Do Big Things With Your Small Business

MacStories Unwind: WWDC Announced, HoverBar Duo and Darkroom Reviews, Maps, Siri, and Music News


Sponsored by: Concepts – Sketch, Note, Draw

This week on MacStories Unwind:


Club MacStories

  • Monthly Log
    • Federico checks in on his 3-month long Spotify experiment
    • John on changes to macOS that he’d like to see announced at WWDC this year
  • MacStories Weekly
    • Federico ends his quest for the perfect read later setup with new hardware
    • John spotlights Highlights for iPhone, iPad, and Mac
    • An interview with iOS Dev Weekly’s Dave Verwer
    • A Bartender 4 tip
    • Apps, Q&A and more.



Apple Arcade Expands More Originals and iOS Classics

Apple announced a significant expansion of Apple Arcade today, releasing more than 30 new games, bringing the total catalog to more than 180 titles.

There are a couple of new aspects to today’s release. First, Apple has added new exclusive Arcade Originals, including NBA 2K21 Arcade Edition, Star Trek: Legends, Simon’s Cat: Story Time, and The Oregon Trail, which are available on the iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV.

Timeless Classics and App Store Greats are differentiated by the addition of a '+' in their title.

Timeless Classics and App Store Greats are differentiated by the addition of a ‘+’ in their title.

Second, Arcade includes two new game categories: Timeless Classics and App Store Greats, which are a big collection of all-time favorite iOS games that are now available at no extra cost as part of an Arcade subscription on the iPhone and iPad and differentiated from other titles with the addition of a ‘+’ in their titles. Games included in the category include Zach Gage’s Good Soduku, Mini Metro, Fruit Ninja Classic, Badland, Blek, Flipflop Solitaire, Reigns, Monument Valley, and more. It’s an impressive list of classics that that is great to see spotlighted by Apple and preserved.

Somewhat overshadowed by today’s announcement are two highly-anticipated Arcade titles: Fantasian and Wonderbox: The Adventure Maker, which also debuted.

It’s good to see Arcade expanding, especially with the addition of iOS classics. Game and app preservation is something that has been an issue on iOS with the relentless evolution of the platform. Many games got left behind with the switch to a 64-bit processor architecture and other games were never updated for new hardware specifications. With the addition of classics to Arcade, the best of the App Store lives on for new players to enjoy, which is fantastic.

The Case for Shortcuts on the Mac

Jason Snell writing on Six Colors:

The more I use Shortcuts, the more I realize that in many ways, user automation on iOS has outpaced automation on the Mac. Let me give you an example: On iOS I built a shortcut to grab the contents of selected text in Safari and open the results in a text editor—converted to Markdown, with the title of the page set as the title and its URL set as a link. It’s not remotely the most complicated shortcut I’ve built, but it’s great—and has saved me a lot of time while improving the quality of my link posts…

I love it so much, I decided to build the same automation on the Mac. The results were ugly. My Keyboard Maestro macro forces Safari to copy the selected text to the clipboard, moves to BBEdit, opens a new window, pastes in the HTML, runs an HTML to Markdown Service on the selection, then runs an AppleScript script that cleans up the results. It’s ridiculous.

This is a fantastic example of something that I’ve experienced over and over to the point where I hesitate before trying to automate anything on the Mac. As Jason points out, Shortcuts isn’t exactly easy, but I find that I usually spend the most time figuring out the best approach to a problem rather than how to implement it in Shortcuts, which is automation at its best. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle that encourages me to experiment more with Shortcuts and use Mac automation less.

Read more

Siri Adds Two New English Speaking Voices and Lets Users Choose Among Them

Matthew Panzarino, reporting for TechCrunch says the latest beta version of iOS and iPadOS 14.5 includes two new English Siri voices. The report elaborates that the existing female voice is no longer the default and that users will choose the voice they want to use with Apple’s voice assistant when setting up a device for the first time.

In a statement to TechCrunch, an Apple said:

We’re excited to introduce two new Siri voices for English speakers and the option for Siri users to select the voice they want when they set up their device. This is a continuation of Apple’s long-standing commitment to diversity and inclusion, and products and services that are designed to better reflect the diversity of the world we live in.

Panzarino says he’s heard the new voices and likes them a lot and will be embedding samples in his story once he has the sixth iOS 14.5 beta installed.

I’m surprised that Apple is adding new Siri voices this late in the iOS 14 cycle, but it’s a welcome change that eliminates bias and makes Siri a more diverse and inclusive service.


HoverBar Duo: The MacStories Review

There is no shortage of iPad stands. Search for one on Amazon, for instance, and you’ll be met with page after page of results. Most stands are unremarkable, with little that distinguishes one from another.

Twelve South’s HoverBar Duo is different, though. The black aluminum and plastic stand has two articulating hinges with a clamp for your iPad that connects to the stand’s arm with a ball joint. The stand also rotates side-to-side at its base. The design, which is reminiscent of an attractive, modern desk lamp, provides a broader range of motion than most stands, making it useful in more scenarios. As a result, I’ve found myself using the HoverBar Duo far more than any stand I’ve tried before.

Read more

Spotify Launches New ‘Spotify Mixes’ with Personalized Playlists Based on Artists, Genres, and Decades

Spotify Mixes in the Made for You hub.

Spotify Mixes in the Made for You hub.

Earlier today, Spotify announced their latest feature rollout for both free and premium users: Spotify Mixes. Inspired by the Daily Mix, which the company introduced in 2016, Spotify Mixes are a collection of personalized playlists tailored specifically to each user and available in three main “flavors”: in the updated Made for You hub (which you can find in the Search page), you’ll find Artist Mixes, Genre Mixes, and Decade Mixes.

