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The Electrodes Used by Apple’s ECG Watch App Enable Faster, More Accurate Heart Rate Measurements

On 9to5Mac, Zac Hall breaks down how the new electrodes work in the Apple Watch Series 4 based on details published by Apple when it updated watchOS last week with the new ECG app. For now, the ECG app is only available in the US, but that doesn’t mean that others can’t benefit from the hardware that it uses. As Hall explains:

According to Apple, putting your finger on the Digital Crown to capture a heart rate reading also measures faster and with more accuracy as it updates every second versus every five seconds while the measurement is active.

That’s because placing your finger on the Digital Crown completes a circuit between your heart and arms that allows the Watch to record electrical impulses across your chest.

It will take time for the ECG app to gain the approval of regulators worldwide. However, in the meantime, it’s nice to know that the hardware that makes the ECG app possible is enhancing heart rate capture for everyone.

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Drafts 5.5, MultiMarkdown, and CriticMarkup

Tim Nahumck, writing about the latest Drafts update for iOS:

One thing that is included with MultiMarkdown as an option is Critic Markup. Looking through the guide, there are several helpful elements that can be used for editing my writing utilizing Critic Markup. I can highlight some substitutions, additions, and deletions. I can highlight text to show something I might want to work on later. I can also add a basic comment somewhere that won’t be shown in a preview. And with this action, I can easily add any of them with a tap and a text entry, which inserts it in the proper format. This is helpful for creating and previewing the documents in Drafts, and gives users the flexibility to mark up files and save them back to a cloud service. I can see myself using this a lot for longer posts or large reviews. I’ve even modified my own site preview action to render the MultiMarkdown via scripting, as well as updating both my standard and linked post WordPress publishing actions to do the same.

I've always been a fan of CriticMarkup but have never been able to get into it as it wasn't integrated with the text editors I used on iOS. Considering how Drafts is my favorite option when it comes to writing and editing certain annual long-form stories, and given how I came up with my own syntax in previous years to embed comments in Markdown documents, I'm going to give this a try.

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Connected, Episode 221: Speak the Unspeakable Name

Myke, Federico and Stephen talk about their use of Shortcuts, Apple Music heading to the Amazon Echo and a bit of BREAKING NEWS.

On last week's episode of Connected, we discussed our ongoing usage of Shortcuts and what it means for Apple to expand their services to other platforms. You can listen here.

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Google Maps Debuts ‘For You’ Recommendations in 40 Countries on iOS

Previewed in May, Google has added a ‘For You’ tab to its Maps iOS app that is rolling out in stages today to users in 40 countries. The Android version of the feature is debuting in 130 countries.

‘For You,’ which appears as a tab on the far right of the app’s toolbar, is a way to follow a restaurant news feed for particular geographic areas. According to Google’s The Keyword blog:

Simply follow neighborhoods or places you’re interested in to get updates and recommendations—everything from recent news about an opening or pop up, a new menu item, and even restaurant suggestions based on what you’re likely to enjoy. If you’re making a trip this holiday season, the For You can help you get a jump start on travel planning even before you take off.

The For You tab includes its own settings that suggest additional areas to follow based on your location history. You can also add regions manually by panning and zooming the map to show the location in which you are interested. Surprisingly, there is no search bar for finding areas to follow.

If the area you pick doesn’t include enough places to track, the app prompts you to zoom out. That’s not an issue in densely populated cities, but in the suburbs where I live, I had to zoom out to roughly a 10x10-mile square that included several towns before I could save the area. Even then, I had to scroll back about a week before I found any local news. Likewise, if the area you pick is too large (for example, the entire New York metropolitan area), you’ll be prompted to zoom in to a smaller area.

The For You tab overlaps with the Explore tab’s listings of area restaurants but focuses on recent reviews and other news aggregated from third-party sources instead of business listings. If you see a place you want to try, there’s tap the bookmark icon next to it to add it to your ‘Want to go’ list, another list you’ve created, or your ‘Short List’ for sharing with others, just as you can from the Explore tab.

