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2023 MacStories Selects Awards: Lifetime Achievement Award

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of the Pixelmator Team’s image editing apps at MacStories. A lot of our coverage in recent years has focused on Pixelmator Pro and Photomator, but long before those apps ever hit the App Store, there was just plain Pixelmator, an app that’s still available on the iPhone and iPad, and I still use regularly.

Pixelmator debuted on the Mac in the fall of 2007. Here’s how the Pixelmator Team described the release on its blog:

Pixelmator Team today released Pixelmator 1.0, GPU-powered image editing tool that provides everything needed to create, edit, and enhance still images.

Built from the ground up on a combination of open source and Mac OS X technologies, Pixelmator features powerful selection, painting, retouching, navigation, and color correction tools, and layers-based image editing, GPU-powered image processing, color management, automation, and transparent HUD user interface for work with images.

It’s fun to look back at the app’s launch page with its focus on the iSight camera, iPhoto, and the latest Mac OS X technologies like Core Image and Open GL. It feels dated now, but the fundamentals that made Pixelmator an exciting new app in 2007 are just as important for the app and the Pixelmator Team’s other apps today as they were then.

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First Look: Stray for Mac

Source: Annapurna Interactive.

Source: Annapurna Interactive.

Stray, a high-profile and well-regarded videogame that debuted in 2022, is now available on the Mac. Initially launched on PlayStation and Windows, followed by an Xbox version this past August, today’s Mac release is available on both the Mac App Store and Steam.

The game, created by BlueTwelve Studio and published by Annapurna Interactive, is set in a neon-lit, post-apocalyptic cityscape where you play as a cat. Thrown into an unfamiliar environment, your goal is to solve the mysteries of a dangerous rundown city aided by a flying robot named B-12.

Stray was generally well-received by reviewers, who appreciated how BlueTwelve imbued its cat protagonist with personality and captured life-like cat movement and behavior. As a result, it’s unsurprising that the number of systems on which you can enjoy Stray’s feline adventures has continued to expand.

I played Stray when it debuted on the PlayStation 5 and enjoyed it. The game’s controls are relatively simple, and the story isn’t terribly long, but the puzzles are challenging, and the cyberpunk visuals are stunning. It’s been a while since I last dipped into Stray, but the game was one of my favorites of 2022, so when I got the chance to play it a day before the launch, I jumped at the opportunity.

I’ve only had time to play Stray on the Mac for a few hours, navigating through the introductory scene and the early part of the game, so this isn’t a review. However, as someone familiar with the console version, I thought I’d share my early impressions playing on my M1 Max Mac Studio and my M1 MacBook Air.

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Procreate Dreams First Impressions

Artwork source: Procreate.

Artwork source: Procreate.

I’ve been playing with Procreate Dreams for about a week. The brand new animation app from Procreate shares a lot of DNA with the company’s flagship drawing and painting app. As a result, despite my limited time and scant artistic talents, I expect Procreate Dreams will be a hit.

Procreate made a name for itself with artists with its gesture-driven, hands-on approach to art. By focusing on gestures, the company’s first app puts your artwork front and center, providing the maximum context for what you’re working on and reducing distractions. The approach also encourages interacting with the app’s canvas in a natural, fluid way.

Artwork source: Procreate.

Artwork source: Procreate.

That same approach is the hallmark of Procreate Dreams. The app tackles animation in much the same way Procreate reimagined drawing and painting on an iPad. The tools at your fingertips are deep and sophisticated but get out of the way of your creation. At times, the discoverability of features suffers a little as a result, but after spending some time tapping UI elements, long-pressing to reveal context menus, and experimenting with multi-finger gestures, Dreams reveals itself, rewarding the curious who take the time to learn what it can do.

All of the familiar Procreate brushes and tools are available in Dreams. Artwork source: Procreate.

All of the familiar Procreate brushes and tools are available in Dreams. Artwork source: Procreate.

Procreate Dreams, which has been in development for five years, offers multiple ways to create 2D animation. The full suite of Procreate brushes and tools is available to artists. For anyone who has used Procreate before, this is the perfect place to start with Dreams because it will immediately feel like home. However, underlying those familiar brushes is a new and more powerful painting engine that allows for larger canvases and more complex artwork, giving the app room to grow into the future.

