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A Timeline of iOS Accessibility: It Started with 36 Seconds

On June 8, 2009, at the end of a two-hour WWDC keynote, Phil Schiller was running through a long list of new features and apps that would be available on the iPhone 3GS, due to ship on June 19 of that year. Phil was pinch-hitting as keynote master of ceremonies for Steve Jobs, who was then on leave, recovering from a liver transplant.

At 1:51:54 in the video, just after he showed off Voice Control and the new Compass app, Apple’s version of the accessibility logo appeared on screen. It’s a stick-style figure with arms and legs outstretched. The icon is still used today.

“We also care greatly about accessibility,” Schiller said, and the slide switched to an iPhone settings screen.

For a total of 36 seconds, Schiller spoke somewhat awkwardly about VoiceOver, Zoom, White on Black (called Invert Colors from iOS 6 onward), and Mono Audio – the first real accessibility features on the iPhone OS platform, as it was then called.

And then it was over. No demo. No applause break.

Schiller moved on to describe the Nike+ app and how it would allow iPhone users to meet fitness goals.

I surveyed a number of liveblogs from that day. About half noted the mention of accessibility features in iPhone OS. The others jumped directly from Compass to Nike+. Accessibility hadn’t made much of a splash.

But in the blindness community, things were very different. Time seemed to stop somewhere after 1:51:54 in the video. Something completely amazing had happened, and only a few people seemed to understand what it meant.

Some were overjoyed, some were skeptical, some were in shock. They all had questions. Would this be a half-hearted attempt that would allow Apple to fill in the checkboxes required by government regulations, a PR stunt to attract good will? Or would it mean that people who had previously been completely locked out of the iPhone would have a way in?

You can probably guess what the answer is, now that we have ten years of an accessible mobile platform in the rearview mirror – now that Apple is widely credited with offering the best mobile accessibility experience available. But it didn’t all happen at once, and not every step along the way was a positive one.

0:00 1:51

Excerpt from ‘36 Seconds That Changed Everything.’

As a companion to my audio documentary, “36 Seconds That Changed Everything: How the iPhone Learned to Talk,” I’ve put together a timeline of iOS accessibility milestones from the past ten years. I’ve focused on Apple hardware and operating systems, though there have also been important Apple app updates, and third-party apps that opened doors to new ways of using iOS accessibly. It’s a list that’s simply too long for this article. And, with a few exceptions, I’ve addressed accessibility-specific features of iOS. Many mainstream features have accessibility applications and benefits, even if they don’t fit here directly.

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I Won’t Sit Down: Songwriting with Frank Turner (Part 2)

Today on Dialog, we published the conclusion of our interview featuring musician and songwriter Frank Turner.

To wrap things up with speak to Turner about the democratization of the creation, access, and distribution of music and other media, the role of hard work and luck, the songwriting process, when to listen to feedback and from whom, editing your work, the role of technology in songwriting, the state of albums today, and a whole lot more. It was a fantastic way to finish up, so be sure to check it out.

You can find the episode here or listen through the Dialog web player below.

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Next Tuesday, we'll have the first part of a two-part interview with screenwriter and director John August, who has written screenplays for movies like Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Frankenweenie, and many others. August is also a podcaster and is behind the variant of Markdown for screenwriters known as Fountain, the Highland 2 text editor, the Courier Prime typeface, and the Arlo Finch series of books. Join us the next two weeks for a fantastic wide-ranging discussion of screenwriting, productivity, apps, typefaces and lots more.


Catalyst Can Rescue the Mac and Grow the iPad

At WWDC 2018, Craig Federighi provided a sneak peek at what everyone was calling Marzipan: an as-yet-unnamed way for iPad app developers to bring their apps to the Mac. So, it came as no surprise when Federighi retook the stage in 2019 and revealed more details about the project and its official name: Catalyst.

What caught a lot of developers off guard though was SwiftUI, a declarative approach to building user interfaces that was also announced at WWDC this year. SwiftUI, known before the conference as Amber, its rumored project name, was on developers' radar almost as long as Catalyst, but it's fair to say that few anticipated the scope of the project. The purpose of SwiftUI is to allow developers to build native user interfaces across all of Apple's hardware platforms – from the Apple Watch to the Mac – using highly-readable, declarative syntax and a single set of tools and APIs. If that weren't enough to get developers' attention, using SwiftUI carries the added advantage of providing features like dark mode, dynamic type, and localization automatically.

