks of some other modern-era Macs that were caught between other products or different eras of hardware design. Let's look at some other examples.

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Why I’m Considering Bear as a Notes App Replacement

As I wrote in an issue of MacStories Weekly (exclusive to Club MacStories members), I recently moved my Club-related notes from the Apple Notes app to Trello. Because Club MacStories is a collaborative effort, it made sense to use Trello's project management features to let the entire MacStories team see my notes. However, moving those notes to Trello considerably decreased my usage of Apple Notes, which left me wondering if it was time to consider an alternative app for my personal note-taking needs.

I praised Apple Notes numerous times since its relaunch on iOS 9. I believe Notes and Safari are Apple's two best iOS apps, and I recommend Notes to anyone planning a switch from Evernote or OneNote. Notes is surprisingly advanced and fast; its iCloud sync is reliable; it even received support for collaboration in iOS 10. I've used Notes as my only note-taking app for over a year now.

After moving my most frequently accessed notes to Trello1, I looked at what was left in Notes, and I realized that I wanted to see if a different app could fill the gaps Apple didn't address. For everything Notes gets right, there are several limitations that have required me to change how I work: Notes has no native Markdown support, no automation features, and its organization system based on folders could use a revamp. I accepted Notes' shortcomings because I had no other choice; could a new app lure me away from it through the promise of features Apple would never ship?

My transition from Notes to Trello couldn't have come at a better time. I've been keeping an eye on Bear, a new note-taking app developed by Italian studio Shiny Frog, for the entire summer. Bear piqued my interest right away: like Notes, it was based on CloudKit sync, but Bear also strived to augment the experience for "online writers" thanks to Markdown, automation features, themes, tags, cross-reference links, and more.

As Bear betas went out to testers, I told myself I wouldn't need it because I was perfectly fine in Notes. But when I noticed that I was using Notes less frequently anyway, I took the plunge, moved my remaining personal notes to Bear, and put the app on my Home screen. This happened two weeks ago.

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The New MacBook Pro: Our Complete Overview

At yesterday morning's Hello Again keynote event, Apple announced the long-awaited update to their professional laptop line. The new MacBook Pro comes in two sizes and features a thinner body and upgraded internals. It also comes equipped with Apple's brand new Touch Bar, a Retina touchscreen display which replaces the row of function keys atop the keyboard, and a Touch ID sensor.

These new machines mark the first significant spec advancements for the MacBook Pro since they moved to Haswell processors in 2014, and the first notable hardware changes since going Retina in 2012. As such, it's no surprise that the new MacBook Pro is an improvement in nearly every way over previous models. This is truly the next generation of Apple's flagship laptops.

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iPhone 7: Computer from the Future

After nearly two years spent using a 5.5-inch iPhone, I'm accustomed to not having a compact phone anymore. The iPhone 6 Plus and 6s Plus have reshaped my iPhone experience for a simple reason: they give me more of the most important device in my life.

Thus, I was a little skeptical – even surprised – when Apple gave me a gold 256 GB iPhone 7 review unit (with a leather case) two weeks ago. I didn't think I would be able to enjoy a smaller iPhone, but, despite my initial resistance, I set up a fresh install of iOS 10 and used the iPhone 7 exclusively for two weeks.

I'm glad I did. While I'm still pining for a 7 Plus1, using the iPhone 7 showed me that there's more to this year's iPhones than the lack of a headphone jack.

In many ways, the iPhone 7 feels like a portable computer from the future – only in a tangible, practical way that is here with us today.

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System Haptics on the iPhone 7

Apple introduced the Taptic Engine with the iPhone 6s, where it replaced the old vibration motor and was also used to provide haptic feedback for when you activated 3D Touch. This year with the iPhone 7, Apple has improved the Taptic Engine and it plays a critical role in simulating the press of the Home button, which is no longer a physical button. But the Taptic Engine in the iPhone 7 goes even further with the introduction of System Haptics, where a number of UI elements in iOS will now also provide tactile haptic feedback when you activate them.

I have had my iPhone 7 for nearly a week now, and these new System Haptics have been a great delight to discover, and use. These System Haptics are mostly subtle and feel very natural, so you may not have even noticed them. Below I've compiled a list of all the places in iOS that I've noticed them appear.

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Swift Coding Comes to iPad: Playgrounds, Schools, and Learning to Code

Right at the end of the WWDC 2016 keynote, Apple announced Swift Playgrounds. This is a new app from Apple that is designed to allow children to learn to program on an iPad. This is a first from Apple and a major advance for iOS as a platform.

I was fortunate to be awarded an educator scholarship to WWDC 2016 and was privileged to be in the audience at the announcement. While attending the conference, I was able to speak with many of the engineers and educators working on Swift Playgrounds and gain an insight into what the software is capable of and the reasons why it was built.

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macOS Sierra: The MacStories Review

The first thing that may catch the eye of many looking to upgrade their Mac this year is the demise of the classic 'OS X' moniker. The end of OS X has been long rumored, and the expectation has often been for the Mac to move to whatever Apple chooses to name their OS 11. This would of course be a change on a massive scale, such as that between OS 9 and OS X was over a decade ago.

This year, with OS X finally seeing the end of its reign, will we be seeing another epochal change in Mac history?

Nope.

After a decade of mispronounced Roman numerals, Apple is ready to let go of the name, but not the number. The full title for the 2016 iteration of the Mac operating system: macOS 10.12 Sierra. OS X may be gone, but OS 10 survives.

Since the mystical OS 11 didn’t come in the aftermath of the last big cat, didn’t come on the heels of version 10.9, and now again hasn’t come to usher out OS X, it’s starting to look like it may never come at all. Let’s all cross our fingers and hope that that’s true, because the bottom line is that OS 11 isn’t needed anymore.

These days, Apple is a very different company than it was when OS X made its debut. The Mac is no longer Apple’s darling. It was long ago pushed aside by the iPod, then the iPhone and iPad, and now even a watch and a TV box. Each of these is its own platform, running its own operating system. Each of these has its place in the new age Apple ecosystem.

With iOS, watchOS, and tvOS all around, the freshly renamed macOS no longer serves the role of scrappy upstart. Today, the Mac is the eldest platform, and macOS needs to focus on stability and productivity. Leave the epochal changes to the young guys.

With this year’s update, named after California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, macOS builds once more upon the strong base of its many predecessors. Trenchant in its restraint, 10.12 shirks sweeping changes in favor of iterative improvements. A perfect example of an update to a mature operating system done right.

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