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Generating Markdown Links to Mail Messages with Shortcuts and AppleScript

One of the system app updates we covered on AppStories this week that I’m most excited about is Mail. The app will finally introduce several advanced features this fall, including:

  • Undo send, allowing you to recall a message for 10 seconds after sending a message
  • Message scheduling with suggested and fully-customizable future delivery times and dates
  • Follow Up, which surfaces requests you’ve made in messages for which you haven’t received a response
  • Remind Me, a snooze-like feature for scheduling messages to reappear in your inbox later
  • Missing recipient and attachment alerts
  • Improved search

For the first time in quite a while, that list makes Mail a much more attractive alternative to third-party apps. Mail won’t match every feature offered by third parties, but my needs for advanced email client features are fairly modest, which I expect puts me squarely in the demographic that Apple is targeting.

Mimestream offers Gmail's excellent search and other features in a native Mac package.

Mimestream offers Gmail’s excellent search and other features in a native Mac package.

Until recently, my email use was split between Mimestream, which is only available on the Mac, and Spark on iOS and iPadOS. The split wasn’t ideal, but because I handle most of my email on my Mac, I tolerated it.

For the past several weeks, I’ve been using Mail exclusively on all of my devices, which has been a refreshing change of pace. Still, it’s not perfect. Of the features I use most in third-party mail clients, the single biggest shortcoming of Mail is its clunky implementation of deep linking.

I drop links to email messages in my notes and tasks all the time as a way to quickly access important contextual information. Mimestream offers Gmail URLs, and Spark can create its own app-specific and web URLs right within those apps’ UIs.

I like the way drag and drop on the iPhone and iPad links a message to its subject, but having to use drag and drop is clunky.

I like the way drag and drop on the iPhone and iPad links a message to its subject, but having to use drag and drop is clunky.

In contrast, on iOS and iPadOS, you can only link to a Mail message by dragging it out of Mail into another app’s text field. I’ll take it, but I’d prefer if I could quickly generate a link from the share sheet or with Shortcuts instead. The situation on the Mac isn’t much better, requiring users to resort to AppleScript to construct a URL that links back to a Mail message.

With weeks of Ventura testing ahead of me, I decided to see what I could do to improve the situation. The result isn’t perfect: I still have no choice on iOS and iPadOS but to drag and drop messages. However, I’ve improved the experience on the Mac using a combination of AppleScript and a shortcut that I trigger using Raycast to link the subject of a Mail message to its URL. For added context, my shortcut adds the sender’s name too.

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Ventura Adds Shortcuts to Its Share Menu

When Shortcuts debuted on the Mac in Monterey, Apple added more ways to run an automation than anyone expected, but there was one big omission. Shortcuts wasn’t included in Monterey’s share menu. That was a big disappointment for anyone (like me) who has built a lot of shortcuts that rely on the share sheet on iOS and iPadOS. That’s why I’m happy to report that this fall, when Ventura is released, Shortcuts users will, at last, be able to trigger their shortcuts from the Mac’s Share menu.

Enabling Shortcuts's share extension in System Settings.

Enabling Shortcuts’s share extension in System Settings.

Shortcuts was toggled off by default in Systems settings on my Mac, so you may not see it if you go directly to the Share menu. To enable it, open System Settings and go to the Extensions section of the Privacy & Security section, where you’ll find it under Sharing. Once toggled on, you’ll be able to select it like any other Share menu item, which will display a list of shortcuts that accept the input that the app you’re using offers.

Running a Shortcut from the share menu in Safari.

Running a Shortcut from the share menu in Safari.

My testing is ongoing, but despite some bugs, the new Shortcuts share item works well across a variety of system and third-party apps. For example, Safari can pass the active webpage, its URL, and a PDF to Shortcuts, where I’ve used the input with actions like Get Current Web Page from Safari, Get Details of Safari Web Page, and Get Contents of Web Page.

Safari’s inputs also work with File actions like Save File, which can be used to create nicely-formatted PDFs of webpages. However, due to what appears to be a bug in Shortcuts, PDFs can only be saved if the URL is also passed as input to the Save File action, resulting in the creation of a PDF and two HTML files of the webpage contents. Another limit of Safari’s Share menu support is that it currently doesn’t work with text selections.

A PDF of a MacStories article created using Shortcuts via the Share menu.

A PDF of a MacStories article created using Shortcuts via the Share menu.