The message from WWDC was clear: SwiftUI is the future, a unified approach to UI development designed to simplify the process of targeting multiple hardware platforms. It's a bold, sprawling goal that will take years to refine, even if it's eagerly adopted by developers.

However, SwiftUI also raises an interesting question: what does it mean for Catalyst? If SwiftUI is the future and spans every hardware platform, why bother bringing iPad apps to the Mac with Catalyst in the first place? It's a fair question, but the answer is readily apparent from the very different goals of the two technologies.

SwiftUI serves the long-term goal of bringing UI development for all of Apple's platforms under one roof and streamlining it. It won't take over immediately though. There's still work to be done on the framework itself, which Apple will surely expand in capability over time.

By contrast, Catalyst is a shorter-term initiative designed to address two soft spots in Apple's lineup: the stagnation of the Mac app ecosystem, and the slow growth of pro iPad apps. The unstated assumption underlying the realignment seems to be that the two app platforms are stronger tied together than they are apart, which ultimately will protect the viability of their hardware too.

The impact of Catalyst on the Mac and iPad remains murky. It's still too early in the process to understand what the long-term effect will be on either platform. There's substantial execution risk that could harm the Mac or iPad, but despite some troubling signs, which I'll get to in due course, I'm convinced that Catalyst has the potential for meaningful improvements to both platforms, especially the Mac. Let's take a closer look at what those could be.

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I Won’t Sit Down: Songwriting with Frank Turner (Part 1)

In the fall of 2013, I sat in the first row balcony of The Vic theater on Chicago’s north side. I was there to see Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls for the first time. Can you see me stage left in the baseball cap?

Today, we published the latest interview of Dialog Season 1 featuring musician and songwriter Frank Turner.

You can find the episode here or listen through the Dialog web player below.

There's something about Turner's songs that grabbed hold of me in 2013 and has brought me back to several live shows since. Aside from Turner's music, which I love, part of the draw was his abrupt break with his musical past. I found Turner's jump from post-hardcore band Million Dead to a folk-inspired, acoustic guitar-based solo career inspiring as I contemplated a career departure myself.

There’s also something in Turner’s autobiographical, personal style of songwriting that connects with listeners and transcends differences in their experiences, which I find intriguing. It reminds me of the discussion Federico and I had in episode 1 about writing personal stories. Those are often the hardest stories to write, but they can also be the most rewarding when, despite different backgrounds, others draw something useful from them. In today's episode, we explore that aspect of Turner's music, his relationship with fans, and the interpretation of his lyrics.

We also trace Turner’s early years of constant touring and how he's managed to find the time to write new songs and books while on tour. We talk about social media's dual nature as a useful tool and destructive force in society too; a topic that has become a common theme among Dialog guests. Finally, we touch on the evolving music industry and how it's affected Turner's career as a musician.

Photo Credit: Nicole C. Kibert

Photo Credit: Nicole C. Kibert (View full size)

The title of the episode is drawn from Turner's song Photosynthesis:

I won’t sit down,
And I won’t shut up,
And most of all I will not grow up.

The lyrics reflect a stubborn defiance of authority and expectations combined with a restless energy that I think captures Turner's musical career and the mindset of many of the other writers we have already interviewed and will interview soon.

I hope you enjoy the interview. When we sat down to plan Dialog, Frank Turner was precisely the sort of guest I had in mind: someone working in a creative field affected by many of the same technological issues other writers face, but with a unique perspective on them. Be sure to check out the show notes for the episode to learn more about Turner and his music, and stay tuned for the conclusion of our interview next Tuesday.

Also, we’d appreciate it if you would rate Dialog in Apple Podcasts, recommend it in Overcast, or simply tell a friend about it.


