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OS X 10.11 El Capitan: The MacStories Review

In 2013 Apple left behind the decade old big cat naming scheme for major releases of its flagship desktop operating system. It set its sights instead on inspirational places in California. Beginning with Mavericks, a California surfing spot, OS X then moved on to Yosemite, the beloved national park. In this year's new release, Apple eschewed another big move in exchange for seeking greater heights within the bounds of last year's stomping ground.

Since the introduction of Yosemite last fall, Apple has faced some rough times in the press. While the company is well adjusted to the doomsday chicanery constantly tossed about by the mainstream tech media, this year the calls were coming from inside the house. Well known developers and tech bloggers who have historically been accused 1 of ingratiation with the Cupertino company, were stepping out to bring attention to a growing feeling of dissatisfaction in its software.

Software is a field which has classically been one of Apple's strong suits. Shave off ten seconds on startup and save a dozen lives. Yet recent years have brought debacles such as Apple Maps in iOS 6 and discoveryd, as well as many smaller issues such as random crashing in iOS, lost music files, and stingy iCloud storage.

The consensus that seemed to be reached when these issue came to a head this January was a plea to Apple to just slow down. While Apple's hardware division has proven themselves capable of firing on all cylinders year after year, their software division has not quite been keeping up. They could use a year to regroup, focus on existing features, and hold off on any major leaps forward. In essence, a Snow Leopard kind of year.

Thankfully, in what seems to be establishing itself as a pleasant trend of late, Apple has been listening.

discoveryd was reverted in the final update to Yosemite, Apple Music has some homework to do, and Apple Maps has picked up the last of its major missing features. Siri is getting faster, iCloud storage prices have gone down, and Notification Center widgets which launch other apps are being allowed into the App Store.

With the difficult, but necessary changes seen in iOS 7 and 8 and OS X 10.9 and 10.10 out of the way, Apple may finally have a chance to take advantage of some breathing room and address the features they've been neglecting.

With all this in mind, it's no surprise that OS X 10.11 is named after a mountain which can be found inside Yosemite National Park.

El Capitan marks an end to Apple's relentless march forward, opting instead for a calm retrospective on the applications and underlying frameworks which have been the keystones of the operating system for years. Portentous in its own restraint, 10.11 canonizes those small but significant features that enrich the OS X experience in daily use. Shaving off seconds and bandaging cuts, El Capitan is the operating system we've been looking for.

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  1. Without merit, but accused nonetheless. 

watchOS 2: The MacStories Review

On September 9th, 2014, Apple CEO Tim Cook took the stage at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino. This was the very same stage on which, 30 years earlier, a young Steve Jobs had introduced the original Macintosh to the world. The Apple of 2014 was a very different company. Loved and hated, famous and infamous, indomitable and doomed. The only statement about the tech giant that might avoid contestation was that it could not be ignored.

The 9th would be a rubicon for Tim Cook. The late Steve Jobs had helmed the company through every one of its unparalleled series of epochal products. This was the day on which Cook would announce the first new product to come out of Apple since Jobs' passing. A product that media pundits everywhere were sure to use as a scapegoat to prove or disprove the quality of his leadership.

The words "One More Thing..." overtook the screen, met by raucous applause from the expectant audience. Uncontrolled excitement burst through Cook's normally calm demeanor as he presented the introduction to his hard work. "It is the next chapter in Apple's story," Cook boldly stated before leaving the stage. The ensuing video gave the world its first look at the Apple Watch.

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    iOS 9 and Accessibility: My 5 Favorite Details

    I've made the case more than once that accessibility, conceptually, is not a domain exclusive to the disabled. Certainly, persons with disabilities will always be the target market for accessibility features, but I think many fully-abled people overlook the fact that accessibility features can help them too. To me, the canonical example is larger text. Yes, something like Large Dynamic Type is a boon to the visually impaired, but it can also benefit someone with aging or tired eyes.

    In a similar vein, accessibility isn't solely about discrete Accessibility features. While a big part of my writing involves reporting on iOS' (and watchOS') Accessibility features and how they affect users, I do make an effort to focus and write on the smaller aspects of accessibility. That is to say, I try to find accessibility in less obvious places – for instance, how technologies like Touch ID and Force Touch impact the disabled.

    This concept has extended to my testing of the iOS 9 public beta throughout the summer. As I've gotten used to the new operating system on my iPhone 6 and iPad Air, I've come to notice several details that aren't intentionally for accessibility, but nonetheless make the experience more accessible (and more enjoyable).

    With that in mind, here are five "little things" in iOS 9 that stand out the most.

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    What’s New for iOS Management in iOS 9

    Since the early days of iOS, Apple has always made it relatively easy to configure iOS devices to meet the needs of managed deployments in schools, businesses, and other mass-deployment situations. Heck, even the good old iPod Classic had a "museum mode" that could lock down the device to show specific notes on the screen while audio played.

