Posts in stories

Apple’s First 40 Years: Inspiring New Generations to Create

Anniversaries are a good time to look a back and reflect on the past. I'm a relative late-comer to Apple products, but at the same time, Apple has been in my peripheral vision since before the introduction of the very first Mac in 1984. My relationship with Apple is the story that has taken a long time to unfold, but in recent years has made a big dent in my universe.

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How the iPad Pro Made Me Love the iPhone 6s Plus

People talk about how an Apple product such as the iPhone having a halo effect on customers. If you buy an iPhone and like it, the theory goes, you're more inclined to buy another Apple device, like a MacBook. This theory has certainly proven true in my experience – since buying my first iPhone (my first Apple product) in 2007, I've bought numerous other Apple products and subscribed to numerous Apple services in the subsequent years. Put another way, I was entrenched in the Apple ecosystem long before I started covering the company for a living.

Recently, a different kind of halo effect has settled on me. I've been using an iPad Pro for the past several weeks, and absolutely love it. Like Federico, the iPad is my computer of choice because of my deep familiarity with iOS and the ways in which working from a touchscreen device makes computing more easily accessible.1 Coming from my old iPad Air 1, iPad Pro has intensified my affinity for the iPad and iOS in general. It has impressed not merely by its technical or software merits, but by one seemingly obvious thing: its screen.

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Developers: Apple’s App Review Needs Big Improvements

Since the App Store launched in 2008, every app and every app update has gone through a process of App Review. Run by a team within Apple, their objective is to keep the App Store free from apps that are malicious, broken, dangerous, offensive or infringe upon any of Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines. For developers who want to have their app on the iOS, Mac, or tvOS App Store, App Review is an unavoidable necessity that they deal with regularly. But in the public, little is heard about App Review, except for a few occasions in which App Review has made a high-profile or controversial app rejection (such as the iOS 8 widgets saga) or when App Review has mistakenly approved an app that should never have been approved (such as the app requiring players to kill Aboriginal Australians).

Earlier this year we set out to get a better understanding of what developers think about App Review. We wanted to hear about their positive and negative experiences with App Review, and find out how App Review could be improved. It is hard to ignore from the results we got, from a survey of 172 developers,1 that beneath the surface there is a simmering frustration relating to numerous aspects of App Review. There is no question that App Review still mostly works and very few want to get rid of it, but developers are facing a process that can be slow (sometimes excruciatingly so), inconsistent, marred by incompetence, and opaque with poor communication. What fuels the frustration is that after months of hard work developing an app, App Review is the final hurdle that developers must overcome, and yet App Review can often cause big delays or kill an app before it ever even sees the light of day.

Developer frustration at App Review might seem inconsequential, or inside-baseball, but the reality is that it does have wider implications. The app economy has blossomed into a massive industry, with Apple itself boasting that it has paid developers nearly $40 billion since 2008 and is responsible (directly and indirectly) for employing 4 million people in the iOS app economy across the US, Europe and China. As a result, what might have been a small problem with App Review 5 years ago is a much bigger problem today, and will be a much, much bigger problem in another 5 years time.

App Review is not in a critical condition, but there is a very real possibility that today’s problems with App Review are, to some degree, silently stiffling app innovation and harming the quality of apps on the App Store. It would be naïve of Apple to ignore the significant and numerous concerns that developers have about the process.

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Working on the iPad: One Year Later, Still My Favorite Computer

My iPad Pro Home screen.

My iPad Pro Home screen.

Four years ago, I struggled to move from a Mac to an iPad. Today, I only have to open my MacBook once a week. And I wish I didn't have to.

In February 2015, after years of experiments and workarounds, I shared the story of how the iPad Air 2 became my primary computer. The article, while unsurprising for MacStories readers who had been following my iPad coverage since 2012, marked an important milestone in my journey towards being Mac-free.

As I wrote last year:

Three years ago, as I was undergoing cancer treatments, I found myself in the position of being unable to get work done with a Mac on a daily basis because I wasn't always home, at my desk. I was hospitalized for several weeks or had to spend entire days waiting to talk to doctors. I couldn't write or manage MacStories because I couldn't do those tasks on my iPhone and I couldn't take my MacBook with me. I'd often go weeks without posting anything to the website – not even a short link – because I couldn't do it from my bed. I began experimenting with the iPad as a device to work from anywhere and, slowly but steadily, I came up with ways to speed up my workflow and get things done on iOS. I promised myself I'd never let a desk set my work schedule or performance anymore.

Being tied to a desktop computer isn't an option for me. No matter what life has in store for the future, I have to be ready to work from anywhere. I have to consider the possibility that I won't always be okay, working from the comfort of my living room. That means having a computer that can follow me anywhere, with a screen big enough to type on, and a higher degree of portability than a MacBook. That means using an iPad. That means iOS.

The past 12 months have cemented this vision and raised new questions. But, more importantly, the iPad and iOS 9 have been essential to launching a project I've been working on for years.

At this point, I can't imagine using a computer that isn't an iPad anymore.

