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Epic Versus Apple: The MacStories Overview

Later today, Epic Games and Apple will square off in a high-stakes trial in US federal district court that’s nominally about money. However, if that were all that was at stake, the claims each company has made against the other would likely have been resolved by now. Companies the size of Apple and Epic settle because it’s rarely in their interest to have a judge make decisions for them. However, this trial is different.

There’s more to these disputes than Epic’s allegation that Apple violated antitrust laws and Apple’s claims that Epic violated its developer agreement. Underlying it all is the way the dispute was precipitated by Epic. The Fortnite creator’s actions don’t necessarily absolve Apple of antitrust violations, but Epic’s calculated orchestration of events leading to the dispute have not gone unnoticed by the judge presiding over the case and may influence the trial’s outcome. Coupled with Epic’s efforts to get regulators around the world to take up its cause and its very public crusade against the way Apple operates the App Store, it’s not surprising that the claims haven’t settled. Instead, the parties will begin today with opening arguments in front of US District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, who the parties have agreed will decide the dispute instead of a jury.

Regardless of your opinion of the way Apple runs the App Store or Epic’s litigation tactics, the thing to keep in mind as the trial starts is that the judge is being asked to settle a legal dispute, not set policy. Both companies have made specific claims against the other, which by definition means the judge’s ruling will likely be narrower in scope than it would be in an antitrust case brought by the US government. Nor is any remedy imposed by the judge likely to be as broad as government regulation of the App Store might be someday.

Still, that doesn’t mean the stakes aren’t high; they are. An adverse ruling against Apple could significantly change the way the company operates the App Store and would likely trigger more antitrust lawsuits and regulatory scrutiny in the future. As a result, I thought it would be useful to dig in and take a closer look at some of the parties’ arguments and the context in which this dispute arose to provide a better sense of what to expect from the trial, which is expected to run about three weeks, and what the outcome might be.

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iOS and iPadOS 14.5: The MacStories Overview

Shareable lyrics, third-party music services for Siri, and the refreshed Podcasts app in iOS 14.5.

Shareable lyrics, third-party music services for Siri, and the refreshed Podcasts app in iOS 14.5.

Apple today released version 14.5 of iOS and iPadOS, a substantial update to the operating system for iPhone and iPad that debuted in September and introduced features such as Home Screen widgets, multi-column app layouts on iPad, compact UI, a redesigned Music app, and more.

Version 14.5 is the biggest – or, at the very least, most interesting – update to iOS and iPadOS we’ve seen in the 14.0 release cycle to date. That’s not to say previous iterations of iOS and iPadOS 14 were low on new features and refinements – it’s quite the opposite, in fact. Perhaps the pandemic and Apple’s work-from-home setup played a role in the company spreading new iOS functionalities across multiple releases throughout 2020 and the first half of 2021, but, regardless of the underlying reason, iOS and iPadOS 14 have evolved considerably since their public launch six months ago.

With iOS 14.2, Apple shipped the traditional “emoji update”, but was also able to include a redesigned AirPlay interface, face detection in AR, and a brand new Shazam integration in Control Center; with iOS 14.3, the company rolled out its new ProRAW photography API alongside support for the Fitness+ service, App Clip codes, and the ability to launch apps directly from Home Screen shortcuts; version 14.4, released earlier this year, saw the arrival of proximity-based music handoff for iPhone and HomePod mini alongside new options for Bluetooth settings and other performance improvements.

It’s difficult to tell whether some of these features were originally planned for a September release and got delayed because of the pandemic1, or how many of these are Apple’s response to user feedback following the release of iOS and iPadOS 14, but one thing’s for sure: Apple hasn’t stood still over the past few months, and today’s iOS and iPadOS 14.5 are continuing the trend of major iOS and iPadOS updates released ahead of WWDC.

Let’s dive in.

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20 Years Ago, Mac OS X Set the Stage for Today’s Apple

It’s hard to believe that it’s been two decades since Mac OS X was released. I wasn’t a Mac user in 2001, but as a tech fan, I followed the release of OS X and the later switch to Intel closely, which was what finally convinced me to buy my first iMac.

Today, with Mac OS X gone and Intel chipsets not far behind, I thought it would be fun to look back at OS X and the transition to it compared to the recent switch to macOS 11 Big Sur. I started by watching Steve Jobs’ introduction of Mac OS X at Macworld Expo in 2000, which was a perilous time for the Mac. The company was just two and a half years into Jobs’ return as iCEO and had recently filled out its simplified product grid, adding the iBook to the iMac, Power Mac G4, and PowerBook lineup.

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Doodle Jump 2 Review: A Modern Take on a Classic

As I wrote in a recent issue of MacStories Weekly, the original Doodle Jump is one of my all-time favorite iOS games. This classic features an adorable doodle (officially dubbed “The Doodler”) bouncing its way up what appears to be a sheet of notebook paper. The beautifully simple controls consist of tilting your device to maneuver The Doodler and tapping your screen to fire projectiles at the monsters and UFOs that are trying to put an end to your adventure. The game is, at its core, an infinite runner. The higher you jump, the higher you score, and that’s Doodle Jump.

Doodle Jump’s initial release was in 2009 — an astounding 12 years ago this April. With so much time having passed since the original, I never really expected to see a sequel. This felt especially true to me since the original Doodle Jump absolutely still holds up after all this time. As it turns out though, Lima Sky — the development studio behind the game — wasn’t done with ideas for the Doodle Jump world. Last month, Doodle Jump 2 was released, and fans of the old game will not be disappointed.

Doodle Jump 2 is instantly familiar to anyone who has played the original. The controls haven’t changed at all, nor has the core idea of The Doodler bouncing its way to ever-increasing heights. However, the game’s art and animations have been completely revamped, with tremendous results.

