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App Extensions Are Not a Replacement for User Automation

Here’s a thought experiment. Let’s imagine that Apple decided to combine their engineering resources to form app teams that delivered both iOS and macOS versions of applications.

In such a scenario it may seem logical to retain application features common to both platforms and to remove those that were perceived to require extra resources. Certainly Automation would be something examined in that regard, and the idea might be posited that: “App Extensions are equivalent to, or could be a replacement for, User Automation in macOS.” And by User Automation, I’m referring to Apple Event scripting, Automator, Services, the UNIX command line utilities, etc.

Let’s examine the validity of that conjecture, beginning with overviews of App Extensions and User Automation.

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3D Touch for Power Users

If you read and listen to enough opinions in the Apple-sphere, you know that there are widely varying views of 3D Touch. Some quickly gave up on it, others found it indispensable, and there seem to be plenty of people in between. When Apple first announced the feature alongside the iPhone 6s, I was intrigued by the potential of 3D Touch to add a new dimension of depth to an otherwise flat slate of glass.

When I got an iPhone 6s, I immediately found that some uses of 3D Touch were handy, but those uses were overshadowed by Apple's marketing message that focused on peek and pop, distracting from the more valuable benefits the feature offers. However, when I pushed aside the Apple-marketing-infused expectations of how 3D Touch should be used, I quickly discovered how valuable it can be in many cases.

It has been over fifteen months since I began using 3D Touch, and I'm convinced that the true value of it only becomes evident through dedicated practice. If you just use 3D Touch now and then, you may find yourself frustrated by not knowing or remembering what all it can be used for. The lack of iPad support doesn't help here.

The start of a new year is a perfect time to learn new habits. As we reflect on the year gone by, it is a good time to consider changes for the year ahead – new habits to form, improved practices to follow – with an aim to make our lives better. Train yourself to use 3D Touch, and you'll benefit in the long run. The closest analogy to 3D Touch I can think of is keyboard shortcuts. Nobody has to learn keyboard shortcuts, but if you're a power user, you learn them because you know they'll make your life and work easier and more efficient. 3D Touch can do the same; it improves interactions with my iPhone on a daily basis.

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MarcyMoji: A Sticker Tour Around the World

When Apple launched the iMessage App Store with the release of iOS 10, it was dominated by sticker packs. Many of my personal favorites came from Disney, including the Star Wars , Zootopia , and Mickey & Friends packs. But one of the nice things about the new App Store was its accessibility to a wide variety of creatives, not just the big players like Disney. A simple sticker pack truly requires no coding knowledge. Because of that, since day one there has been an abundance of sticker options on the iMessage App Store, each with a unique story behind it.

One such story comes from Marcy Smith and Andrew Williams, the creators of MarcyMoji . Born out of Marcy's lifelong love of painting, MarcyMoji was originally conceived as a custom keyboard, but Apple's announcements at WWDC quickly shifted the couple's focus to building an iMessage app.

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The Businesses Apple Has Left Behind

This year, Apple has exited the external display business and is rumored to be discontinuing its AirPort wireless routers.

These developments have left a bad taste in many users' mouths, but 2016 isn't the first time Apple has shuttered an entire product line.

By my count, there are five major categories of products or devices that Apple has abandoned over the years.

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A Computer for Everything: One Year of iPad Pro

I wasn't sure I needed a 12.9-inch iPad when Apple announced the iPad Pro in September 2015. And yet, over a year later, the iPad Pro is, by far, the best computer I've ever owned. I've never felt so satisfied with any other Apple device before – but the transition wasn't easy.

After years spent adapting what I learned from the Mac to bring it to iOS, what I found on the other side was a more focused, efficient way of working and communicating with people. The iPad Pro accelerated my move to an iOS-only setup; today, I genuinely don't know how to perform certain tasks on a Mac anymore.

I use my iPad Pro for everything. It's my writing machine and favorite research tool, but I also rely on it to organize my finances, play games, read books and watch movies, program in Python and Workflow, and manage two successful businesses. While I've been advocating for such multi-purpose use of the iPad platform for a while, the iPad Pro elevated the threshold of possibilities, reaching an inflection point that has pushed others to switch to an iPad as their primary computer as well.

Much of the iPad's strength lies in iOS and its app ecosystem. If Apple were to stop making iPads, I'd still prefer to work on a device that runs iOS rather than macOS. iOS is where app innovation happens on a regular basis with developers one-upping each other in terms of what software can achieve; I also prefer the structure and interactions of iOS itself. The iPad Pro is the purest representation of iOS: it's a computer that can transform into anything you need it to be.

Even if this discussion was settled a long time ago, it bears repeating: millions of people today like working on iOS more than they do on macOS, and the iPad Pro is the best machine to run iOS. There is no sarcastic subtext about the Mac here, which is still a fantastic environment that many Apple users love and need for their line of work. The Mac and the iPad can coexist in a market where customers believe one is superior to the other. I prefer working on the iPad; others like their Macs more. And that's fine because, ultimately, the Apple ecosystem as a whole grows stronger and we all reap the benefits.