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Understanding Night Shift’s Impact on Accessibility

To my knowledge, the release of Night Shift in iOS 9.3 is only the second time in recent history Apple has updated iOS to include a change or feature that has potential accessibility ramifications. The other occurrence, in my mind, was iOS 7.1 beta 2, released in 2013. In it, Apple added a Button Shapes option to Accessibility as a way to assuage users who have trouble distinguishing an actionable button from a text label. Generally, however, any significant additions or changes to the Accessibility feature set comes included with a major new version of iOS. That is to say, the version Craig Federighi talks about at the annual WWDC keynote.

Before getting into Night Shift's accessibility merit, it's worth examining why it exists. The impetus for Night Shift is better sleep. Apple explains in its marketing material for iOS 9.3 that a person's circadian rhythm can be disrupted by the "bright blue light" emitted from an iPhone or iPad's screen, making it difficult to fall asleep. What Night Shift does to combat this, according to Apple, is "use your iOS device's clock and geolocation to determine when it's sunset in your location." After gathering that data, the software then "automatically shifts the colors in your display to the warmer end of the spectrum." The end result is a display that's easier on the eyes, thus hopefully making it easier to fall asleep. (The display settings will revert to normal in the morning. There's an option to schedule Night Shift as well.) For more on why Night Shift is important and how it works, iMore has posted a good explainer on the feature.

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iOS 9.3 and Education

The off-cycle release of major new features in iOS 9.3 is quite a departure for Apple. The usual cycle until now has been for major releases to debut at WWDC in the summer and ship in September/October. For the education market, however, this schedule has been extremely difficult to deal with. School usually starts in August or September - in the northern hemisphere at least - and having a major platform upgrade happen right after school starts is hard to cope with.

That has all been turned on its head. On January 11th, Apple announced the developer beta release of iOS 9.3. Unusually for a developer beta, Apple also produced the kind of iOS preview webpages that are normally seen in the time between the WWDC announcement of a new major iOS version and its eventual release.

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Why 2Do Is My New Favorite iOS Task Manager

There's only one thing I like more than switching todo apps: writing about it. On the surface, it surely seems like I've been doing a lot of both in the past year.

In reality, while I have been guilty of periodically changing the way I organize my tasks in the past – going as far as trying a different app each month – I've made an effort to stick with a system, learn it, and use it as much as possible over the past three years. Since 2013, I've only replaced my task management app of choice once – when I moved from Reminders to Todoist upon realizing that my life got too busy for Apple's basic app.

I liked Todoist for reasons that made sense at the time: I was preparing our multi-article coverage of iOS 8; I wanted a task manager that lived in the cloud and could be used to collaborate with other people; and I was intrigued by the idea of filters. Todoist served me well for months, and I was happy to see that others were also rediscovering a service that had been around for quite some time and built a profitable business. If you're looking for a task manager that does more than Wunderlist and is built for teams and external integrations, Todoist still is my top recommendation.

Around early July this year, I realized that my daily work routine wasn't the same as the Fall of 2014 and that it was also about to change again with the launch of Club MacStories and my iOS 9 review. On the verge of major alterations to my workflow and personal schedule, I always want to reassess and optimize how I get work done so that I don't end up fighting a system that's supposed to help me. Life is ever-changing, and there's no point in thinking that our approach to manage it should perpetually stay the same.

Primarily out of curiosity but also with a hint of app boredom, I installed 2Do on my iPhone and iPad while I was in Positano1. I had no idea it would become the task manager I've felt the most comfortable with since getting an iPhone eight years ago.

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Thoughts on the Inevitable Demise of the 3.5mm Audio Jack on the iPhone

There are once again rumors that Apple is going to remove the 3.5mm audio jack from the next iPhone, this time courtesy of a report from Japanese website Macotakara. The Macotakara report goes on to suggest that audio output on the iPhone 7 will be handled via the Lightning connector and Bluetooth, and that the EarPod included with every iPhone will be upgraded and use the Lightning connector.

It's too early to tell whether Apple really will get rid of the 3.5mm audio jack on the iPhone 7 next year, but I think the real question is when will they get rid of it, not if they get rid of it. In my eyes, it's either going to happen in 2016 with the iPhone 7 or 2018 with the iPhone 8. I will be amazed, probably dumbfounded, if we get to 2020 and our phones still have the same 3.5mm audio jack. Although Macotakara implied that the reason for removing the audio jack is to make the iPhone thinner, I think the more likely reason is a combination of making it thinner, but also freeing up the volume of space that is occupied by the audio jack internally. Every extra cubic millimeter that they can stuff a battery into is no doubt important (and one of the reasons the Lightning port is so much smaller than the older 30-pin connector).

Given the premise that I think Apple will (at some point) ditch the audio jack, the next question is how they can possibly achieve that with the smallest adverse impact on customers, which should surely be the top priority. The easiest answer, is of course, not to do it. The iPod touch is already just 6.1mm, compared to the iPhone 6 which is 6.9mm, and the iPhone 6s is 7.1mm (thicker because of the addition of 3D Touch). You'll note that despite being an entire millimeter thinner than the iPhone 6s, it still has an audio jack — as does the iPod nano which is just 5.4 mm thick. So there's a question as to whether 2016 is really the year that Apple should remove the audio jack — maybe they can hold out a few more years.

But for the sake of argument, let's say that Apple wants to remove the audio jack from the next iPhone and that they've already decided to do this. Yes, it will be a painful transition, but I also think that there's a lot that Apple can do to ease the transition.

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