Apple Launches Store Redesign and Today at Apple Program

Apple announced a major redesign of its retail stores today. The changes combine alterations to the physical space of some stores as well as a new series of events called ‘Today at Apple.’

The 100 largest Apple Stores will be redesigned to include live trees, meeting spaces, and screens similar to the upgrades that Apple’s Union Square store in San Francisco received last year. The Genius Bar will be renamed the Genius Grove in a nod to the addition of trees.

Apple Stores will also add a series of educational sessions in 495 locations that will launch at the end of May. The program is called ‘Today at Apple’ and will feature a wide range of presentations and hands-on sessions covering topics like photography, programming, design, art, and music. Sessions will be led by Creative Pros, a new retail store position filled by people with deep domain knowledge in the subjects they teach. In some cities, sessions will also be taught by world-class artists, musicians, and the like.

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Apple Cuts Affiliate Commissions on Apps and In-App Purchases

Today, Apple announced that it is reducing the commissions it pays on apps and In-App Purchases from 7% to 2.5% effective May 1st. The iTunes Affiliate Program pays a commission from Apple's portion of the sale of apps and other media when a purchase is made with a link that contains the affiliate credentials of a member of the program. Anyone can join, but the Affiliate Program is used heavily by websites that cover media sold by Apple and app developers. The announcement, which was made in the May Affiliate News email that Apple sends to participants in the program says:

Starting on May 1st 2017, commissions for all app and in-app content will be reduced from 7% to 2.5% globally. All other content types (music, movies, books, and TV) will remain at the current 7% commission rate in all markets. We will also continue to pay affiliate commissions on Apple Music memberships so there are many ways to earn commissions with the program.

With ad revenue in decline, affiliate commissions are one way that many websites that write about apps generate revenue, MacStories included. Many developers also use affiliate links in their apps and on their websites to supplement their app income. This change will put additional financial pressure on both groups, which is why it’s especially unfortunate that the changes are being made on just one week’s notice.



Tweetbot 4.6 Brings Image Support in DMs, New Compose UI for Replies

The new compose UI for replies in Tweetbot 4.6.

The new compose UI for replies in Tweetbot 4.6.

In an update released today on the App Store, Tapbots has started taking advantage of Twitter's more flexible third-party API to allow users to send images in private conversations (DMs). The feature – which has long been available in Twitter's official app – is limited to static images for now (no videos or animated GIFs), although the Twitter API could make more attachment types possible in the future.

Perhaps more notably, Tweetbot 4.6 comes with a redesigned compose interface for replies. Similarly to Twitter's iPhone app, Tweetbot 4.6 doesn't count usernames against the 140-character limit. To present this change in functionality, Tapbots has opted for a Twitter-like design where usernames aren't displayed in the compose box upon starting a reply. Instead, a "Replying to..." banner at the top of the screen highlights the tweet's original author and other participants in a conversation. Tap the banner, and, like in the Twitter app, you'll be a shown a popup with a list of users you're replying to. The author at the top of the list can't be de-selected; other users in the conversation can be removed by tapping on the blue checkmarks.

Twitter (left) and Tweetbot 4.6.

Twitter (left) and Tweetbot 4.6.

While this design is similar to Twitter's, it should be noted that Tweetbot limits this presentation to the compose view for replies. Unlike Twitter's official apps, usernames are still displayed in the body of a tweet in both the Timeline and Mentions views, providing a familiar format that doesn't force you to tap on the "Replying to..." banner from every section of the app. Personally, I believe Tapbots adopted a better solution than Twitter itself: the compose UI is nicer and usernames are easier to remove, but the timeline retains the familiar @usernames that add context to inline conversations.

I'm curious to see how Twitter's new API roadmap will impact third-party clients such as Tweetbot over the next few months. Tweetbot continues to be my daily Twitter client on every platform, and I hope Tapbots will be able to add even more native Twitter features in future updates (I'd love to have support for polls in Tweetbot).

Tweetbot 4.6 is available on the App Store.


The Talk Show with Apple’s Lisa Jackson

Special guest Lisa Jackson — Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives — joins the show for an Earth Day discussion of the state of Apple’s environmental efforts: climate change, renewable energy, responsible packaging, and Apple’s new goal to create a “closed-loop supply chain”, wherein the company’s products would be manufactured entirely from recycled materials.

I enjoyed John Gruber's interview with Apple's Lisa Jackson on the company's approach to various environmental initiatives. It's a fascinating, eye-opening discussion. Take an hour of your time to listen to it. It's obvious that some incredibly smart and talented people are working on these issues at Apple.

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Vignettes Review: I Need a Moment

Vignettes is, without a doubt, the most bizarre game (and app) I’ve ever purchased in the App Store.

The goal of the game – I think? – is to turn one object into another by twisting, rotating, tapping, and shifting your perspective of the object. If done correctly, you’ll transform a phone into a bowl, a light bulb into a lamp, and your brain from a completely functioning organ to a steaming pile of gray mush.

That’s about all there is to Vignette. The more you discover new objects, the more objects you'll want to find. As you proceed through the game, you’ll begin to unlock keys that will start you at different points in the game, reveal secrets, and let you interact with more objects.

That probably sounds incredibly generic, but that’s because it's incredibly difficult to put the concept behind Vignettes into words. It’s an experience, one that feels halfway between a game and an art project where the end object is to trick you to spinning your real-world chapstick around, hoping it transforms into something else (and yes, I did this!). There are almost no in-game instructions, either, so you’re left to your own devices from the outset.

However, there’s something really intriguing about the whole experience; although Vignettes is one of the most frustrating games I’ve played this year, the reward of discovery keeps me coming back the app even when I don’t think I want to. I get lost in its worlds, unable to comprehend exactly what puzzles I’m solving, but solving them nevertheless. Each puzzle is its own super weird and fun journey. I haven’t been so entranced by a iOS game in a long time.

Vignettes is available on the App Store for $2.99.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go lie down.



Nike Announces New, Limited Edition Apple Watch Dubbed ‘NikeLab’

Nike has news out today concerning the latest fruits of its partnership with Apple. A new model of Apple Watch called 'Apple Watch NikeLab' is coming soon:

The limited edition, neutral-toned Apple Watch NikeLab maintains the beloved features of its predecessor: deep integration with the Nike+ Run Club app, exclusive Siri commands, GPS, a two-times-brighter display and water resistance to 50 meters, all made possible by a powerful dual-core processor and watchOS 3. ​

I don't understand why Nike felt the need to give this Watch a new name rather than releasing it as an extension of the Nike+ line. Perhaps it's simply a marketing angle, as they are presenting the NikeLab as a limited edition model.

If you'd like to get your hands on the Apple Watch NikeLab, it goes on sale April 27th on nike.com, at NikeLab stores, and at an Apple Tokyo pop-up in Isetan. Assuming this is a comprehensive list of sellers, it means you won't be able to get the Watch from the Apple Store. It also appears unlikely that the band will be available for separate purchase, though that remains unclear.


Live Photos Can Now Be Embedded on the Web

Apple's developer site details a new API that makes it possible to embed Live Photos on the web:

This new JavaScript-based API makes it easy to embed Live Photos on your websites. In addition to enabling Live Photos on iOS and macOS, you can now let users display their Live Photos on the web.

Live Photos were first introduced in September 2015 alongside the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. Since then, their adoption across major social media platforms and other parts of the web has been slow.

Today's news is welcome, as it will hopefully help expand the reach of Live Photos beyond the sandbox of photo apps on iOS.

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