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watchOS 8: The MacStories Review

We’ve come a long way from the Wild West of watchOS’ early versions. Changes in recent years have been thoroughly iterative in nature, suggesting that Apple believes that the platform has reached maturity. watchOS 8 heralds no deviation from this path, but as usual, a host of features bring new minor excitements for us to explore.

Health and fitness are established pinnacles of any good watchOS update, and this year’s offerings include a new Mindfulness app, sleep tracking improvements, and expanded workout types. Since Complications can now communicate with Bluetooth devices, health and fitness data from Bluetooth accessories will be more accessible than ever.

The usual host of first-party app updates are back this year too, with Home and Timers getting the most interesting changes. As for watch faces — another common source of easy feature additions — Apple seems to have dropped that ball this time around. Only two new faces are joining the ranks, and existing faces have remained stagnant.

At the system level, text input has received some nice updates. While still a bit clunky, some of the strictest limitations have been lifted, making the Apple Watch useable in more situations where I would previously have never considered it. The always-on display in Apple Watch Series 5 and higher will be far more useful in watchOS 8 as well, as third-party apps are finally able to utilize it.

Despite a lot of tidbits scattered throughout, watchOS 8 is easily the smallest annual update in the Apple Watch’s short history. This shouldn’t be a surprise given that we’re in the second year of a global pandemic, but it still feels disappointing.

Hopefully next year Apple will devote a bit more time and effort to watchOS, but for now let’s dig into the new additions that we do have to explore. Despite the small size of watchOS 8, its features are all positive improvements, and it’s still the best iteration of the Apple Watch operating system to date.

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iOS and iPadOS 15: The MacStories Review

A quieter release for even stranger times.

In my career as an iOS reviewer, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a response as universally positive and enthusiastic as the general public’s reception of iOS 14 last year. From the “Home Screen aesthetic” popularized by TikTokers to the incredible success of widgets and the resurgence of custom icons, few iOS updates managed to capture the cultural zeitgeist as globally and rapidly as iOS 14 did. The update broke out of the tech community and, perhaps for the first time in decades, made UI personalization a mainstream, easily attainable hobby. For once, we didn’t have to convince our friends and family to update to a major new version of the iPhone’s operating system. They just did it themselves.

The numbers don’t lie: five weeks after its release, iOS 14 was already set to surpass iOS 13’s adoption rate; in April 2021, seven months after launch, over 90% of compatible devices were running iOS 14. Which begs the obvious question: if you’re Apple, you’re planning to follow up on what made iOS 14 successful with even more of it, right?

Well, not quite.

With the world coming to a halt due to the pandemic in early 2020, Apple could have easily seized the opportunity to slow down its pace of software updates, regroup, and reassess the state of its platforms without any major changes in functionality. But, as we found out last year, that’s not how the company operates or draws its product roadmaps in advance. In the last year alone, Apple introduced a substantial macOS redesign, pointer support on iPad, and drastic changes to the iOS Home Screen despite the pandemic, executing on decisions that were likely made a year prior.

Surprisingly, iOS 15 doesn’t introduce any notable improvements to what made its predecessor wildly popular last year. In fact, as I’ll explore in this review, iOS 15 doesn’t have that single, all-encompassing feature that commands everyone’s attention such as widgets in iOS 14 or dark mode in iOS 13.

As we’ll see later in the story, new functionalities such as Focus and Live Text in the Camera are the additions that will likely push people to update their iPhones this year. And even then, I don’t think either of them sports the same intrinsic appeal as widgets, custom Home Screens, or the App Library in iOS 14.


It’s a slightly different story for iPadOS 15, which comes at a fascinating time for the platform.

As I wrote in my review of the M1 iPad Pro earlier this year, Apple needed to re-align the iPad’s hardware and software on two fronts. For pro users, the company had to prove that the new iPad Pro’s hardware could be useful for something beyond basic Split View multitasking, either in the form of more complex windowing, pro apps, or desktop-like background processes; at the same time, Apple also had to modernize iPadOS’ multitasking capabilities for all kinds of users, turning an inscrutable gesture-based multitasking environment into a more intuitive system that could also be operated from a keyboard. It’s a tall order; it’s why I’ve long believed that the iPad’s unique multiplicity of inputs makes iPadOS the toughest platform to design for.

Apple’s work in iPadOS 15 succeeds in laying a new foundation for multitasking but only partially satisfies the desires of power users. Apple managed to bring simplicity and consistency to multitasking via a new menu to manage the iPad’s windowing states that is easier to use than drag and drop. Perhaps more importantly, Apple revisited iPad multitasking so it can be equally operated using touch and keyboard. If you, the person reading these annual reviews, have ever found yourself having to explain to a family member how to create a Split View on iPad, tell them to update to iPadOS 15, and they’ll have a much easier time using their iPads to their full extent.

But after three months of running iPadOS 15 on my M1 iPad Pro, I can’t help but feel like power users will still be left wishing for more. Yes, iPadOS 15 brings extensive keyboard integration for multitasking with a plethora of new keyboard shortcuts and yes, the new multitasking menu and improvements to the app switcher benefit everyone, including power users, but iPadOS 15 is a foundational update that focuses on fixing the basics rather than letting the iPad soar to new heights.


While Apple is probably preparing bigger and bolder updates for next year, there are still plenty of features to discover and enjoy in iOS and iPadOS 15 – some that could still use some refinement, others that already feel like staples of the modern iPhone and iPad experience.

Let’s dive in.