    Over the past few years, iOS deployment has become more 'professionalised' – which might be a euphemism for 'complicated'. Honestly, all mass computer deployment is deeply complex when you get down to it. The best systems automate almost everything. iOS deployment, as it has developed in recent years, has tended to keep most of the moving parts close to the surface. These parts have been difficult or impossible to automate and easy to overlook or forget. That would be fine if most of these parts were optional, but they're not.

    The main parts of an iOS deployment are a Mobile Device Management server for configuring and tracking your devices, the Volume Purchase Program for bulk-buying apps from the App Store, and the user of the device having an Apple ID.

    When Apple launched the Volume Purchase Program, they introduced the ability for administrators to assign apps to users' Apple IDs, rather than to devices. This also introduced the requirement that every device have a single, identifiable user who has a working Apple ID.

    This was quite a good idea in the early days of iOS in the enterprise. These were days when users were bringing their own iOS devices to work and businesses had to make apps available to them. It wasn't such a good idea for more centrally-managed deployments where the use of the device was perhaps more task-oriented than user-oriented. Think: supermarket employee who picks up one of twenty available iPads to do stock control. It also wasn't great for schools, where many users didn't have Apple IDs and there were no tools for bulk creation of said accounts.

    I would love to tell you that iOS 9 fixes all of these problems. Unfortunately, I can't tell you that. What iOS 9 does is fix one problem while introducing another.

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    iOS 9 Goes to School

    I have been deploying and teaching with iOS in a 1:1 school for five full years now. A 1:1 school is a school where each student is provided with a computer in some form for their exclusive use. We started with the original iPad in August 2010 and now, five years later, are getting ready to refresh from our current 4th-generation retina iPad to whatever is current next summer.

    Over these past five years, we have seen iPad develop from an interesting device with some useful desktop-like apps in the iWork suite to a very powerful platform for student learning and creativity.

    I have often said that the iPad hardware matters only insofar as it enables you to have an excellent experience of software. Tablets and smartphones are as close as we can practically get to a pure software experience. This is one of the reasons why iPhone and iPad hardware is firstly so minimalist and secondly hasn't changed much in all the years they have been sold. What matters about the iPad is that it makes the software fast, smooth, and powerful.

    We have seen many more changes in iPad software than we have in the hardware. We started with iOS 3.2 – a version before even multitasking arrived on iOS – and we are now looking at iOS 9. So what does iOS 9 bring for education?

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    Apple’s iOS 9 News App Review: Broken News

    Apple occasionally introduces new apps to iOS that come preinstalled on every device, and with iOS 9 they've done this again with the introduction of News. As you would expect from the name, News is, or at least tries to be, a one-stop shop for all your news needs. One way to think of News is a fusion of Google News (for the recommended articles), Flipboard (for the ability to follow publishers and topics), and Facebook's Instant Articles (custom, gorgeous articles on mobile).

    The News app was, to me at least, one of the features of iOS 9 that I was most looking forward to using – I even put that in writing. I was excited about the News app because reading news on an iPhone, although it has improved over time, can still be a frustrating experience jumping from app to app. The experience is even worse with many news websites which chew massive amounts of data and obscure the small display with a myriad of annoying ads. News, as it was demoed at WWDC, offered a promising alternative: a one-stop app that would deliver "the articles you want to read in a beautiful and uncluttered format, while respecting your privacy".

    Much like Apple's past experiments in bringing news to iOS,1 the News app in iOS 9 fails to live up to its potential. The high hopes that I had for the News app have unfortunately been (mostly) dashed. Whilst there are aspects of great execution in some limited areas, huge aspects of News seem half-baked and confused.

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    iOS 9: The MacStories Review, Created on iPad

    With iOS entering the last stage of its single-digit version history, it's time to wonder if Apple wants to plant new seeds or sit back, maintain, and reap the fruits of the work done so far.

    Last year, I welcomed iOS 8 as a necessary evolution to enable basic communication between apps under the user's control. With extensions based on a more powerful share sheet, document providers, widgets, and custom keyboards, I noted that iOS had begun to open up; slowing down wasn't an option anymore.

    In hindsight, many of the announcements from last year's WWDC were unambiguous indicators of a different Apple, aware of its position of power in the tech industry and willing to explore new horizons for its mobile operating system and what made it possible.

    Following the troubled launch of iOS 6 and subsequent rethinking of iOS 7, Apple found itself caught in the tension between a (larger) user base who appreciated iOS for its simplicity and another portion of users who had elected iPhones and iPads as their primary computers. Alongside this peculiar combination, the tech industry as a whole had seen the smartphone graduate from part of the digital hub to being the hub itself, with implications for the connected home, personal health monitoring, videogames, and other ecosystems built on top of the smartphone.