Dreams also introduces a new way to animate called Performing, which allows artists to record the movement of their creations using touch. Tap record and drag a selected item on the app’s stage, and Procreate Dreams will add keyframes and paths automatically, simplifying the process of bringing your artwork to life.

Artwork source: Procreate.

Artwork source: Procreate.

Other edits can be accomplished from the timeline, which supports multiple layers, manual keyframing, cel animation, video editing and compositing, and more, all using gestures to access features and select content. When you put it all together, there’s a lot going on, but it works smoothly thanks to Apple’s Metal framework running on Apple silicon.

You’re not limited to hand-drawn animation on a blank canvas, either. Dreams supports video, to which you can add an animation layer and edit, crop, zoom, pan, and more. Separate audio tracks can be added, too.

I plan to spend some quality time in Procreate Dreams over the holidays. Drawing apps has never been my forté, and drawing on a timeline adds an additional element of complexity. However, Dreams isn’t like any other animation app I’ve tried before. My familiarity with Procreate gave me a head start, easing me into unfamiliar territory. That’s a big advantage for the app and an even bigger one for anyone who has ever wanted to try their hand at animation.

Procreate Dreams is available on the App Store as a one-time purchase for $19.99.


I Tried to Run Cities: Skylines 2 on My M2 MacBook Air via Apple’s Game Porting Toolkit… And I Discovered A Great App Instead

I have always been a huge fan of city-building games. The first video game I ever played was SimCity 3000, on my uncle’s bulky PC running Windows 2000. I then went on to play SimCity 4 throughout middle and high school. Sadly, EA’s reboot of the franchise in 2013 was a sizable disappointment, and has lead fans to love Cities: Skylines instead, a newcomer to the genre.

Cities: Skylines was released in 2015 simultaneously on Windows, Mac, and Linux. I have fond memories of playing the game on my newly purchased 13-inch MacBook Pro. It was my companion during numerous train trips I took across France and Germany that winter. Although the MacBook Pro’s battery would probably have been depleted in 20 minutes if it were not for the presence of power plugs in most trains, the fact that it launched and ran on my Mac without compromise was impressive.

I was eagerly looking forward to the release of Cities: Skylines 2 this year. After reading a number of positive reviews, I knew I would want to play the game as soon as possible. Unfortunately, Paradox Interactive threw a wrench in my plans: Cities: Skylines 2 is currently exclusive to Windows, and the company has not yet announced any plans to release the game on macOS.

This year at WWDC, Apple released the Game Porting Toolkit, a software translation layer that can help game developers easily port their Windows games to the Mac. It seemed the toolkit was allowing users to launch their favorite Windows games on their Mac with surprising ease. Intrigued, I wanted to test it out to see if I could play Cities: Skylines 2 on my M2 MacBook Air.

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watchOS 10: The MacStories Review

In my watchOS 9 Review last year, I spent the introduction reminiscing on the more exciting days of watchOS yore. Those early years were full of whimsy and foolishness, with many wild and ambitious new features that failed far more often than they succeeded. By my count, it took until watchOS 4 for Apple to find its footing, and by watchOS 6 the predictable pattern of iteration that I laid out last year had begun.

As I said last time, it’s hard to argue against the slow and steady march of watchOS. This software joined with the Apple Watch hardware has resulted in a years-long market domination that shows no sign of stopping. Yet, market be damned, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed. Health and fitness features were flourishing, but the rest of watchOS never quite felt fully baked.

As it turns out, Apple seems to have agreed.

In watchOS 10, for the first time in years, the iterative update pattern is broken. Rather than the usual handful of minor app updates, new watch faces, and health and fitness features, Apple has instead dropped another major rethink of Apple Watch interaction methods. The side button has been reassigned, the Dock has been demoted, apps have a new design language throughout the system, and widgets have made their Watch debut.

This is the largest year-over-year change to watchOS since version 4, and I am here for it. Let’s jump in and see if Apple has hit the mark this time, or if they’ll be back to the UI drawing board again in the years to come.

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    Apple Releases iOS and iPadOS 17.1 with New Apple Music Features, Small iPad Enhancements, and More

    iOS 17.1.

    iOS 17.1.

    Today, Apple released iOS and iPadOS 17.1 – the first major updates to the operating systems that launched (and I reviewed) in September. I’ll cut to the chase: these are not big updates and don’t come with new emoji. Instead, iOS and iPadOS 17.1 bring a variety of previously-announced (and then delayed) features such as AirDrop over the Internet and new cover art templates in Music, but they don’t address the complete list of functionalities for this OS cycle that Apple originally announced last June.