Over the past year of daily iPad Pro usage, I've made it my personal goal to optimize my iPad workflows as much as possible. This is one of the best aspects of the iOS platform: competition between developers is fierce and you can always choose between different apps to get work done – apps that are improved on a regular basis and are constantly updated for the latest iOS technologies. With enough curiosity and patience, iOS rewards you with the discovery of new ways to work and save time.

Since my last iPad story in February, I've taken a hard look at my entire iPad setup and rethought the parts that weren't working. I tried new apps, created new automations, and optimized every weak spot I could find. I improved how I collaborate with my teammates and produce weekly content for Club MacStories members. Thanks to the time I invested in understanding and fine-tuning my iPad Pro, I was able to embark on more projects, double MacStories' growth, and manage a larger team.

As a result, my iPad Pro today is noticeably more capable than it was a year ago – all without the need for a hardware refresh.

Here's what I've done.

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    TV App Review

    Today Apple released tvOS 10.1 and iOS 10.2, both of which bring several additions to the operating systems. Chief among all additions, the clear centerpiece of these updates is a brand new app called TV. When Tim Cook announced this app onstage earlier this fall, he plainly stated its purpose: TV exists to create a unified TV experience, one place to access all TV shows and movies.

    Does it succeed? Is this the best television experience available today?

    Before answering those questions, it's important to consider the history of underwhelming television endeavors that brought Apple to this point.

    Steve Jobs introduced the first Apple TV set-top box over ten years ago, in September 2006. That product unveiling came at the tail end of a keynote focused on the iPod and iTunes, where Jobs announced the additions of Movies and TV Shows to the iTunes Store. At its birth, the Apple TV was not meant to revolutionize television; it was made to support the iTunes ecosystem Apple was building.

    Throughout its first three iterations, the Apple TV was never a hallmark product like the iPod, Mac, or iPhone; it was simply a hobby for the company. It was Apple dipping its toes in the TV market. But the fourth generation Apple TV represented a shift. With modern hardware, a new operating system dubbed tvOS, and a vision that the future of TV is apps, Apple dove full force into the television market. It set out to create the best TV experience possible.

    The newly released TV app is a significant step forward in realizing that goal.

    TV is intended to address a modern issue. While the future of television may be apps, up until now Apple's implementation of that vision has been lacking; it's been lacking because the more video apps you have, the more navigating it requires to find the content you love. More time navigating means less time watching. TV was built to solve this problem.

    The TV app on tvOS and iOS centralizes content from a wide array of video apps in one place, presenting that content in a simple and familiar interface. No one wants to juggle an assortment of video apps, jumping from one app to another to find the content they're looking for. We've all learned to tolerate it, but none of us wants it. So Apple built TV to be the new hub of our video-watching life.

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    Workflows of a Casual Apple Pencil User

    One year ago, Apple launched a new product to accompany its first ever iPad Pro: the Apple Pencil. Presented not as a replacement for touch input, but as a tool geared toward specific tasks, the Pencil immediately endeared itself to creatives who sketch or illustrate. In the weeks following the announcement, I remember scouring Twitter and Instagram for any first impressions I could find from people who had tried this new device. Some of the best came from Apple's visits to Disney and Pixar, where many of my favorite movie makers seemed thrilled about the Pencil. It looked like the perfect tool for artistic tasks.

    Apple's pride in creating the Pencil has been clear since they first announced it. In its already jam-packed September 2015 keynote, the company dedicated significant time and attention to the product, including a video introduction from Jony Ive and three live demos that put the Pencil to use. In this past March's keynote, when Apple announced the 9.7" iPad Pro, Phil Schiller called the Pencil "the greatest accessory Apple has ever made." High praise from a proud parent.

    My initial take on the Pencil was that it seemed like a great device, but it wasn't for me. I don't sketch, I'm not a fan of handwriting notes, and using the Pencil for system navigation never appealed to me. But I bought one to give it a try. Apple's return policy made sure no money would be wasted if the Pencil became merely a pretty paperweight in my life. Within a few hours of use I discovered that while the Pencil isn't a daily-used tool for me, it is a device that, for specific tasks, I would never want to be without.

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    The In-Between Macs

    The current MacBook Pro line is a little bit of a mess. Even after brushing aside the last-generation machines that are still for sale, the current offerings are confusing. Both 15-inch models come with the Touch Bar, but only two of the three 13-inch models offered do.

    That $1,499 non-Touch-Bar-but-still-in-the-new-skinny-case 13-inch MacBook Pro is what I'm typing on right now. It's a great little laptop. The screen is gorgeous, battery life is great and it's more than fast enough for what I need when I'm not in front of my 5K iMac.

    It's a weird machine, though. I'm sure Apple left the Touch Bar — and two Thunderbolt 3 ports — out solely to hit the price point, which is already higher than the model it replaces.

    My guess is that this MacBook Pro will either drop in price or be replaced in the future as the Touch Bar trickles down.

    Until then, it's in the ranks of some other modern-era Macs that were caught between other products or different eras of hardware design. Let's look at some other examples.

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