Safari is where I expect to use Shortcuts’ Share menu the most, but it works with other apps too. So far, I’ve used Shortcuts from the Share menu to:

  • Convert a PNG image to JPEG
  • Open a file from Finder
  • Add a PDF to Keep It for Mac
  • Send a PNG from Pixelmator Pro to Keep It for Mac
  • Add Mac App Store URLs to the Trello board we use to organize our Club MacStories newsletters

There are other ways to accomplish any of these things without a share extension, but the Share menu lets you trigger your shortcuts from the context in which you’re working, which I prefer.

The addition of Share menu support is promising, but it still needs work. In addition to the Safari limitations and bugs I mentioned above, it’s worth noting that if a shortcut fails from the Share menu, the app becomes unresponsive and needs to be quit and restarted before it will work again. Also, Shortcuts’ picker window opens behind the app you’re using, so if your app window is in the center of the screen, Shortcuts’ picker might be hidden. Interaction with the app from which you trigger a shortcut is blocked while your shortcut is running too.

The Share menu, which has undergone a redesign in Ventura, removes a couple of features that would be useful with Shortcuts that I hope are added back. First, it’s no longer possible to reorder share extensions in System Settings. I’d like to move Shortcuts to the top of my list, but I can’t. Second, because the Share menu is now an independent floating pallette instead of a submenu of File → Share, individual share extensions can no longer be assigned a keyboard shortcut in System Settings.

Notwithstanding some rough edges, though, it’s good to see Shortcuts come to the Share menu. I’ve found ways around its omission from Monterey, but none have ever seemed as natural as clicking the share button in an app’s toolbar. Hopefully, by the time it’s released in the fall, Shortcuts’ share extension will do everything on the Mac that it can do on the iPhone and iPad.


watchOS 9: The MacStories Preview

After watching this year’s WWDC keynote in June, my initial impression of the watchOS 9 announcement was that Apple had prepared one of the largest Apple Watch updates in years. While writing my watchOS 9 overview later that day though, it felt like the scope of the changes were less than I originally thought. I needed some hands-on time with the update to know for sure.

I’ve had bad luck installing early watchOS betas in the past, so I’ve been waiting for the public beta to arrive before loading it onto my daily-driver Apple Watch. That said, I installed the developer beta right away onto an extra Apple Watch Series 4 that I’ve kept around, and have been using it as much as possible throughout the past month. I’ve ascertained a good feel for this year’s update, and can confirm that we’re looking at another mild-mannered year for the Apple Watch.

I don’t mean this as an insult at all. Rather, it’s another year of the relentless incremental refinement that Apple has long been known for, but which the company has practically turned into a science for watchOS. The formula looks something like this:

  • A handful of improvements to the Workout app
  • One or two new features targeted at health
  • A handful of new watch faces
  • One or two brand-new first-party apps
  • One or two redesigned first-party apps
  • A system-level feature or improvement

This year’s changes to the Workout app may be more significant than usual, but otherwise watchOS 9 fits this formula quite snugly. While it may not make for the most glamorous year-over-year updates, the strategy has cemented the Apple Watch as the most popular smartwatch in the world — by far. It’s no surprise that Apple sees no need to alter it.

While the formula may have stayed the same, there are still plenty of specifics to dig into. Let’s start with Workout, the app whose changes single-handedly led me to believe that we were getting a bigger-than-usual watchOS update this year.

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macOS Ventura: The MacStories Preview

With the release of the macOS Ventura public beta today, macOS takes another step down the path to syncing up its platforms that began four years ago. Where once the Mac hung out doing its own thing with scant regard for where iOS, and later, iPadOS was heading, today the Mac feels like part of a coherent family of products more than ever. Fewer of the differences among Apple’s product lines are the result of historical accidents than ever before. Instead, they’re intentional differences that speak to the ways the devices are used, not how they were developed. As a result, it’s never been easier for someone to move between devices up and down the company’s computing lineup. The same is true for developers looking to bring their apps to all of Apple’s platforms.

This year, the process of harmonizing the Mac with Apple’s other devices continues with Stage Manager, a new window management system available on macOS and iPadOS that offers users a similar windowing experience on both systems for the first time. On the Mac, Stage Manager is very different from the Mac’s traditional windowing systems, but it’s also very easy to get the hang of, which bodes well for new users coming from the iPad. And, of course, the feature is entirely optional, so anyone with whom it doesn’t click can ignore Stage Manager completely. However, as you’ll read below, I think everyone should give Stage Manager a chance because I’ve been surprised at how much I enjoy using it.

