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Reminders’ Smart Lists Put Unprecedented Control in the Hands of Users

A couple of years ago, Apple transformed Reminders from a simple checklist-style task manager into something far more robust. It was a surprising but welcome update that made the app a good choice as the sole task manager for many users. Reminders is back with more surprises this year, including tagging and Smart Lists features, which I didn’t expect. Both new features work together to make it easier than ever to manage your tasks in Reminders, which by itself makes this year’s update to Reminders worth checking out. However, the update may indicate something broader too: that Apple is more receptive to providing users with greater control over how they use the iPhone and iPad’s stock apps, an exciting possibility that I hope comes to pass.

Tags are brand new to Reminders and probably the most surprising addition to the iOS and iPadOS 15 versions of the app. Tags aren’t anything new to task management apps in general, but user-defined tags haven’t historically been available in Apple’s iPhone and iPad apps.

There's a new Tag Browser in Reminders and multiple ways to add new tags.

There’s a new Tag Browser in Reminders and multiple ways to add new tags.

The design of Reminders’ tagging system makes it easy to get started. When you add a new task, there’s a field just below Notes for adding tags. Just start typing a name for your tag, and when you tap the Space bar, hit return, or type a comma, a hashtag is added to the beginning of the tag, and it changes to Reminders’ purplish accent color. Sorry, no spaces are allowed in your tags.

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Building Calliope: A Technical Journey Through MacStories’ Big Software Project

Last week the MacStories team launched Project Calliope, an enormous new software project that we’ve been working on tirelessly for the last year. If you’ve been following along, you’ve heard us describe Calliope as a CMS; but from a software-engineering perspective, it’s actually a whole lot more. While we introduced Calliope as the foundation of our all-new Club MacStories and AppStories websites, we have much bigger plans for the new platform going forward. This is the foundation for the next generation of MacStories, from the website itself to many special projects in the future.

We’re extremely proud of what we’ve created here, and as the sole developer of Calliope, this post will be my deep dive into the more technical side of the project. Fair warning: this will be easier to follow if you’re a software developer (particularly a web or back-end developer), but I’ll be doing my best to give understandable explanations of the technologies involved. I also just want to talk about the journey we took to get here, the challenges we faced along the way, and the factors that drove us to this particular set of solutions.

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Automation Academy and The Macintosh Desktop Experience: Exclusive Monthly Features for Club MacStories+ and Club Premier Members

MacStories’ roots are in writing, so it’s only natural that Club MacStories+ and Club Premier are expanding beyond our weekly and monthly newsletters to offer two new exclusive features: Automation Academy and The Macintosh Desktop Experience. Freed of the constraint of an email newsletter, Federico and I will be tailoring our columns to take advantage of the new features made possible by Calliope, the web app that powers the new Club website.

Let’s take a look at what members can expect.

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Introducing the All-New Club MacStories: New Tiers for More Original Content, Discord Community, Search and Custom RSS, and Our New ‘Calliope’ Web App

Welcome to the new Club MacStories.

Welcome to the new Club MacStories.

TL;DR: Today, we’re announcing the all-new Club MacStories featuring two additional tiers: Club MacStories+ and Club Premier. The new plans offer extra content, a brand new, powerful web app to read Club articles on the web with advanced search and RSS features, exclusive discounts, and a new Discord community.

Club Premier is the ultimate plan that includes all of Club MacStories, Club MacStories+, and the new extended, ad-free AppStories+ podcast in a single, $12/month package. It is the best value and the easiest way to get access to everything we do. It is, effectively, the MacStories all-access pass.

You can find out more on our new Plans page and sign up or upgrade there. Nothing is changing for the regular Club MacStories tier; in fact, we’re giving existing members access to our new web app at club.macstories.net as well. Existing Club members can choose to upgrade their existing accounts to the new tiers.

Today, we’re launching the future of Club MacStories and MacStories itself. Read on for the full announcement below.

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Apple Maps for iOS and iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey: The MacStories Overview

Maps is unique among Apple system apps. Most system apps, like Notes or Reminders, are only updated at the same time that major revisions of the company’s underlying operating systems are released. Tweaks are sometimes made with OS point releases but never separate from the OS updates themselves.

Maps is different because so much of the experience is tied to the data that the app delivers. That allows Apple to add mid-cycle updates that aren’t tied to an OS release. There are many recent examples, like the addition of COVID-19 travel guidance for airports, vaccination site locations, and places offering volunteer opportunities. At the same time, the company continues to expand and enhance the accuracy and detail offered by Maps at a deeper level with its ongoing initiative to rebuild the app’s underlying maps worldwide.

Apple has been at it, improving Maps since iOS 6, and it’s a task that by definition will never truly be finished. However, the introduction of new features in recent years and broader expansion of its effort to deliver rebuilt maps to more of the world has allowed Apple to refine the app across the board. Using the latest map data the company has collected has enabled it to redesign the Maps experience, providing more relevant information to users, and expanding its view of the world around us.

