Apple Announces Major Expansion of Its Racial Equity and Justice Initiative

Today, Apple announced a significant expansion of its Racial Equity and Justice Initiative (REJI), the $100 million project to help eliminate barriers to opportunities and address injustices confronted by communities of color. The new projects, which build on the company’s existing initiative, include a global innovation and learning hub for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, the first US-based coding and tech education center, and venture capital funding.

In announcing the projects, Apple CEO Tim Cook said:

We are all accountable to the urgent work of building a more just, more equitable world — and these new projects send a clear signal of Apple’s enduring commitment. We’re launching REJI’s latest initiatives with partners across a broad range of industries and backgrounds — from students to teachers, developers to entrepreneurs, and community organizers to justice advocates — working together to empower communities that have borne the brunt of racism and discrimination for far too long. We are honored to help bring this vision to bear, and to match our words and actions to the values of equity and inclusion we have always prized at Apple.

Cook is scheduled to be interviewed today on CBS This Morning by Gayle King, and although the topic of the interview has not been revealed, it’s a safe bet Cook will be discussing REJI.

Rendering of the Propel Center.

Rendering of the Propel Center.

REJI was launched in June 2020 in the wake of the killing of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and others and is led by Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives. As part of the initiative, Apple announced it is contributing $25 million to help build Propel Center in Atlanta, Georgia, to support Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). In its press release, Apple explains that:

The center is designed to support the next generation of diverse leaders, providing innovative curricula, technology support, career opportunities, and fellowship programs. The Propel Center will offer a wide range of educational tracks, including AI and machine learning, agricultural technologies, social justice, entertainment arts, app development, augmented reality, design and creative arts, career preparation, and entrepreneurship. Experts from Apple will help develop curricula and provide ongoing mentorship and learning support, along with offering internship opportunities.

Apple is creating two new grants to support HBCU engineering programs, and a new Faculty Fellows Program is being established for HBCU educators, too. Apple also offers 100 Apple Scholar scholarships to students from underrepresented communities.

Apple has opened developer academies in several cities around the world, but today’s announcement marks the first US-based academy that will be established in Detroit, Michigan. The academy is being launched in collaboration with Michigan State University and will offer an introductory 30-day program and an intensive 10-12 month program. The company will also host a virtual Entrepreneur Camp for Black Founders and Developers next month.

The third prong today’s announcements is venture capital funding for Black and Brown entrepreneurs designed to address systemic barriers to funding. Apple is investing $10 million with Harlem Capital, a New York-based early-stage venture capital firm. Harlem Capital will also participate in the Detroit Developer Academy and Entrepreneur Camp. Also, Apple is investing $25 million in Siebert Williams Shank’s Clear Vision Impact Fund, which invests in minority-owned companies and making a contribution to The King Center.

The breadth and depth of Apple’s REJI initiative is impressive, focusing on educators, students, and start-ups as a way to create opportunities and address systemic injustices. It’s heartening to see Apple pour its resources into this initiative and one that I hope will continue to grow and succeed.


Puppr Review: Teach Your Dog New Tricks

I came across Puppr during its recent feature as Apple’s App of the Day and decided to give it a try. The app is a simple and fun instructional tool for teaching your dog new behaviors and tricks. Since I’ve been staying with my parents for the last couple of months, I decided to take it for a spin doing some training with the family dog.

Puppr’s Home view consists of a scrolling list of categories for dog lessons. You can start simple with the ‘New Dog’ or ‘Basics’ categories, but it quickly ramps up from there. Each category consists of a series of behaviors or tricks, and tapping one opens its details view. Within this view you can see a brief video of the trick in action with a real dog. There’s also a difficultly rating, a description, and a badge for whether it’s safe to teach this trick to puppies. Each trick includes a status dropdown which you can use to note that you’re in progress of teaching it to your dog, or that your dog has mastered it.

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Apple and Others Suspend Parler from Their Platforms

Saturday, Apple suspended social media app Parler from the App Store. The move followed Google’s removal of the Android version of the app from the Play Store on Friday and happened at roughly the same time that Amazon announced that it was ending Parler’s access to its cloud services.

Parler is a social network that became popular with conservatives who felt they had been unfairly treated by services like Twitter and Facebook.

On Friday, Google removed the service’s app from the Play Store, telling CNN that:

“We’re aware of continued posting in the Parler app that seeks to incite ongoing violence in the US. We recognize that there can be reasonable debate about content policies and that it can be difficult for apps to immediately remove all violative content, but for us to distribute an app through Google Play, we do require that apps implement robust moderation for egregious content. In light of this ongoing and urgent public safety threat, we are suspending the app’s listings from the Play Store until it addresses these issues.”