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    Apple Updates the iPad mini and 10.2” iPad

    At today’s Apple event, the company unveiled updates to the iPad mini and the 10.2” iPad. The 10.2” version continues to serve as Apple’s entry-level iPad at the lowest price point of any iPad, while the mini takes a more pro-like turn compared to its predecessor.

    iPad mini

    The new iPad mini was my favorite announcement of today’s Apple event. In the 18 months since I wrote The Mighty mini: Adapting Apple’s Diminutive Tablet to Work and Play, I’ve heard from many MacStories readers who have the same affection for Apple’s most portable tablet that I do. However, the trouble was that that iPad, which was released about 2.5 years ago, came with a lot of compromises compared with any other iPad you could buy until today.

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    Apple Watch Series 7: The MacStories Overview

    At this morning’s virtual keynote event, Apple’s Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams announced the Apple Watch Series 7. Packing a brand-new display, a more rounded case design, faster charging, and greater resistance to cracking and dust, the Series 7 is a very nice iterative update.

    Display and Durability

    By far the biggest feature of the Series 7 is its gorgeous new display. Apple has reduced the bezels on all sides of the device by 40%, resulting in just 1.7mm borders around the screen. The screen itself has been stretched to fill this new area, and is 20% bigger than the screen on last year’s Series 6. To fit the new screen, case sizes have been increased to 41mm and 45mm — a fairly subtle change from the 40mm and 44mm sizes of the Series 5 and 6 Apple Watches. Thankfully, compatibility has been maintained with existing Apple Watch bands.

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    The New iPhone 13 Lineup: The MacStories Overview

    Today, Apple debuted its iPhone 13 lineup consisting of four new models:

    • iPhone 13 mini
    • iPhone 13
    • iPhone 13 Pro
    • iPhone 13 Pro Max

    Similar to the iPhone 12 family of devices, the iPhone 13 and 13 mini are the more affordable options, while the two Pro models add premium features at a premium price. All four devices share the A15 Bionic processor, 5G networking, camera updates, MagSafe, and more.

    Also, all four devices will be available for pre-order this Friday, September 17th, with availability beginning one week later on Friday, September 24th.

    Here’s a complete overview of everything new coming to the iPhone 13 lineup.

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    What Does It All Mean?: A Look at Judge Gonzalez Rogers’ Decision in the Epic Versus Apple Trial

    Yesterday, US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers decided Epic Games’ antitrust lawsuit against Apple, delivering a ruling in favor of Apple that comes with significant caveats. Although the Judge found that Apple‘s operation of the App Store isn’t an exercise of monopolistic power, she concluded that App Review Guidelines and related provisions of its agreements with developers foster a lack of pricing transparency store-wide that undermines competition under California law. So, while the decision is undeniably a win for Apple in many respects, it’s also a decidedly mixed bag. I’ve taken the time to read Judge Gonzalez Rogers’ 185-page decision and having written an in-depth look at the issues going into the trial, I thought I’d follow up with what the Court’s ruling is likely to mean for Epic and Apple as well as all developers and consumers.

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    FaceTime’s Audio and Video Take a Leap Forward With Apple’s Upcoming iPhone, iPad, and Mac OS Updates

    FaceTime has been a centerpiece feature across all of Apple’s platforms for a long time. However, with the pandemic, it became more important than ever, playing a critical role in the way friends and family have stayed connected. Of course, FaceTime isn’t the only way have kept in touch. The app had plenty of competition from Zoom, Skype, and other services.

    So, it’s not surprising that this year’s FaceTime updates focus on fundamentals like audio and video quality and making the app available outside of Apple’s ecosystem, allowing it to compete better with other services. Nor is it surprising that Apple announced SharePlay, which won’t ship until later this fall, so friends and family who can’t be together can still enjoy synchronized group activities like watching a video or listening to music. I’m skeptical that SharePlay will be the hit that Apple’s marketing suggests the company hopes it will be, but even putting SharePlay aside, the app is getting some major improvements that I think everyone will appreciate, so let’s dig in.

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    Apple’s Fall OS Updates Promise Deeper HomeKit and Entertainment Integration

    Apple’s fall OS updates will include a variety of HomeKit and home entertainment features. Unsurprisingly, some of those changes can be found in the company’s Home and TV apps, but this year, those apps only tell part of the overall story. To get the full picture, you need to zoom out from the apps, where you’ll find an interesting mix of new smart home device and entertainment features sprinkled throughout each platform.

    Let’s start with HomeKit devices. This year, many of the changes coming to Apple’s OSes relate to two important categories: video cameras and door locks. Controlling both types of devices will become easier this fall, thanks to deeper integration with the upcoming OS releases.

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    Reminders’ Smart Lists Put Unprecedented Control in the Hands of Users

    A couple of years ago, Apple transformed Reminders from a simple checklist-style task manager into something far more robust. It was a surprising but welcome update that made the app a good choice as the sole task manager for many users. Reminders is back with more surprises this year, including tagging and Smart Lists features, which I didn’t expect. Both new features work together to make it easier than ever to manage your tasks in Reminders, which by itself makes this year’s update to Reminders worth checking out. However, the update may indicate something broader too: that Apple is more receptive to providing users with greater control over how they use the iPhone and iPad’s stock apps, an exciting possibility that I hope comes to pass.

    Tags are brand new to Reminders and probably the most surprising addition to the iOS and iPadOS 15 versions of the app. Tags aren’t anything new to task management apps in general, but user-defined tags haven’t historically been available in Apple’s iPhone and iPad apps.

    There's a new Tag Browser in Reminders and multiple ways to add new tags.

    There’s a new Tag Browser in Reminders and multiple ways to add new tags.

    The design of Reminders’ tagging system makes it easy to get started. When you add a new task, there’s a field just below Notes for adding tags. Just start typing a name for your tag, and when you tap the Space bar, hit return, or type a comma, a hashtag is added to the beginning of the tag, and it changes to Reminders’ purplish accent color. Sorry, no spaces are allowed in your tags.

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