    Let’s take a look.

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    Obsidian’s Importer Plugin Lets You Move Your Apple Notes to Any Note-Taking App That Supports Markdown

    As Club MacStories members know, I’ve been spending time the past few weeks decluttering my digital life and setting up systems so it’s harder for things to come undone again. One of my strategies to make life easier for ‘future me’ is to minimize the number of places I store things.

    For notes and articles I write, that means Obsidian. In the past, I’ve resisted putting every text file in Obsidian because the app’s file management tools haven’t always been the best. Part of that historical weakness is undoubtedly the result of Obsidian’s emphasis on linking between documents. Fortunately, Obsidian’s folder and file management tools have come a long way. Paired with Omnisearch, a powerful third-party search plugin, I’ve overcome my hesitation and gone all in with Obsidian as an editor and text storage solution. So, when I heard that Obsidian’s open-source import tool had been updated to work with Apple Notes, I thought I’d export some of my notes to Obsidian to get a feel for how well it works.

    The Importer plugin.

    The Importer plugin.

    Apple Notes doesn’t have an export option. Instead, as Obsidian’s blog post on the Importer plugin update explains, it stores your notes in a local SQLite database. The format isn’t documented, but the developers of the plugin were able to reverse-engineer it to allow users to move notes and their attachments out of Notes and into two folders: one with Markdown versions of your notes and the other with the files attached to your notes. The folder with your notes includes subfolders that match any folders you set up in Notes, too.

    Importer is an Obsidian plugin that can be downloaded and installed from the Community Plugins section of Obsidian’s settings. The Importer’s UI can be opened using the command ‘Importer: Open Importer,’ which gives you options of where to save your imported notes, along with options to include recently deleted notes and omit the first line of a note, which Obsidian will use to name the note instead. Click the Import button, and the plugin does its thing. That’s all there is to it.

    When you run Importer, it requires you to confirm where your Notes are stored, which is easy because the plugin takes you there itself.

    When you run Importer, it requires you to confirm where your Notes are stored, which is easy because the plugin takes you there itself.

    I ran Importer twice to see how well it worked in practice. The first time was on a set of more than 400 notes, many of which hadn’t been touched in years. The import process was fast, but it failed on 36 notes, and it wasn’t clear from the plugin’s interface whether that caused it to get stuck part of the way through or if the plugin just skipped those notes. I don’t know why some of my notes failed to import, but the results weren’t too bad for an undocumented file format of an app with no official export feature.

    Importer isn't perfect but it's close enough given my large collection of old, rarely touched notes.

    Importer isn’t perfect but it’s close enough given my large collection of old, rarely touched notes.

    The import process is non-destructive, meaning it doesn’t delete the notes in Apple Notes. I took advantage of this by deleting everything I’d just imported into Obsidian. Then, I went back to Notes and cleaned them up a bit, deleting old notes I didn’t need anymore and reducing the total note count to 149. I re-ran Importer, and this time, I got no errors. I haven’t checked every note, but based on a spot check, the import process looks like it was successful.

    The end result of using Importer is a folder of Apple Notes and related subfolders, plus a folder of attachments.

    The end result of using Importer is a folder of Apple Notes and related subfolders, plus a folder of attachments.

    One limitation of Obsidian’s Importer plugin is that it requires you to use the Obsidian app. However, the beauty of plain text is that once you have a folder full of Markdown files, you can use them with any app that supports Markdown, so it’s a tool worth considering whether you’re an Obsidian true believer or not.

    That said, I don’t intend to abandon Apple Notes completely. It was easy to move a bunch of reference notes to Obsidian, where they’ll be easier to use alongside other notes. However, Obsidian’s Achilles heel is its lack of a workable system for collaboration. Until there’s a fast, secure, and simple way to share and edit notes with others, I’ll still use Apple Notes’ sharing feature. For everything else, I’m in deep with Obsidian because the portability and flexibility of plain text combined with a rich selection of third-party plugins make it the best tool for the sort of work I do.