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Fast Capture with Quick Note for iPad and Mac: The MacStories Overview

When I’m researching, speed is essential. Whether I’m planning a family trip or preparing to write a story like this one, the first step is research, which starts with collecting information. This stage is almost always a speed run for me, no matter the context. That’s because the goal is collecting. Reading, thinking, organizing, and planning come later.

There is an endless number of apps and automations for collecting information, but I’ve always found that the best options are the lightest weight. You don’t need to fire up a word processor to collect links, images, and text, for example. By the same token, though, a plain text editor doesn’t always fit the bill either, reducing links to raw URLs and often not handling images at all. Moreover, the notes you take are completely divorced from their source, losing important context about why you saved something.

This fall, when iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey are released, Notes will gain a new feature called Quick Note that’s designed to handle this exact scenario. Quick Note can be summoned immediately in a wide variety of ways on both platforms, and your notes are stored where they can be easily found again. Best of all, notes can be linked to their source material in apps that support NSUserActivity, a virtual Swiss Army Knife API that enables a long list of functionality across Apple’s devices.

Notes needs work to make it easier to get the information you gather with Quick Note out of the app, but already, there is a long list of apps that support the feature thanks to the wide use of NSUserActivity among developers. Some years, Apple introduces interesting new features that I hope will take off, but there’s a lag because they’re based on new technologies that developers don’t or can’t support right away due to compatibility issues with older OS versions. Quick Note isn’t like that. Even during the beta period, it works with apps I use that haven’t done anything to support it. As a result, I expect we’ll see many developers support Quick Note this fall.

Although Quick Note already works well on the iPad and Mac, there’s still more Apple can do to make it more useful. Chief among the feature’s drawbacks is that its capture functionality is nowhere to be found on the iPhone, which is disappointing. There are also many built-in system apps that would benefit from the sort of tight integration with Quick Note that Safari has implemented but don’t yet.

Let’s take a closer look.

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Two Months with Apple’s New M1 iMac

The very first Mac I owned was an iMac. That white polycarbonate, first-gen Intel iMac was the epitome of a family computer, sitting in a central location where everyone in my family could use it for work, school, and projects. I had an early aluminum iMac too, but gradually, portable devices took over, satisfying everyone’s computing needs, and the iMac fell by the wayside.

In the ten years or so since then, the Macs I’ve bought for myself have been laptops and the Mac mini. It’s a flexible combination that has served me well. The mini isn’t as customizable as the Mac Pro, but it suited my needs well, allowing me to easily set up and tear down various peripheral configurations, which became even more useful when I started writing at MacStories. Combined with the MacBooks I’ve owned over the years for when I want to get away from my desk, I haven’t pay much attention to the iMac for a long time.

The iMac has come a long way since the first one I owned (left) and the latest M1 model (right).

The iMac has come a long way since the first one I owned (left) and the latest M1 model (right).

As a result, when Apple sent me an M1 iMac to test, I was curious to see how it would fit in in my home, but I didn’t expect it to rekindle my interest in an all-in-one Mac. Boy, was I wrong.

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Troubles with HomePod’s audioOS Beta

I’ve been running all of Apple’s betas, with the sole exception being watchOS 8. So far, the experience has been good. There are bugs, apps have crashed, and devices have restarted spontaneously here and there, but I haven’t been significantly slowed down on my iPhone, iPad, or Mac. In fact, I’m doing things like editing AppStories in Logic on Monterey, which isn’t the type of thing I’ve ever been able to do this early in a macOS beta.

However, audioOS, the OS that controls HomePods, has been as rough as Apple’s other OSes have been solid. I’ve been running the HomePod beta since the very beginning, and it’s been nothing but trouble. I haven’t seen overheating, which some users have reported, but I’ve had trouble with AirPlay and getting my HomePods, especially the minis, to stay connected to the Internet. So, when I heard that beta 3 was out and adds lossless streaming, I set out to update my HomePods right away.

My pair of original HomePods took a few tries, but I eventually got them updated using the Home app. The HomePod minis were more stubborn. The one in my office refused to connect to the Internet, so I couldn’t update it. I factory reset it not long ago, and I considered doing that again, but instead, I unplugged and replugged it, hoping that a restart would get it back on WiFi. I couldn’t tell if it had finished restarting, so I gave it a tap, which is when this started to play:

My HomePod was giving me Troubles alright.

My HomePod was giving me Troubles alright.

Yes, U2’s Songs of Innocence, the album that was given away to 500 million people with an iCloud account in 2014 that, as Russ Frushtick discovered and wrote about for New York Magazine, lives in an odd limbo in so many people’s music libraries around the world. Frushtick was frustrated because the album played automatically when he connected his iPhone to CarPlay. Was something similar at play here?