Another thread from Monterey that is even more pronounced in the Ventura beta is Apple’s renewed emphasis on collaboration and sharing. Last year, SharePlay enabled new experiences that connected people with family and friends no matter what Apple device they use. This year, macOS Ventura expands macOS’ collaboration across devices with Continuity Camera, collaboration features in system apps that are also available to third-party apps, the integration of Messages into collaboration functionality and SharePlay, and more. These are features that are available across macOS, iOS, and iPadOS and are serving as a new thread that strengthens the ties between the iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

Notes' Smart Folders are far more powerful in macOS Ventura.

Notes’ Smart Folders are far more powerful in macOS Ventura.

Finally, no macOS update would be complete without updates to system apps. One of the dividends Apple is enjoying from the unification of the technologies on which its apps are built is they have been able to advance system apps across all platforms simultaneously. We saw that most strikingly last year with Monterey, but the trend will continue with Ventura, which includes significant updates to Mail, Messages, Notes, Photos, Home, and more. This year’s crop of updates shows that last year wasn’t a one-off push to synchronize system apps. I think it’s now reasonable to expect simultaneous annual app updates across all platforms going forward.

I’ll have more to say about what Ventura means to the Mac and where Ventura succeeds and fails in my annual macOS review this fall. However, because the public beta of Ventura is available for anyone to download for the first time today, and I know many readers are eager to give it a try, I want to provide a preview of what you can expect to find if you install it along with my first impressions of using it for the past few weeks.

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A Month with iOS and iPadOS 16: A New iPad Era

iPadOS and iOS 16.

iPadOS and iOS 16.

Sometimes I truly have excellent timing with my stories.

As you may recall, a couple of months ago in the lead-up to WWDC, I published an article on my experience with using the M1 Max MacBook Pro for six months. That story was born out of a desire to get to know macOS again after years of iPad-only work; as I shared at the time, my curiosity was also the byproduct of Apple’s incoherent narrative for iPad power users for the past couple of years. Great hardware held back by lackluster software had long been regarded as the core weakness of the iPad platform; I hadn’t always agreed with the Apple community’s “consensus” on this, but an M1 iPad Pro carrying MacBook Pro-like specs with no new pro software features to take advantage of it was, indeed, a bridge too far. So when I published that story just in time for WWDC, I did it because a) that’s when it was ready and b) I wanted to bring some chaotic energy into the iPad discourse and see what would happen.

Like I said, sometimes I do have excellent timing with my stories. And in this case, not even my wildest expectations could have predicted that, in one fell swoop a week later, Apple would reimagine iPadOS around desktop-class apps and a brand new multitasking with external display integration, a new design, and – the unthinkable – overlapping, resizable windows with iPadOS 16.

Today, Apple is releasing the first public betas of all the operating systems that will launch to the wider public later this year: iOS 16, iPadOS 16, macOS 13 Ventura, and watchOS 9. We’re going to have overviews of all these public betas today on MacStories.1 As you can imagine given my annual reviewer responsibilities, I installed both iOS and iPadOS 16 as soon as they became available after the WWDC keynote on my iPhone 13 Pro Max and 12.9” iPad Pro with M1, and I’ve been using them as my daily drivers for the past month.

Obviously, I have some early thoughts and first impressions to share on iPadOS 16: it is fundamentally changing my relationship with the iPad platform and my workflow, which has been untouched for years since the introduction of multiwindow in iPadOS 13. Stage Manager, while still in need of refinements in several areas, is a game-changer for people like me, and it signifies a major course correction on how Apple thinks about iPadOS for power users.

But I should also say that I’m equally intrigued by iOS 16, which marks Apple’s return – after two years – to user customization with a drastic revamp of the Lock Screen, which can now be personalized with widgets, multiple wallpaper sets, and deep integration with the Home Screen, Focus, and even Apple Watch. The new Lock Screen is the proper follow-up to iOS 14 widgets we’ve been waiting for, and it’s going to be the feature that will push millions of people to update their iPhones to iOS 16 right away later this year. Besides the Lock Screen, there are dozens of other quality-of-life improvements to built-in apps and system intelligence that have caught my attention in iOS 16 in the past month, from the welcome updates to Mail and Reminders to system-wide unit conversions based on Live Text, Safari tab groups, and more.