    The Creativity Enabled by the iPhone 15 Pro’s New Cameras and Action Button

    Every year, one of the most anticipated iPhone hardware announcements is changes to its camera. This year, the iPhone Pro Max’s new telephoto lens was the center of attention. However, there were other notable tweaks to the camera hardware and software across the iPhone lineup, too. Plus, we got a hardware bonus in the form of the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max’s Action button, which can perform some interesting tricks. Now, with the new iPhones in the hands of people around the world, we’re starting to see what that hardware can do in practice, and I’ve got three examples I’d like to share.

    Source: Lux.

    Source: Lux.

    The first is an update to the camera app Halide that does something incredibly clever. Built into version 2.13 of the app is a shortcut that can be tied to the Action button to open Halide with a single press. That’s something you can do with any app using an Open App action, but Halide goes a step further by offering in-app functionality if you tie the button to its app. In the app’s settings, you can choose to tie the Action button to any of the following options:

    • Do nothing
    • Lenses
    • Exposure Mode
    • Focus Mode
    • RAW
    • Resolution
    • Capture

    After using the Action button to open the app, pressing the button again will perform whichever action you picked in its settings. For example, if you chose Lenses, the first press of the Action button from outside the app will open Halide, and subsequent presses will cycle through each of the available camera lenses. I love this use of the Action button and hope other developers do the same, adding contextual actions to more apps.

    A 5x telephoto shot by Sebastiaan de With.

    A 5x telephoto shot by Sebastiaan de With.

    Speaking of Halide, Sebastiaan de With, one of its creators, published a review of the iPhone 15 Pro Max camera today, concluding that:

    With iPhone 15 Pro Max’s default 24 megapixel resolution, added ‘lenses’ under the main camera lens, automatic depth capture for portraits, and that 5× lens, this release might not blow away on a spec sheet, but is massive for everyone who uses an iPhone to take photos.

    There’s a lot of ground to cover between the hardware and processing changes happening behind the scenes. Plus, de With is an excellent photographer whose shots do a fantastic job illustrating what is possible with the iPhone 15 Pro Max. So be sure to check out the full review.

    Finally, the iPhone’s camera takes amazing video, too. This year saw the introduction of Log encoding for Pro Res 4K footage. That opens up a wider range of editing control using apps like Final Cut Pro, which Joey Helms used to create this amazing video of Chicago:

    I’ve had my iPhone 15 Pro Max for just four days, and already, I’m enjoying taking photos as I walk around my neighborhood and playing with features like adding Portrait mode after the fact to images like the one below.

    Before (left) and after (right) applying Portrait mode.

    Before (left) and after (right) applying Portrait mode.

    The result is a lot more creative freedom that’s more accessible than ever, not only because your iPhone is usually in your pocket but because the tools Apple has created for taking great photos and videos are so easy to use.


    macOS Sonoma: The MacStories Review

    In one sense, the story of this year’s macOS update is that there is no story, but that’s not exactly right. Instead, it’s a bunch of stories. It’s the tail end of the realignment of macOS with Apple’s other OSes that began with macOS Catalina in 2019. However, Sonoma is also part of a work-at-home story accelerated by COVID-19. The OS is also linked to the story of visionOS, only part of which has been revealed. Sonoma is a bundle of narrative threads built on the foundation of past releases, adding up to a collection of updates that will be less disruptive for most Mac users than recent macOS updates. Instead, Sonoma is packed with a variety of useful new features that help draw it closer to iPadOS and iOS than ever before, design enhancements, and a few disappointing omissions.

    The timing for a more modest macOS update is right. In recent years, Mac users have had to adjust to substantial redesigns of everything from their favorite system apps to the Finder’s windows and toolbars. The changes were inescapable and necessary to harmonize the Mac with Apple’s other products, but also disruptive for some long-time users.

    Sonoma adds a vast collection of new wallpaper and screensaver options.

    Sonoma adds a vast collection of new wallpaper and screensaver options.

    With macOS Sonoma, the biggest design shifts seem to be behind us – at least for the time being. Interactive widgets on the desktop are a big change this year, but it’s not like macOS dumps a bunch of them on your desktop by default. If you never want to see a widget anywhere near your desktop, you don’t have to. Other than the subtle way the login screen has changed and the new screensavers and wallpapers that are available, the core macOS experience has barely changed.

    Instead, this year’s update is primarily about refining and building upon the foundation of the past few years, coupled with a handful of more significant updates to system apps. So, while the marquee features and design changes may be less notable than in recent years, there is still a long list of new and refreshed items that touch nearly every aspect of the OS, so let’s dive in.

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