This week's sponsor

Airmail Zero

Blazingly-Fast Gmail Triage for the Mac and iPhone


Airmail Zero: Blazingly-Fast Gmail Triage for the Mac and iPhone [Sponsor]

The makers of the Apple Design Award-winning app Airmail are back with Airmail Zero, a brand-new take on Gmail for the Mac and iPhone.

Speed is critical to getting through a mountain of email messages, and you don’t want your email client slowing you down. That’s why Bloop, designed Airmail Zero, the successor to Airmail, from the ground up with speed and efficiency as a top priority.

Airmail Zero is built on an all-new Swift codebase for lightning-fast app launches, and instantaneous message handling. The app has been architected to use virtually zero storage, memory, and CPU to keep everything working smoothly throughout. Sync is speedy, the app works exceptionally well with virtual private networks, and it communicates over HTTPS connections too.

The emphasis on speed extends to Airmail Zero's design, which is brought to life with custom animations. Email messages are presented in a clean, easy-to-read card interface with simple, intuitive controls for rapidly triaging an overflowing inbox. Add to that a rich set of keyboard shortcuts on the Mac and you’ll find yourself with an empty inbox in no time.

The Mac and iPhone versions of Airmail Zero are free to use with one Gmail account. Subscribe for $0.99/month or $9.99/year and you add multiple Gmail accounts organized in a unified inbox, plus live help from the Airmail Zero support team.

Spend your time answering email instead of managing your email client by giving Airmail Zero a try today on the Mac and iPhone.

Our thanks to Airmail Zero for supporting MacStories this week.



A Timeline of iOS Accessibility: It Started with 36 Seconds

On June 8, 2009, at the end of a two-hour WWDC keynote, Phil Schiller was running through a long list of new features and apps that would be available on the iPhone 3GS, due to ship on June 19 of that year. Phil was pinch-hitting as keynote master of ceremonies for Steve Jobs, who was then on leave, recovering from a liver transplant.

At 1:51:54 in the video, just after he showed off Voice Control and the new Compass app, Apple’s version of the accessibility logo appeared on screen. It’s a stick-style figure with arms and legs outstretched. The icon is still used today.

“We also care greatly about accessibility,” Schiller said, and the slide switched to an iPhone settings screen.

For a total of 36 seconds, Schiller spoke somewhat awkwardly about VoiceOver, Zoom, White on Black (called Invert Colors from iOS 6 onward), and Mono Audio – the first real accessibility features on the iPhone OS platform, as it was then called.

And then it was over. No demo. No applause break.

Schiller moved on to describe the Nike+ app and how it would allow iPhone users to meet fitness goals.

I surveyed a number of liveblogs from that day. About half noted the mention of accessibility features in iPhone OS. The others jumped directly from Compass to Nike+. Accessibility hadn’t made much of a splash.

But in the blindness community, things were very different. Time seemed to stop somewhere after 1:51:54 in the video. Something completely amazing had happened, and only a few people seemed to understand what it meant.

Some were overjoyed, some were skeptical, some were in shock. They all had questions. Would this be a half-hearted attempt that would allow Apple to fill in the checkboxes required by government regulations, a PR stunt to attract good will? Or would it mean that people who had previously been completely locked out of the iPhone would have a way in?

You can probably guess what the answer is, now that we have ten years of an accessible mobile platform in the rearview mirror – now that Apple is widely credited with offering the best mobile accessibility experience available. But it didn’t all happen at once, and not every step along the way was a positive one.

0:00 1:51

Excerpt from ‘36 Seconds That Changed Everything.’

As a companion to my audio documentary, “36 Seconds That Changed Everything: How the iPhone Learned to Talk,” I’ve put together a timeline of iOS accessibility milestones from the past ten years. I’ve focused on Apple hardware and operating systems, though there have also been important Apple app updates, and third-party apps that opened doors to new ways of using iOS accessibly. It’s a list that’s simply too long for this article. And, with a few exceptions, I’ve addressed accessibility-specific features of iOS. Many mainstream features have accessibility applications and benefits, even if they don’t fit here directly.

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Apple Disables Walkie-Talkie App Due to Security Vulnerability

Matthew Panzarino, writing for TechCrunch:

Apple has disabled the Apple Watch Walkie Talkie app due to an unspecified vulnerability that could allow a person to listen to another customer’s iPhone without consent, the company told TechCrunch this evening.

Apple shared an official statement with TechCrunch:

We were just made aware of a vulnerability related to the Walkie-Talkie app on the Apple Watch and have disabled the function as we quickly fix the issue. We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience and will restore the functionality as soon as possible. Although we are not aware of any use of the vulnerability against a customer and specific conditions and sequences of events are required to exploit it, we take the security and privacy of our customers extremely seriously. We concluded that disabling the app was the right course of action as this bug could allow someone to listen through another customer’s iPhone without consent. We apologize again for this issue and the inconvenience.

Panzarino rightfully points out the parallels of this issue with the highly-publicized FaceTime bug from earlier this year. The one key difference: whereas with the FaceTime bug, when it was reported by a user, Apple didn't respond or take action until the problem received widespread media attention; with this Walkie-Talkie bug, Apple followed up on a customer's report and addressed the issue seemingly before anyone else knew about it. Hopefully this is the sign of improved processes inside the company for handling serious bugs and vulnerabilities.