In my limited testing, my recommendations were dominated by Chicago. That’s not a surprise, but there were only four nearby entries since the beginning of November, which is a pretty weak showing for suburbs just 25 miles outside of Chicago. It’s worth noting too that the For You tab is limited to restaurants, which I didn’t expect. Not including events feels like a missed opportunity. Despite the overlap with the Explore tab and limited content available, For You should be useful the next time I’m looking for a new restaurant to try in Chicago or visiting an unfamiliar city.

The For You tab is being released in stages and will show up in Google Maps without the need to update the app in the App Store. If you don’t see the feature yet, force quitting Google Maps and reopening it can cause the new tab to appear.


Affinity: Super-Fast, Powerful, Professional Apps for Modern Creative People [Sponsor]

Serif, the maker of Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer, is one step closer to completing its trio of apps for creative professionals with the desktop publishing app Affinity Publisher, now available as a free public beta. From the earliest days, Serif’s vision has been to build the Affinity apps as an unrivaled trio of sleek, super-modern apps that work with the latest technologies, are ultra-fast, and completely stripped of feature-bloat. With the launch of the Affinity Publisher’s public beta, Serif is on the cusp of realizing that vision.

Affinity Publisher is set to revolutionize desktop publishing in the same way Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer have shaken up the worlds of professional photo editing and graphic design. The app will boast full integration with Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo, allowing owners of all three to edit vector designs and images inside one app in a stunning new way. Although not enabled in the current version of the beta, switching to Photo or Designer from within Publisher will be as easy as clicking a button in the app’s toolbar.

Affinity Publisher, which is free to download and try, is the result of thousands of hours of development by Serif’s award-winning team, which also launched the fully-featured vector graphics app Affinity Designer on iPad this year. Publisher includes advanced typography, linked text frames, master pages, facing page spreads, dynamic photo frames, tables, baseline grids, linked resources, end-to-end CMYK support, and much more. The beta is currently available on the Mac and Windows with an iPad version to follow later. This is an excellent opportunity to get an advance look at Publisher and provide Serif with feedback, suggestions, and requests on their dedicated Publisher forum.

If you haven’t tried the Affinity apps yet, see what the future of professional creative work looks like today by visiting the Affinity store where you’ll find the Affinity apps, workbooks, brush packs, and merchandise throughout the holiday season.

Our thanks to Affinity for sponsoring MacStories this week.


Hands-On: Belkin’s USB-C to HDMI Adapter for the 2018 iPad Pro

As I mentioned earlier this week, I have been looking forward to Belkin's USB-C to HDMI adapter for the new iPad Pro since I discovered the accessory was announced on the same day of Apple's Brooklyn event. The unique proposition of this adapter is support for 4K @ 60Hz video-out with HDR and HDCP 2.2, which, as I noted in yesterday's iPad Diaries column as well, I haven't been able to find in other USB-C adapters so far. I just spent 30 minutes playing with the iPad Pro connected to my 4K TV through this adapter, which arrived this morning, and I'm happy with the purchase, even though there is one significant drawback.

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iPad Diaries: The Many Setups of the 2018 iPad Pro

iPad Diaries is a regular series about using the iPad as a primary computer. You can find more installments here and subscribe to the dedicated RSS feed.

One of my favorite aspects of working on the iPad is the flexibility granted by its extensible form factor. At its very essence, the iPad is a screen that you can hold in your hands to interact with apps using multitouch. But what makes iPad unique is that, unlike a desktop computer or laptop, it is able to take on other forms – and thus adapt to different contexts – simply by connecting to a variety of removable accessories. The iPad can be used while relaxing on a couch or connected to a 4K display with a Bluetooth keyboard; you can work on it while waiting in a car thanks to built-in 4G LTE, or put it into a Brydge keyboard case and turn it into a quasi-MacBook laptop that will confuse a lot of your friends who aren't familiar with iPad Pro accessories1. In a way, the iPad is modern computing's version of Kirby, the famous Nintendo character that is a blank canvas on its own, but can absorb the capabilities of other characters when necessary.