    WWDC 2014 marked the beginning of a massive undertaking to expand iOS beyond app icons. With Extensibility, HealthKit, HomeKit, Metal, and Swift, Tim Cook's Apple drew a line in the sand in June 2014, introducing a new foundation where no preconception was sacred anymore.

    iOS' newfound youth, however, came with its fair share of growing pains.

    While power users could – at last – employ apps as extensions available anywhere, the system was criticized for its unreliability, poor performance, sparse adoption, and general lack of discoverability for most users. The Health app – one of the future pillars of the company's Watch initiative – went through a chaotic launch that caused apps to be pulled from the App Store and user data to be lost. The tabula rasa of iOS 7 and the hundreds of developer APIs in iOS 8 had resulted in an unprecedented number of bugs and glitches, leading many to call out Apple's diminished attention to software quality. And that's not to mention the fact that new features often made for hefty upgrades, which millions of customers couldn't perform due to storage size issues.

    But change marches on, and iOS 8 was no exception. In spite of its problematic debut, iOS 8 managed to reinvent how I could work from my iPhone and iPad, allowing me – and many others – to eschew the physical limitations of desktop computers and embrace mobile, portable workflows that weren't possible before. The past 12 months have seen Apple judiciously fix, optimize, and improve several of iOS 8's initial missteps.

    Eight years1 into iOS, Apple is facing a tall task with the ninth version of its mobile OS. After the changes of iOS 7 and iOS 8 and a year before iOS 10, what role does iOS 9 play?

    In many cultures, the number "10" evokes a sense of growth and accomplishment, a complete circle that starts anew, both similar and different from what came before. In Apple's case, the company has a sweet spot for the 10 numerology: Mac OS was reborn under the X banner, and it gained a second life once another 10 was in sight.

    What happens before a dramatic change is particularly interesting to observe. With the major milestone of iOS 10 on track for next year, what does iOS 9 say about Apple's relationship with its mobile OS today?

    After two years of visual and functional changes, is iOS 9 a calm moment of introspection or a hazardous leap toward new technologies?

    Can it be both?

    eBook Version

    An eBook version of this review is available to Club MacStories members for free as part of their subscription. A Club MacStories membership costs $5/month or $50/year and it contains some great additional perks.

    You can subscribe here.

    (Note: If you only care about the eBook, you can subscribe and immediately turn off auto-renewal in your member profile. I'd love for you to try out Club MacStories for at least a month, though.)

    Download the EPUB files from your Club MacStories profile.

    Download the EPUB files from your Club MacStories profile.

    If you're a Club MacStories member, you will find a .zip download in the Downloads section of your profile, which can be accessed at The .zip archive contains two EPUB files – one optimized for iBooks (with footnote popovers), the other for most EPUB readers.

    If you spot a typo or any other issue in the eBook, feel free to get in touch at

    Table of Contents

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    A Beginner’s Guide to App Store Pricing Tiers

    It might be common knowledge to developers, but some readers might not be aware that Apple only permits developers to sell apps at certain price points. For example, customers in the US App Store will see apps costing $0.99, $1.99, and $2.99 but they won't find any apps costing $5.20 or $2.75.

    For various reasons, which we'll cover, Apple permits developers to choose from 94 price tiers, which range from US$0.99 to US$999.99. Developers pick one price tier, which applies to every country that their app is distributed in.

    In this story we'll go into the details of the App Store price tiers, explaining how they work, some of the reasons why they exist, interesting consequences of them, and hear from developers who use them.

    This is a bit of an experimental story, exploring an iOS/Mac developer topic for the benefit of anyone interested in the iOS/Mac app ecosystem. If enough people find this useful we'll look at covering other topics.

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    Visualizing Apple’s Historical iPhone Lineups, Guessing the Next One

    We're rapidly approaching that time of the year when Apple introduces new iPhones, and BuzzFeed's John Paczkowski reported last week that the event will be take place on September 9. There will almost certainly be a lot to talk about after the event (Paczkowski says that the event will include a new Apple TV and iPads), but one thing that I've been thinking about is what the new iPhone lineup will look like. This was all precipitated by the discussion on last week's Talk Show with John Gruber and John Moltz.

    Because my mind was a bit fuzzy on the historical iPhone lineups (particularly the early years), I decided to go back and make a graph to simply and clearly show what Apple has done in the past. The dates I used were based on when each iPhone was available in the US (not the announcement date). Tier 1 represents the newest and most advanced iPhone available at the time. Although there are slight differences between the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, they are largely identical (both have an A8 processor with 1 GB RAM, etc) and as a result I've characterised them both as Tier 1. Tier 2 represents the next best iPhone available (often the previous year's Tier 1 model) and Tier 3 is the next best again.

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