That same day, BuzzFeed News reported that Apple had given Parler 24-hours to improve its moderation of content posted to the service, or it would be suspended. Although there were reports that Parler removed some content, it wasn’t enough for Apple. On Saturday, in a statement to TechCrunch and other media outlets, the company said:

We have always supported diverse points of view being represented on the App Store, but there is no place on our platform for threats of violence and illegal activity. Parler has not taken adequate measures to address the proliferation of these threats to people’s safety. We have suspended Parler from the App Store until they resolve these issues.

Around the same time, Amazon announced that it would bar Parler from using its cloud services, which host Parler’s content, beginning Monday at midnight and dealing another serious blow to its future.

We are deeply saddened by the horrific events that occurred in Washington, DC last week. As a site that covers apps, we applaud Apple, Google, and Amazon for taking action to eliminate threats of violence and illegal activity from their platforms. Apps have been a force for good in the world in so many ways, but like any tool, they can be used for evil too. There should never be a place on the App Store or any other app platform for threats of violence or illegal activity.


Unite 4: Turn Websites into Apps on Your Mac [Sponsor]

Unite 4 for macOS can turn any website into an app for your Mac. The app uses a lightweight, WebKit-powered browser as a backend, allowing you to easily create isolated, customizable apps from any site. It’s a terrific way to get those sites you visit every day out of a tab and into a dedicated, standalone app.

Unite 4 has dozens of features and customization options that make it a terrific alternative to resource-hogging Electron apps or uninspired Mac Catalyst implementations. The apps you create are easy to set up, fast, and only limited by your imagination:

  • Create dedicated apps for your favorite streaming services like Netflix and Disney+
  • Save your laptop’s battery by using Unite for Slack, Discord, and WhatsApp with full notification support
  • Listen to music services like Apple Music or Spotify
  • Enjoy podcasts with Overcast
  • Organize your notes in a dedicated Roam Research app
  • Never again lose your Figma design work among a sea of Safari tabs
  • Limit the ability of apps like Facebook to track you across sites
  • Check your Instagram feed
  • Track your finances with Robinhood

No matter which sites you use, Unite can turn them into apps for your Mac with customizable colors, an icon that fits the version of macOS you use, dark mode, support for the macOS Keychain, floating windows, and even menu bar-based apps that appear with a single click.

This week only, MacStories readers can get 20% off when you purchase Unite 4 at bzgapps.com/macstories or by using the promo code ‘MacStories’ at checkout.

Unite is free to try for 14 days and is available as part of a Setapp subscription too.

Download Unite 4 today and turn your favorite websites into you favorite apps too.

Our thanks to Unite 4 for sponsoring MacStories this week.


MacStories Unwind: Two Months with the HomePod mini, New Mac Menu Bar Apps, and a Fitness Tracker with Terrific Widgets

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Sponsored by: SaneBox – Organize Your Inbox, and Never Waste Time on Email Again

This week on MacStories Unwind:

MacStories

Club MacStories

  • MacStories Weekly
    • Strong Workout Tracker
    • 11 giveaways for health, fitness, and wellness apps
    • A personal automation for activating Do Not Disturb on an iPhone and Mac simultaneously
    • John’s 2021 Apple hardware and app wishes for 2021

AppStories

  • Episode 200 Preview

Unwind


Two Months with the HomePod mini: More Than Meets the Eye

As a smaller, affordable smart speaker tightly integrated with Apple services, the HomePod mini is a compelling product for many people. The mini is little enough to work just about anywhere in most homes. At $99, the device’s price tag also fits more budgets and makes multiple HomePod minis a far more realistic option than multiple original HomePods ever were. Of course, the mini comes with tradeoffs compared to its larger, more expensive sibling, which I’ll get into, but for many people, it’s a terrific alternative.

As compelling as the HomePod mini is as a speaker, though, its potential as a smart device reaches beyond the original HomePod in ways that have far greater implications for Apple’s place in customers’ homes. Part of the story is the mini’s ability to serve as a border router for Thread-compatible smart devices, forming a low-power, mesh network that can operate independently of your Wi-Fi setup. The other part of the story is the way the mini extends Siri throughout your home. Apple’s smart assistant still has room to improve. However, the promise of a ubiquitous audio interface to Apple services, apps, HomeKit devices, and the Internet is more compelling than ever as Siri-enabled devices proliferate.

For the past couple of months, I’ve been testing a pair of HomePod minis that Apple sent me. That pair joined my original HomePods and another pair of minis that I added to the setup to get a sense of what having a whole-home audio system with Siri always within earshot would be like. The result is a more flexible system that outshines its individual parts and should improve over time as the HomeKit device market evolves.