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Game Day: Minit

Minit is a new-to-iOS indie adventure game by Jan Willem Nijman, the co-founder of Vlambeer, Kitty Calis, Jukio Kallio, and Dominik Johann. The game, which was brought to iOS a little over one week ago by Devolver Digital, first debuted in April 2018 and is now available on all major consoles, PCs, and mobile platforms. It’s a fantastic game that benefits from the high-resolution screens and excellent sound available on iOS devices but also suffers a little from onscreen joystick controls. That issue can be remedied with an MFi controller, but even playing with the onscreen controls, Minit has quickly become one of my favorite iOS games of 2019.

Minit's hook is that the hero you control only has a minute to live, a mechanic that's perfect for a mobile game. As you race around the game's map, solving puzzles and discovering items, you have to move fast because when the minute is up, you die and have to start over again.

If that sounds frustrating, it really isn't. You have to start over after you die, but not entirely from the beginning. The ticking clock certainly makes Minit challenging, but it cleverly avoids becoming frustrating by letting your character retain items, powers, and locations even after you die. For example, one of the first items you discover in the game is a cursed sword that is central to the game's story. When you inevitably die and respawn to continue exploring, you don’t need to grab the sword again because it will already be at your side. The same holds true of powers like pushing objects and locations that become your new home, which avoids the monotony of having to restart the game from the same point over and over.

Minit strikes a careful balance with its core mechanic, allowing just enough progress to be made each time you play to keep you coming back for more. It also helps that no matter where I’ve been on the game’s map, I’ve always felt that I had multiple options each time I restarted. That’s an essential element of avoiding frustration because even when I've gotten stuck on a particular quest, I've had the option to set out in a different direction and make progress elsewhere.

The game’s art and sound design are top-notch too. The artwork is entirely black and white with chunky pixel characters and environments that convey a sense of whimsy and fun. Coupled with an excellent soundtrack and sound effects, Minit imbues its world with a personality that brings its simple environment to life in a way that transcends any one aspect of the game.

Minit's controls are just as simple as its artwork. There’s a virtual joystick in the lower left corner of the screen for moving your character and an attack button in the opposite corner. The gameplay is simple enough that the onscreen joystick works reasonably well, but it’s still not as good as a controller with a dedicated thumbstick, especially when lining up your character to attack an enemy. Relatively few iOS gamers have MFi controllers now, but iOS 13 should give games like Minit a boost in the fall when the OS adds support for Bluetooth-based PS4 and Xbox controllers that far more people already own.

Even relying on the onscreen controls though, I've had a blast playing Minit. It took the game with me on a short 4th of July road trip, and it was the perfect companion for the long drive and when I had some time to myself in the evenings. Minit treads some of the same ground as similar retro-style adventure games I've played before, but the combination of the timer mechanic and unique black-and-white world make it stand head and shoulders above similar games.

Minit is available on the App Store for $4.99.


Screenwriting, Novels, Apps, and More with John August (Part 2)

Today on Dialog, we conclude our conversation with screenwriter and author John August.

Although August is a screenwriter and author, he's also been involved in a wide variety of other related projects like the creation of Fountain markup syntax, which is a variant of Markdown designed specifically for screenwriters. He's also the maker of Highland, a text editor for the Mac with special features for screenwriters and novelists, and Weekend Read, an iOS app for reviewing PDF-formatted screenplays. August even commissioned Courier Prime, and open source typeface that fixes many of the deficiencies found in standard Courier fonts.

You can find the episode here or listen through the Dialog web player below.

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Next week, we're going to speak to Carrie Patel, a narrative designer at Obsidian Entertainment, who has worked on games such as Pillars of Eternity and The Outer Worlds, which is coming this fall. Patel is also the author of the Recoletta trilogy, a Science Fantasy series set in an underground world. In next week's first installment of the interview, we dive deep into the world-building, lore, character dialogue, and other elements of creating the narrative surrounding major video game releases.

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Apple Brings Back Texas Hold’em

When the App Store opened for business in 2008, Apple released Texas Hold'em, the company's first and only iOS game and successor to an iPod version that debuted in 2006. The game, which Stephen Hackett profiled for MacStories last year was short-lived, disappearing from the App Store in 2011.

In the eight years since the game's release, Apple has left the iOS game market to third-party developers, with the exception of Warren Buffett's Paper Wizard. Today, however, the company released an updated version, which was spotted by an eagle-eyed 9to5Mac reader. Strangely, the game's description says the release is meant to celebrate the App Store's 10th Anniversary, which occurred last July 10th, not quite 11 years ago today.

In any event, Texas Hold'em is back with new graphics to support the resolution and screen sizes of modern iPhones along with new characters and 'more challenging gameplay.' The app, which originally sold for $4.99, is now free too.

Launching the game for the first time in many years, brought an instant wave of early App Store nostalgia. Even if card games aren't your thing, Texas Hold'em is worth a look because so much of the original feel of one of the earliest iPhone games is preserved in this update.

Texas Hold'em is available as a free download on the App Store.