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System Haptics on the iPhone 7

Apple introduced the Taptic Engine with the iPhone 6s, where it replaced the old vibration motor and was also used to provide haptic feedback for when you activated 3D Touch. This year with the iPhone 7, Apple has improved the Taptic Engine and it plays a critical role in simulating the press of the Home button, which is no longer a physical button. But the Taptic Engine in the iPhone 7 goes even further with the introduction of System Haptics, where a number of UI elements in iOS will now also provide tactile haptic feedback when you activate them.

I have had my iPhone 7 for nearly a week now, and these new System Haptics have been a great delight to discover, and use. These System Haptics are mostly subtle and feel very natural, so you may not have even noticed them. Below I've compiled a list of all the places in iOS that I've noticed them appear.

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Matthew Panzarino’s Hands-On with the iPhone 7 Plus’ Portrait Mode in iOS 10.1 Beta

Matthew Panzarino, writing for TechCrunch, was able to test the iPhone 7 Plus' upcoming Portrait mode, released to developers with a first beta of iOS 10.1 earlier today.

If you’ve skipped here to see how the heck it works, I don’t blame you. The short answer: incredibly, miraculously well in many instances. And pretty rough in others. Apple says this is still in beta and it is. It has trouble with leaves, with chain link fences and patterns and with motion. But it also handles things so well that I never thought possible like fine children’s hair and dog fur, shooting pictures with people facing away and objects that are not people at all.

What does it have major trouble with? Fine lines, wires, chain link, glass, leaves. Anything that merges with the edges of your subject a bunch of times could confuse it. The closer to the subject the harder it is for it to distinguish. Motion, too, is a no. If the subject moves a bit, ok. If it moves too much you get ghosting, as you do in HDR mode — because there is compositing involved.

Let’s look at some examples and I’ll dissect what works, what doesn’t and how the mode is applying the effect in each image. In each case, I’ll include both the standard and Depth Effect image for comparison.

Panzarino reports that Portrait works on non-human subjects as well (which Apple didn't originally mention) and that it uses new body detection systems and a "sliding scale" mechanism to apply blurs for the background. Fascinating explanation – with some good points on how Apple could improve Portrait mode in the future.

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Google Allo Is Available

Allo, the messaging app that Google announced in May, has been released for iOS and Android. Dieter Bohn at The Verge has this to say about Allo:

I’ve been using it for a few days now, and it’s fine. Totally, completely fine. It does the things you expect from a messaging app…. If for some reason you abhor the dozen or so widely-used chat apps out there today, maybe Allo will appeal to you (assuming you can also get your friends to use it).

But to succeed, Google needs much more than fine. It needs something special. It needs something to make users switch away from those other apps (and to redeem itself after the slow, sad slide of Google Hangouts).

Google’s attempt at ‘something special’ is Google Assistant, a bot that can pull information from your calendar, email, the web and other sources. The feature is handy, but I agree with Bohn that it’s not enough if you are already invested in another messaging service.

What you can do with Google Assistant depends on where you use it. In one-on-one conversations with the bot, you can receive personal information like upcoming flight information or calendar appointments along with things like the weather, driving directions, and sports scores. Google Assistant can also be called upon in conversations with another person to do web searches and retrieve other data, but it will not share personal information in this context. For example, when Federico and I briefly tried Allo this morning, he couldn’t use Google Assistant to share a calendar appointment with me.

There are other limitations that iOS users should keep in mind. Allo does not work with the iPad, except in iPhone compatibility mode. Even then, when I sent a message to Federico on my iPad and then switched to my iPhone, I could no longer use my iPad with Allo and the message I sent from my iPad didn’t show up in the conversation on my iPhone. In addition, the notifications you receive on the iPhone are not the rich iOS 10 notifications many apps have already adopted. Nor is there a desktop native app or web client, which further limits Allo’s utility.

Allo also reflects the difference in approaches to privacy taken by Google and Apple. Whereas iMessages are encrypted end-to-end, Allo’s messages are unencrypted and stored on Google’s servers, unless you delete them or use Incognito Mode to send them. That’s because Google Assistant learns from your past messages to do things like suggest personalized canned responses to messages you receive.

It’s hard to get excited about any messaging service that is iPhone only. If you have friends and family that use Android devices though, Allo may be a good way to communicate with them and enjoy some of kinds of media-rich features offered by other services. Google Assistant is also off to a solid start and something I would like to see it incorporated in other Google products or as a stand-alone app.

For a comprehensive rundown of Allo’s features, check out Dieter Bohn’s review on The Verge.

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Swift Coding Comes to iPad: Playgrounds, Schools, and Learning to Code

Right at the end of the WWDC 2016 keynote, Apple announced Swift Playgrounds. This is a new app from Apple that is designed to allow children to learn to program on an iPad. This is a first from Apple and a major advance for iOS as a platform.

I was fortunate to be awarded an educator scholarship to WWDC 2016 and was privileged to be in the audience at the announcement. While attending the conference, I was able to speak with many of the engineers and educators working on Swift Playgrounds and gain an insight into what the software is capable of and the reasons why it was built.

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Tweetbot Updated with Support for Longer Tweets

When Twitter rolled out support for longer tweets yesterday, we mentioned that Tweetbot – the popular third-party client – would soon support the new format natively. Tapbots has released updates to the iOS and macOS apps today that let you view and create longer tweets (where media, polls, and quotes don't count against 140 characters) without having to rely on Twitter's official app. You can get the iOS update here.

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Apple Pay Arrives on Safari

Apple Pay started with point of sale terminals and iOS apps. With iOS 10 and macOS Sierra, Apple has extended Apple Pay to include web-based purchases made with its Safari browser. Despite being limited to Safari, Apple Pay's combination of simplicity and security has the potential to make it a de facto requirement for online retailers.

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macOS Sierra: The MacStories Review

The first thing that may catch the eye of many looking to upgrade their Mac this year is the demise of the classic 'OS X' moniker. The end of OS X has been long rumored, and the expectation has often been for the Mac to move to whatever Apple chooses to name their OS 11. This would of course be a change on a massive scale, such as that between OS 9 and OS X was over a decade ago.

This year, with OS X finally seeing the end of its reign, will we be seeing another epochal change in Mac history?

Nope.

After a decade of mispronounced Roman numerals, Apple is ready to let go of the name, but not the number. The full title for the 2016 iteration of the Mac operating system: macOS 10.12 Sierra. OS X may be gone, but OS 10 survives.

Since the mystical OS 11 didn’t come in the aftermath of the last big cat, didn’t come on the heels of version 10.9, and now again hasn’t come to usher out OS X, it’s starting to look like it may never come at all. Let’s all cross our fingers and hope that that’s true, because the bottom line is that OS 11 isn’t needed anymore.

These days, Apple is a very different company than it was when OS X made its debut. The Mac is no longer Apple’s darling. It was long ago pushed aside by the iPod, then the iPhone and iPad, and now even a watch and a TV box. Each of these is its own platform, running its own operating system. Each of these has its place in the new age Apple ecosystem.

With iOS, watchOS, and tvOS all around, the freshly renamed macOS no longer serves the role of scrappy upstart. Today, the Mac is the eldest platform, and macOS needs to focus on stability and productivity. Leave the epochal changes to the young guys.

With this year’s update, named after California’s Sierra Nevada Mountain Range, macOS builds once more upon the strong base of its many predecessors. Trenchant in its restraint, 10.12 shirks sweeping changes in favor of iterative improvements. A perfect example of an update to a mature operating system done right.

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