Initial Thoughts on iPadOS: A New Path Forward

When I published my Beyond the Tablet story a few weeks ago, I was optimistic we'd get a handful of iPad-related features and optimizations at WWDC. I did not, however, foresee an entire OS designed specifically around iPad. And the more I think about it, the more I see iPadOS as a sign of Apple's willingness to break free from old assumptions and let the iPad be what it's best at: a portable computer inspired by the Mac, but based on iOS.

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Dialog Season 1, Episode 3: A Conversation with John Gruber (Part 2)

Today, we published the second part of our Dialog interview with John Gruber of Daring Fireball. You can find the episode here or listen in the Dialog web player below.

Like Federico, John Gruber was one of the first people I thought of when we began planning this first season of Dialog about writers and writing. Daring Fireball was an inspiration for me too, but in a slightly different way.

I first met Gruber in 2012 at the first Úll conference in Dublin, Ireland, where he was a surprise speaker. That was before I built my first iOS app or was writing or podcasting. I went to Úll on a lark to get a closer look at the iOS developer community I'd been following as I started to teach myself Objective-C. By the end of three days chatting with Gruber and other writers and developers at Úll, I knew I wanted to be part of that scene, creating my own apps. It would be almost three years before I launched Blink, my first app that drew any attention, and five before I could quit my old job, but that's precisely why this second part of our interview with Gruber resonated with me.

Daring Fireball started like many indie businesses: as a labor of love that Gruber wrote on the side while working another job. The site didn't earn enough to make it a full-time job at first, but over time it grew, and Gruber was faced with a choice. Daring Fireball had reached a point where it had a shot at supporting him and his family, but not unless he quit his day job, which he did.

In the latest installment of Dialog, we continue our conversation about the difficulty of making it as an indie writer online today. Gruber discusses how his priorities have shaped Daring Fireball, the audience for whom he writes, and maintaining the site's relevance long-term.

Of course, no interview with Gruber would be complete without talking about Markdown. Although we nearly forgot to ask about it, I'm glad we did because it's not easy to remember that Markdown, which debuted 15 years ago, took a while to catch on. Markdown's human-readable syntax may not have clicked with writers on the web in 2004, but as more people who didn't have experience with HTML started their own websites, Markdown gained momentum. Today, it's used on all sorts of platforms and in text editors, blogging tools, and even Apple's own Xcode IDE.

As we conclude our first Dialog interview, I want to thank John Gruber for taking the time to be our first guest on Dialog. Next week, we'll begin a two-part interview with singer-songwriter Frank Turner, who we caught up with as he passed through Madison, Wisconsin on tour last month. I'm excited to share those episodes for a couple of reasons. First, it was a personal thrill to interview Turner, whose music I love. Second, while the conversation is a departure from what you likely hear on a lot of your favorite tech podcasts, there are fascinating parallels between John Gruber's writing on Daring Fireball and Turner's songwriting, which is precisely what we'd hoped for when we began this season.

Finally, thanks for listening. If you missed the first part of our interview with John Gruber you can listen to it here, and you can subscribe to the podcast here. Also, if you're enjoying the show, please take a moment to rate it in iTunes or recommend it in Overcast to help others discover it.


Hands-On with iPadOS and iOS 13: Changes Big and Small

iPad and iPhone users are in for a big treat this fall when iPadOS and iOS 13 launch. Each update is a major release that pushes Apple’s mobile platforms forward in big and small ways, making them more powerful for consumers and professionals alike.

If you haven’t read my iPadOS and iOS 13 overviews yet, the majority of details about each release are documented there. But I’ve been using the beta versions of both systems for a few days now, and while these are just an early look at what the finished releases will be, there are a lot of changes – some very significant, while others are relatively minor – that I’ve been excited to see.

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Dialog Season 1, Episode 2: A Conversation with John Gruber

Today, we published the second episode of Dialog Season 1 (called 'Writers and Writing') featuring the first part of a conversation with Daring Fireball's John Gruber.

You can find the episode here or listen through the Dialog web player below.

I'd like to provide some context around this interview as John Gruber was one of the first names I thought of when my colleague John pitched the original idea for Dialog months ago.