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Apple Recaps Its 2020 Services, Including the App Store’s Record-Breaking Holiday Season

In a press release today, Apple provided an update on its services. According to Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services:

Now more than ever before, customers around the world have found inspiration and value in the breadth and quality of Apple’s services, which have impacted their lives in big and small ways every day. We’re incredibly optimistic about where we’re headed, and we believe that the opportunities for developers and the creative community are endless, as are the positive and meaningful benefits to our customers.

Among the highlights Apple shared are App Store revenue numbers for the 2020 holiday season, which were greater than 2019 for the same period and once again set an all-time record for single-day sales on New Year’s Day:

The trend continued over the holiday season, with App Store customers spending $1.8 billion on digital goods and services over the week between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, driven largely by spending on games. Customers ushered in 2021 by setting a new single-day spending record of over $540 million on New Year’s Day.

Apple also noted that developers have earned more than $200 billion since the inception of the App Store in 2008 and that it kicked off the App Store Small Business Program at the end of 2020.

In addition to apps, Apple recapped its other services:

  • Apple Music, which added several new features in 2020 that Apple says have been used by more than 90% of iOS 14 users
  • The Apple TV App, which debuted on new smart TVs and videogame consoles in 2020 and is now available on over 1 billion screens in more than 100 countries
  • TV+, which gained a dedicated tab in the TV app and was nominated for 159 awards, receiving 45
  • Apple News, which added local news for certain cities, included special coverage of the pandemic, the racial justice movement, and the US election, and added audio to News+ in 2020
  • Fitness+, which debuted just before the New Year
  • Apple Pay, which Apple says is accepted by more than 90% of US stores, 85% of UK stores, and 99% of Australian stores
  • Apple Arcade, which now has more than 140 games with games that have received more than 50 award nominations
  • Apple Books, which has over 90 million monthly active users
  • Apple Podcasts, which is available in 175 countries and 100 languages
  • iCloud, 85% of whose users have enabled two-factor authentication

Every year I’m struck that the App Store continues to set holiday season records for sales. The success of the App Store has been nothing short of remarkable, but as Apple’s press release demonstrates, Apple’s current services story today extends far beyond apps.


Organize Your Inbox (and Never Waste Time on Email Again) With SaneBox [Sponsor]

SaneBox is your personal email assistant that automatically organizes your inbox, saving you valuable time. SaneBox works with your existing email service, making sure that only the most important messages reach your inbox. The rest of your messages are neatly tucked away in designated folders like SaneLater and SaneNews for reviewing later. You can snooze emails, too, setting them aside to deal with when you have time.

Better yet, if there’s something you never want to see again, drag in into the SaneBlackHole folder. It’s far easier than the hit or miss process of unsubscribing from email lists.

SaneBox has a built-in reminders system too. SaneReminders are a terrific way to stay on task. Send yourself a reminder to do something later, or get a reminder when someone hasn’t responded to one of your messages. For example, bcc: 3days@sanebox.com and the message will show up back in your inbox only if the recipient doesn’t reply within three days. SaneReminders is perfect for making sure that nothing falls through the cracks.

Also, because SaneBox works with your existing email setup, there’s no app to download or new email account to set up. You can use any email service and client you want.

Sign up today for a free 14-day SaneBox trial to take back control of your email. You’ll see big benefits immediately as the message count in your inbox drops, and you’ll be able to maintain control going forward with SaneBox’s help. MacStories readers can receive a special $25 credit automatically by using this link to sign up.

Our thanks to SaneBox for sponsoring MacStories this week.


Dato Review: Calendar Events and Time Zones From Your Mac’s Menu Bar

My calendar needs are pretty simple. I have a shared family calendar to keep tabs on personal obligations and a personal MacStories calendar for work-related events. I also share a calendar with Federico for scheduling podcast recording times and other events, but that’s about it.

If you spend lots of time in a calendar app because you have lots of meetings, having calendar sets, tasks, scheduling, video call support, weather, and other pro features inside your calendar app makes sense. My work is far more task-focused than event-focused, though. I don’t want to lose track of important events, but most days, Apple’s calendar widget on my iPhone is all I need.

The Calendar widget doesn’t quite cut it for me on the Mac, though. Widgets are out of sight in Big Sur, and there’s no way to trigger the widget panel with a keyboard shortcut. So, instead, I’ve been using a Mac menu bar app called Dato for quick glances at my calendar. The app isn’t new, but the recent addition of time zone support caught my eye, and it has played an important role in my daily workflow ever since I began using Apple’s Calendar app again.

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