The odds that it was random chance certainly seemed too far-fetched to be a coincidence. With nearly 19,000 songs ripped, purchased, and added to my music library for well over a decade, I felt like I was being trolled by my HomePod mini as Bono belted out The Troubles. Even the title of the song felt like an elaborate troll.

I had to know, so I unplugged the HomePod mini a second time and then plugged it back in again. I waited a couple of minutes, tapped the top, and:

Not even the next song on the album.

Not even the next song on the album.

I couldn’t help but laugh. I also couldn’t help but wonder: Was I finger tapping Bono or Tim when I reached out to tap my HomePod mini?

Is that you in there Tim?

Is that you in there Tim?

Such is #betalife. The happy ending to the story is that after some more fiddling around, I managed to get my HomePod mini working again, playing my complete Music library, which is all I really care about.

All's well that ends well.

All’s well that ends well.

I’ve always thought the uproar over Songs of Innocence was a little overblown, but then again, I’m a U2 fan, even if that album isn’t anywhere near the top of my favorites. At least with The Troubles out of the way, I can see if I can stream some lossless Doja Cat now.


macOS Monterey First Impressions: The Start of a New Era

Today Apple released the first public beta of macOS Monterey after just over three weeks of developer testing. The public beta is a chance for anyone who doesn’t have a developer account to preview the new features coming to the Mac’s OS this fall.

I’ve been using Monterey since the first developer beta was released during WWDC and switched to it full-time about a week ago when developer beta 2 was released. I’ll have a lot more to say about Monterey this fall when it’s officially released. However, having already spent a substantial amount of time using the OS for my everyday work, I wanted to share my first impressions with readers who are thinking about trying it too.

I’m sure there are a lot of MacStories readers eager to install the Monterey beta. It’s a good year to do that too. I haven’t run into any show-stopping bugs, and this year’s beta is far more approachable than the Catalina or Big Sur betas were. Those updates included fundamental shifts in the way the OS worked that made the update uncomfortable for some users. There’s some of that in Monterey, but less than in the past couple of years. Instead, Monterey introduces a collection of enhancements to existing system apps and new cross-system feature integrations that make the update useful immediately. Coupled with the debut of Shortcuts on the Mac, there’s a lot in this year’s beta that I’m sure MacStories readers will enjoy testing.

To Apple’s credit, much of Monterey feels like a natural extension of the OS’s existing features and system apps, even in the early betas. Focus, Quick Note, Live Text, and AirPlay to Mac all fit into that category, feeling right at home with the rest of the OS. However, that’s not universally true. I think Apple has overshot its target with Safari in some respects, which is disappointing in no small measure because there are also meaningful innovations coming to the browser this fall that have already been useful in my daily web browsing.

Of course, I’m also very excited about Shortcuts for Mac. If you’ve used the automation app on the iPhone or iPad and have a Mac, I don’t know how you couldn’t be eager to try the app. If you rely on Shortcuts as I do, Monterey is a very big deal that, even early in the beta cycle, delivers on the promise of a unified vision of automation across Apple platforms.

Many of my existing shortcuts worked immediately on the Mac.

Many of my existing shortcuts worked immediately on the Mac.

The Shortcuts team has done a remarkable job of ensuring that many of my everyday shortcuts already work without needing me to do anything. Combined with deep integration of existing scripting systems, Monterey backs up the statement made onstage at WWDC that Shortcuts is the future of automation on the Mac. There’s still work to be done before Shortcuts is as powerful as other Mac automation solutions, but the app is off to an excellent start.

Before diving into what it’s been like to work full-time with Monterey, it’s worth stepping back and considering where macOS has come from over the past few years. In many ways, Monterey feels like the third act of a story that’s played out since the introduction of Catalina. That update was a little unsettling. It was clear macOS was heading in a new direction, but the destination was unclear.

With the introduction of M1 Macs, improvements to Mac Catalyst, and Big Sur’s design changes, macOS’s destination began to come into focus. The OS was being aligned more closely with Apple’s other OSes through a combination of design and underlying technologies to create a continuum that respects device differences but unifies user experience across the entire lineup.

I don’t think I’d go so far as to declare Monterey the conclusion of macOS’s three-act drama. There are elements of tying up the loose ends left over from the prior two releases of the OS. However, we’re also seeing the first tangible examples of where the Apple silicon era will take the Mac even as the company continues to migrate the machines to its own SoCs.

One thing’s for certain, though: the sometimes awkward evolution of macOS over these past few years and the adjustments required to move the Mac and iPad into closer alignment are bearing fruit. For the first time in memory, Apple is releasing features across all of its platforms at once. The days of waiting for features that start on one platform to make their way to others seem to be coming to an end. That’s terrific news for users who will be able to move more freely between platforms without a steep learning curve, eliminating a lot of the frustration of the past.

With that, let’s dig into some of the details that I think will have an immediate impact on readers who download the macOS Monterey public beta.

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