Here’s how Spotify says these new playlists will work:

Each mix is created with you at the core, based on your listening habits and the artists, genres, and decades you listen to most. They’re rooted in familiarity, meaning that you won’t just hear your favorite artists, but your favorite songs from those artists.

Then, we supplement by adding in songs we think you’ll love, meaning they’ll be filled with the music you have on repeat alongside some fresh picks. So whether you want to jam out to a specific artist or hear more music from another decade, there’s a mix just for you.

According to Spotify, these new mixes will update over time to reflect your listening habits and will present a dynamic collection of playlists from different artists, genres, and decades, including both songs you already know and new ones the service thinks you might like.

I received the new Spotify Mixes this morning and, as you can see in the image above, they provide an eerily accurate representation of my diverse music preferences – from late 90s Placebo and mid 2000s emo punk to modern artists such as Pale Waves and Taylor Swift.

As I’m writing almost on a weekly basis now, I’m impressed with Spotify’s ongoing streak of product launches and understanding of what their users seek in the service. With genre filters, the ability to shuffle liked songs based on mood, and now mixes for decades and artists, Spotify helps me enjoy and rediscover music in any moment of the day; so far, I’m glad I decided to switch from Apple Music for a year.

Apple and Others Invest $50 million into Music Distributor UnitedMasters

Apple quietly acquires companies with products and teams that complement its own offerings all the time, but it’s not often an investor, which makes the company’s recent investment in UnitedMasters notable. As reported by Matthew Panzarino at TechCrunch, Apple is joined by Alphabet, Google’s parent company, and A16z as leads in UnitedMasters’ $50 million Series B round.

Historically, artists’ relationships with music distribution companies have prevented artists from connecting directly with fans. UnitedMasters’ goal is to change that providing artists with access to data and allowing them to retain control of master recordings and sell merchandise, tickets, and more directly to fans.

As Panzarino notes, the investment comes as the music industry is changing:

We are currently at an inflection point in the way that artists and fans connect with one another. Though there have been seemingly endless ways for artists to get their messages out or speak to fans using social media and other platforms, the actual business of distributing work to a community and making money from that work has been out of their hands completely since the beginning of the recording industry.

UnitedMasters’ mission is to assist artists in making the transition to music’s future. If UnitedMaters’ objective sounds familiar, it’s likely because, as Panzarino explains, it bears a lot of similarity to what Apple Music Connect could have been:

In music, Apple is at the center of this maelstrom along with a few other major players like Spotify. One of the big misses in recent years for Apple Music, in my opinion, was Apple’s failure to turn Apple Music Connect into an industry-standard portal that allowed artists to connect broadly with fans, distribute directly, sell tickets and merchandise but — most importantly — to foster and own their community.

The streaming music industry is moving fast. Over the past several weeks, Spotify has introduced a long list of features to attract new listeners to the service. Apple Music seems to be evolving slowly compared to Spotify, but Apple’s investment in UnitedMasters shows that the company has its eye on the industry’s future too. Which new features stick with music fans remains to be seen, but judging from the first three months of the year, 2021 will be another interesting one for music streaming services.


Google Announces New Maps Features, Including Indoor Live View, Weather and Air Pollution Layers, and Eco-Friendly Driving Directions

Source: Google.

Source: Google.

In more mapping news, Google announced several new features that are available in its Maps app now or are coming later this year, including improvements indoor navigation, weather and air pollution data, eco-friendly driving directions, and delivery and pickup information.

Google is expanding its Live View feature to indoor locations, providing AR overlays in Maps to help you find locations inside airports, shopping malls, and transit stations. The feature is already available on Android and iOS for shopping malls in Chicago, Long Island, Los Angeles, Newark, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle in the US. Airports and transit stations in Tokyo and Zurich will be the first to get the feature, with other cities being added later.

Weather and air pollution layers. Source: Google.

Weather and air pollution layers. Source: Google.

New weather and air quality layers are being added to Google Maps in the coming months too. The rollout will begin in Australia, India, and the US, with other countries to follow.

Using data from the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Lab, Google says Maps will soon offer eco-friendly driving and transit directions, and that the reduced carbon option will be the default when the ETAs of two routes are roughly the same. Google is also adding emission zone data to Maps later this year, which is a feature that Apple’s Maps app added with iOS 14 and a comprehensive listing of all transit methods available for any directions you request.

Finally, search on mobile is adding delivery and pickup details to business profiles in the app, including delivery options, fees, order minimums, and other information. The feature will start with Albertsons grocery stores in the US, with other businesses to follow. This summer, Google is also teaming up with Kroger and Meyers stores for a pilot program in Portland that will integrate Maps notifications and routing information with those companies’ apps when you place a grocery order.

Although most of the features Google announced for Maps are coming later in the year or are limited to selected geographies, it’s good to see the app being pushed forward. The frequency of new features in Apple and Google’s mapping apps goes to show the kind of progress that competition can produce.

AppStories, Episode 211 – Apple at Home

This week on AppStories, we scrutinize Apple’s home strategy from its discontinued Airport routers and HomePod to the Apple TV, HomePod mini, HomeKit routers, the Home app, and more, plus ongoing browser and calendar experiments, and the hunt for an elusive keyboard continues.

Sponsored by:

  • Pillow – Sleeping better, made simple.
  • Privacy – Smarter payments. Get $5 to spend on your first purchase.
  • Technology Untangled – Join Michael Bird as he untangles innovation through a series of interviews, stories, and analyses with some of the industry’s brightest brains.