When I started MacStories 10 years ago, Daring Fireball was one of my main sources of inspiration: I was incredibly fascinated by the idea that a single person – more than a blogger, a writer – could share his opinions about Apple and technology on a website that was so clearly attached to his name. Gruber's columns and original in-depth software reviews were the blueprints upon which I modeled my writing for MacStories: at the time, I felt that, even though English was not my primary language, I could at least try to do the same, but for iPhone apps and the modern age of the App Store and iOS developers.

Of course, as I shared for our tenth anniversary coverage in April, MacStories' style and scope changed throughout the years: I realized I didn't want to run a single-person website anymore and we expanded to newsletters and, most recently, podcast production. However, two of the underlying principles that I observed in Daring Fireball a decade ago still inspire my work and MacStories to this day: MacStories is a website by Federico Viticci and Friends (it's right there in the logo), and I want to publish longform, personal opinion columns in addition to news, app reviews, and links.

John Gruber and Daring Fireball created a framework for other independent online writers to follow in the late 2000s, particularly in the Apple community. From this very website to 512 Pixels or Six Colors, I genuinely believe we owe a lot to John Gruber's experiments with online ads, sponsors, memberships, and merch – ideas that, in many ways, he pioneered over 15 years ago when it was uncommon and, to an extent, perhaps even frowned upon – to try and monetize an "indie site" on the open web.

In this week's episode of Dialog, we asked John to tell the story of his first experiences as a writer (and later editor-in-chief) of the school newspaper at Drexel, where he majored in computer science. That intersection of programming and in-depth, opinionated writing ended up shaping John's entire career as a freelancer, documentation writer at Bare Bones Software, and, finally, independent writer at Daring Fireball. In addition to contextualizing John's experiences as a newspaper columnist and editor in the early 90s, in the interview we covered topics such as the role of luck and privilege, how Daring Fireball's beginnings can be traced back to Apple's renaissance with the iPod, and, of course, the business of writing online and how he sees the influence of Daring Fireball over the indie Apple community.

I'm happy we were able to interview John for this first season of Dialog, and I like how the entire conversation turned out. It's inspiring to hear the backstory of Daring Fireball and the core ideas at the foundation of one of the most successful indie websites on the Internet. In Part 2 of this interview, out next week, we'll continue to dig deeper into the business of Daring Fireball, how John makes a distinction between linked posts and regular columns, his podcast The Talk Show, and, of course Markdown.

If you haven't subscribed to Dialog yet, now's a good time to do so. You can listen to the first part of our interview with John Gruber here, and subscribe to Dialog so you'll instantly receive Part 2 when it drops next week.


Marzipan: A Chance to Revitalize the Mac App Ecosystem

My annual practice of deciding which Mac apps qualify as 'must-haves' is always an interesting exercise. At the core of this reflection is a simple question: 'Why?' Why this app instead of another one? Sometimes it's an app that stands out from its competitors, making the choice easy. Other times it's a unique feature that fits well with the way I work. Most of the apps I include in my annual round-ups fit into one of those categories.

Last year though, too many apps fell into a couple of different, troubling categories. First, I tolerate a handful of underwhelming apps because they're associated with services I like or which are essential to my work. Apps like Slack, Skype, and Trello fall into this category. Second, there are apps like Due and Reeder that I like, but either they don't get much attention or have fallen behind compared to alternatives on iOS. Fortunately, these apps are still in the minority among the apps I use regularly. For every disappointment, there are apps like Things, Ulysses, MindNode, iA Writer, Screens, and Yoink that are not only a pleasure to use on macOS, but offer excellent iOS apps too.

Still, as I covered in the conclusion of my 2018 must-have Mac apps round-up, the exercise of going through the Mac apps I use left me with an uneasy feeling:

there’s an interesting contrast between what I consider must-haves on iOS and the Mac. On iOS, many of the apps I consider must-haves are compelling because of a single feature that sets one app apart from others or because it fits especially well with how I work. Too often that’s not the case on the Mac. I find myself explaining that I use a particular app because ‘it gets the job done.’ That’s because there are too few alternatives to some apps, which is a shame.

Mac apps are not in a state of crisis, but at the same time, the universe of Mac apps is not nearly as big or diverse as iOS. That's not surprising given that the number of iOS devices in use is roughly 10x the number of Macs in use. As someone who works on and studies both platforms though, the trends are troubling.

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