There’s a lot to uncover in iOS and iPadOS 16, and I can’t possibly get into all of it today with this story. All the details and final opinions will have to wait for my annual review in the fall. Instead, below you’ll find a collection of initial thoughts, impressions, and suggestions for aspects of iPadOS and iOS 16 I’d like Apple to improve this summer. As with last year’s preview story, I’m going to include two recap segments at the end of each section with a list of improvements I’d like to see in iPadOS and iOS 16 before the public release.

Let’s dive in.

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The M2’s Unique Combination of Unified Memory and GPU Performance May Reveal Apple’s Videogame Ambitions

As I mentioned on AppStories, I’m intrigued by what Apple is doing with the Apple silicon GPU and memory and what it could mean for gaming. Although no one has had a chance to put the M2 through its paces yet, AnandTech does an excellent job of putting the facts and figures from Monday’s keynote into perspective, explaining what it means for what will undoubtedly be a multi-tiered M2 chip family like the M1 family.

With the M2’s memory, Apple’s SoC picks up where the M1 Pro, Max, and Ultra left off. Like those higher-tier M1s, the M2 uses LPDDR5-6400 memory that supports 100GB/second of memory bandwidth, which is a 50% increase in bandwidth over the M1. The M2 also supports up to 24GB of unified memory, a 50% increase over the M1 Air.

That memory is paired with a GPU that can be configured with up to 10 cores, two more than the top-tier M1 Air. According to Apple, that 10-core GPU delivers a 35% increase in performance.

However, it’s the combination of more, higher-bandwidth memory and a more powerful GPU that should make a significant difference in the M2 Air’s performance of graphics-intensive tasks like rendering game assets. As AnandTech explains:

Apple’s unconventional use of memory technologies remains one of their key advantages versus their competitors in the laptop space, so a significant increase in memory bandwidth helps Apple to keep that position. Improvements in memory bandwidth further improve every aspect of the SoC, and that especially goes for GPU performance, where memory bandwidth is often a bottlenecking factor, making the addition of LPDDR5 a key enabler for the larger, 10-core GPU. Though in this case, it’s the M2 playing catch-up in a sense: the M1 Pro/Max/Ultra all shipped with LPDDR5 support first, the M2 is actually the final M-series chip/tier to get the newer memory.

We won’t know more until reviewers put the new M2 MacBook Air through their paces, but the M2 Air appears to be a significant step forward compared to the M1 model. As one of Apple’s most popular Macs, that’s important because it sets a performance benchmark that game developers need to target if they want to make a game for the majority of Mac owners.

During the keynote, Apple showed off two games running on the M2: No Man’s Sky, an older but frequently updated game, and Resident Evil Village, a game that arrived on the PC and consoles just last fall. Resident Evil Village especially caught my eye because it’s such a recent release. It’s just one game, but it stands in contrast to others that have been used to demo gaming on the Mac in the past.

It would be a mistake for anyone to pin their Mac gaming hopes on the scant details we have so far. However, the keynote made it clear to me that Apple has gaming ambitions beyond Arcade, and its unique SoC architecture has moved Macs one step closer to that becoming a reality.


You can follow all of our WWDC coverage through our WWDC 2022 hub or subscribe to the dedicated WWDC 2022 RSS feed.


iOS and iPadOS 16: The Tidbits

iOS 16.

iOS 16.

As is always the case when Apple releases the first developer betas of new major versions of iOS and iPadOS, there are hundreds of features that don’t make an appearance in the keynote or aren’t mentioned in Apple’s marketing pages. Very often, those “smaller” features turn out to be some of the most beloved and useful tweaks to the operating systems we use every day. I installed the iOS and iPadOS 16 betas on my devices earlier this week, and I’ve collected some of the most interesting details I’ve spotted so far. Let’s take a look.

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iOS and iPadOS 16: The MacStories Overview

iPadOS 16.

iPadOS 16.

At its keynote held earlier today online and, for a limited audience of developers and media, in Cupertino, Apple unveiled the next major versions of iOS and iPadOS: iOS 16 and iPadOS 16. Both OSes will be released for free this fall, with developer betas available today and a public beta to follow next month.