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CES Rundown: Highlights of This Year’s Most Intriguing (and Bizarre) Announcements

My coverage of CES has always been virtual. This year the show itself is virtual too, which left me wondering whether there would be much to cover. Although there are fewer vendors participating than in the past, the event continues to provide a steady stream of news about new products planned for the coming months.

Some of what is announced each year will never see the light of day, and other gadgets will never look as good as they did in the hands of expert marketers. Still, CES always provides a useful snapshot of tech industry hardware trends, a handful of unexpected gems, like last year’s Eve Cam that I reviewed over the summer and Samsung’s T7 external SSD, which ended up powering my Big Sur beta testing, plus a healthy dose of the truly strange.

After pouring over hundreds of headlines and press releases, I’ve compiled a roundup of some of this week’s most intriguing announcements. Feel free to skip around to the categories that you find most interesting using the table of contents below.

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Headland Review: Fight Your Way Through a World of Imagination

Headland is a new game for iOS and Android by the award winning game studio Northplay. The game revolves around a young boy exploring a world of his own imagination; fighting enemies and hunting down the missing shards of his robot friend’s “imagination core.” I played through Headland over the last few days and found it to be a well-made and overall quite enjoyable experience.

I really like that Headland plays in portrait orientation. Most games like it run in landscape, which is fine, but it’s nice to have a change. On my iPhone Mini I can actually play Headland entirely one-handed, which makes the game feel more light and casual even though its gameplay is engaging. Playing two-handed on my iPad Pro was still fun though since I could support the device with a single hand and play with the other.

The key to this is the game’s excellent controls, which are intuitive and only require a single finger at any given time. To move your character, you place your finger anywhere on the screen and then rotate it. This is essentially a joystick movement control, but it works so much better because the joystick will appear underneath your finger wherever you place it. My struggle with most touch-joystick games is that I end up placing my finger off-center from the stationary joystick and then I move in an unwanted direction. This never happens in Headland.

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MacStories Selects 2020: Recognizing the Best Apps of the Year

John: The MacStories Selects Awards are our annual love letter to apps and the people who make them. Apps have become ubiquitous, seeping into every corner of our lives. They help us find a job and home, get work done, blow off steam, order a meal, and everything in between. With so many apps available in the App Store, though, it’s easy to take them and their creators for granted, which is why as the year comes to a close, we step back and pause to celebrate the MacStories Team’s favorite apps and the people who make them.

To say that bringing an app to life from idea to a fully-formed 1.0 is tough is a vast understatement, and 2020 hasn’t made the process any easier. However, as we survey the past year, the depth of innovative apps makes it clear that many developers poured themselves into their apps in 2020. The result was a list of MacStories Selects candidates that was longer than in any prior year of the awards.

We had a wealth of excellent apps to choose from this year for the seven categories the MacStories Team chose:

  • Best New App
  • Best App Update
  • Best New Feature
  • Best Watch App
  • Best Mac App
  • Best Design
  • App of the Year

Along with the Readers’ Choice Award, which was chosen by Club MacStories members, that makes a total of eight award winners plus twelve runners-up. These are the third annual MacStories Selects Awards, which we debuted in 2018. As we did last year, we have also created beautiful physical awards commemorating the winners, which we will be sending out to each in a couple of weeks.

We also recorded a special episode of our podcast AppStories all about the MacStories Selects winners and runners-up. It’s a terrific way to learn more about this year’s apps.

You can listen to the episode below.

So, it’s with great admiration and respect for the developers who have persevered through a tough year to produce some of the best apps we’ve ever used that we present to our readers the 2020 MacStories Selects Awards:

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macOS Big Sur: The MacStories Review

Big Sur is a big deal. The OS picks up where Catalina left off, further rationalizing Apple’s product lineup through design, new ways to bring apps to the Mac, and updates to existing system apps. The approach realigns functionality across Apple’s platforms after years of divergence from their common foundation: Mac OS X. The result is an OS that walks a perilous line between breaking with the past and honoring it, acknowledging the ways computing has changed while aiming for a bold future.

macOS, which OS X has been called since 2016, is a mature operating system, so more often than not its annual updates are incremental affairs that don’t turn many heads. Big Sur is different. It’s an update that promises a future that’s connected to its past yet acknowledges today’s mobile-first computing landscape and harmonizing user experiences across devices.

Big Sur also clarifies Apple’s Mac strategy, the contours of which began to emerge with Catalina. It’s a vision of a continuum of computing devices that offer a consistent, familiar environment no matter which you choose while remaining true to what makes them unique. In practical terms, that means a carefully coordinated design language and a greater emphasis on feature parity across OSes. Conceptually, it’s also an opportunity for macOS to shed the perception that it’s a legacy OS overshadowed by iOS and reclaim a meaningful place in Apple’s lineup for years to come.

Together, the changes to macOS set the table for Apple’s M1 Macs, the next big step in the Mac’s modernization, and easily earn Big Sur its designation of version 11.0.

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Using Soor’s Widgets and Magic Mixes

Soor's iOS 14 widgets.

Soor’s iOS 14 widgets.

As I detailed in a recent episode of AppStories, I’ve spent several weeks tweaking my iPhone’s Home Screen and playing around with different approaches to widgets and app icons. The layout I eventually settled on (which you can find in the AppStories show notes) takes advantage of dark mode to create the illusion of widgets “blending” into the wallpaper – specifically, the Soor widgets at the top of the page. Given how I believe Soor’s developer Tanmay Sonawane has taught Apple a lesson when it comes to building Apple Music widgets for iOS 14, and considering the app’s most recent update, I thought I’d write about these widgets in more detail.

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