Thanks to its USB-C port, the new iPad Pro takes this aspect of the traditional iPad experience even further by enabling easier connections to external devices that don't come with a Lightning connector. At this stage, the new iPad Pro does not integrate with all USB-C accessories like any modern Mac would; also, connecting to Bluetooth keyboards has always been possible on iPad, as was interacting with external USB keyboards if you had the right Lightning adapter. But the point is that USB-C makes it easier to connect an iPad Pro to other USB devices either by virtue of using a single USB-C cable or, in the case of USB-A accessories, using existing USB-C hubs from any company that isn't Apple. Not to mention how, thanks to the increased bandwidth of the USB 3.1 Gen. 2 spec supported by the iPad Pro's USB-C port, it is now possible to connect the device directly to an external 4K/5K USB-C monitor, which can power the iPad Pro and act as a USB hub at the same time.

We haven't seen the full picture of built-in USB-C with the new iPad Pro: external drives still aren't supported by iOS' Files app, and other peripherals often require app developers to specifically support them. However, I believe the removal of Lightning is already enhancing the iPad's innate ability to adapt to a plurality of work setups and transform itself into a portable computer of different kinds. For the past few weeks, I've been testing this theory with Bluetooth and USB keyboards, a 4K USB-C monitor, USB-C hubs, and a handful of accessories that, once again, highlight the greater flexibility of the iPad Pro compared to traditional laptops and desktops, as well as some of its drawbacks.

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Electrocardiogram App and Irregular Heart Rhythm Notifications Available Today

At Apple’s September keynote the company introduced the Series 4 Apple Watch. Among the features announced was a preview of the ability to generate an electrocardiogram or ECG within thirty seconds by placing a finger on the Digital Crown. At the time, Apple said the ECG functionality would ship in a software update ‘later this year.’

Today, with the release of watchOS 5.1.2, Apple has shipped the ECG app. As we explained in the MacStories Series 4 overview, the ECG functionality is enabled by new hardware including a new titanium electrode built into the Digital Crown:

This electrode pairs with another electrode built into the bottom of the Series 4's new sapphire crystal back. When you place your finger over the top of the crown you form a closed circuit between your finger and the wrist of your other arm – where the back electrode is making contact.

Apple’s ECG sensor is notable because it’s the first of its kind available over the counter to consumers. ECG results taken with the Apple Watch are stored in the Health app, from which they can be exported as a PDF for sharing with your physician.

According to Apple's press release:

The ECG app’s ability to accurately classify an ECG recording into AFib and sinus rhythm was validated in a clinical trial of around 600 participants. Rhythm classification from a gold standard 12-lead ECG by a cardiologist was compared to the rhythm classification of a simultaneously collected ECG from the ECG app. The study found the ECG app on Apple Watch demonstrated 98.3 percent sensitivity in classifying AFib and 99.6 percent specificity in classifying sinus rhythm in classifiable recordings. In the study, 87.8 percent of recordings could be classified by the ECG app.

watchOS has also been updated to notify users of irregular heart rhythms:

the irregular rhythm notification feature will occasionally check the user’s heart rhythm in the background for signs of an irregular heart rhythm that appears to be AFib and alerts the user with a notification if an irregular rhythm is detected on five rhythm checks over a minimum of 65 minutes.

The irregular heart rhythm notification feature, which is available for the Series 1 Watch and later, was likewise tested in clinical studies:

In that sub-study, of the participants that received an irregular rhythm notification on their Apple Watch while simultaneously wearing an ECG patch, 80 percent showed AFib on the ECG patch and 98 percent showed AFib or other clinically relevant arrhythmias.

The new Apple Watch ECG app and irregular heart rhythm notification feature are available as part of watchOS 5.1.2, which can be downloaded from the Software Update section of the Watch app on your iPhone.