After last year’s iOS and iPadOS 15, which were largely quality-of-life updates that mostly focused on improving the foundation set with iOS 14, Apple is back this year with a round of sweeping features for iPhone and iPad that are poised to fundamentally alter how we interact with our devices. From an all-new Lock Screen experience with support for widgets and personalization and a more powerful Focus mode to desktop-class features in apps for iPad and, yes, a brand new multitasking mode called Stage Manager, both iOS and iPadOS 16 are substantial updates that will rethink key interactions for average and power users alike.

As always, you can expect in-depth coverage from me and the rest of the MacStories team over the coming weeks, throughout the summer, and, of course, when the OSes will launch to the public later this year. But in the meantime, let’s dive in and take a quick look at what’s coming.

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Rediscovering the Mac: An iPad User’s Journey into macOS with the M1 Max MacBook Pro

The 14" M1 Max MacBook Pro.

The 14” M1 Max MacBook Pro.

For the past few months, I’ve been living a double life.

Most of you probably know me as “the iPad guy”. And rightfully so: the iPad – more specifically, the iPad Pro – is my favorite computer Apple’s ever made; my coverage of iPad, iPad apps, and, later, iPadOS has far exceeded everything else on MacStories for the last 10 years. I’ve long considered myself primarily an iPad user and someone who strongly believes in the platform because there’s nothing else like it. I don’t think I need to tell that story again.

For these reasons, as you can imagine, when Apple got in touch with me last November asking if I wanted to try out one of the new MacBook Pros with the M1 Max chip, I welcomed their suggestion with a mix of surprise, trepidation, and, frankly, genuine curiosity. What could I, a longtime iPad user, even contribute to the discourse surrounding the comeback of the Mac lineup, the performance of Apple silicon, and the reality of modern Mac apps?

But I was intrigued by the proposal regardless, and I said yes. I was very skeptical of this experiment – and I told Apple as much – but there were a few factors that influenced my decision.

First and foremost, as many of you have probably noticed, I’ve grown increasingly concerned with the lack of pro software (both apps and OS features) in the iPad Pro lineup. As I wrote in my review last year, iPadOS 15 was, by and large, a quality-of-life update that made iPadOS more approchable without breaking any new ground for existing pro users of the platform. As much as I love the iPad, at some point I have to face its current reality: if Apple thinks iPadOS isn’t a good fit for the kind of functionalities people like me need, that’s fine, but perhaps it’s time to try something else. If my requirements are no longer aligned with Apple’s priorities for iPadOS, I can switch to a different computer. That’s why I believe 2022 – and the upcoming WWDC – will be a make-or-break year for iPad software. And I don’t think I’m the only iPad user who has felt this way.

Second, the arrival of Shortcuts on macOS Monterey gave me an opportunity to expand and rethink another major area of coverage for MacStories, which is automation. Along with iPad and iOS, I consider Shortcuts the third “pillar” of what I do at MacStories: with the Shortcuts Archive, Shortcuts Corner and Automation Academy on Club MacStories, and Automation April, I’m invested in the Shortcuts ecosystem and I know that our readers depend on us to push the boundaries of what’s possible with it. With Shortcuts on macOS, I felt a responsibility to start optimizing my shortcuts for Mac users. That meant learning the details of the Shortcuts app for Mac and, as a result, use macOS more. From that perspective, Apple’s review unit couldn’t have come at a better time.

Third, and perhaps most important to me and least helpful for you all, is one of my greatest fears: becoming irrelevant in what I do. As a writer, I guess I shouldn’t say this; I should say that I write for me, and that I would write regardless, even if nobody read my stuff. But as a business owner and someone who’s gotten used to having a medium-sized audience, that would be a lie. I love the fact that I can write for my readers and get feedback in return. I love that I can write something that is wrong and be corrected by someone. I don’t want to lose that. Do you know what’s a really easy way to make it happen? Grow into someone who’s stuck in their ways, only writes about a certain topic, and doesn’t think anything else is worth trying or even remotely considering. In my case, I don’t want to look back at MacStories in 10 years and regret I didn’t at least try macOS again because I was “the iPad guy” and I was “supposed to” only write about a specific topic. I make the rules. And the rule is that curiosity is my fuel and I was curious to use macOS again.

So that’s my context. For the past six months, I’ve been using my MacBook Pro instead of the iPad Pro to get my work done on a daily basis. I’ve kept using the iPad Pro to test my shortcuts, read articles, and write in places where I didn’t have enough room for a MacBook, but, by and large, I’ve lived the macOS lifestyle for half a year by now.

As we head into WWDC, here’s my story on how this experiment went.

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