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Todoist Launches Native Amazon Echo Integration

Since moving back to Todoist, I've been looking for a way to easily add tasks using the Amazon Echo, which has become a staple in our household for a variety of voice commands. Today, the Todoist team has rolled out a native Amazon Echo integration that lets you create tasks and manage your todo list just by talking to Alexa.

Nathan Ingraham, writing for Engadget:

It works much like you'd expect: you can ask Alexa to add items to the various lists that you have in your Todoist account, and you can also ask it to tell you everything that's on your to-do list for that day. And Alexa works with Todoist's natural language processing, so you can ask it to add things to your list "tomorrow" or "next Wednesday" and it'll know just what you're asking it for. It's not clear if you'll be able to tell Alexa to add items to specific projects or to-do lists in your account -- they probably get added to whatever your default list is for you to sort out on your phone or computer.

The Todoist blog has more details on how the integration works:

Over the past months, we’ve worked closely with Amazon as part of a limited participation beta of their Alexa integration platform, and we’re thrilled to be able to share the results with you today.


When dictating a task, Todoist’s smart date recognition will automatically recognize and add any due date you say. For example, saying, “Alexa, add pay the rent every first of the month to my to-do list,” will automatically add a recurring task to “Pay the rent” to your Todoist, due on the first day of every month. The task will disappear from your Alexa To-do list until the day your task is due.

Essentially, Todoist can now sync its Inbox list with the Echo's own todo list; the Echo's built-in shopping list also gets recreated inside Todoist as an 'Alexa Shopping List' project. This allows you to say "add task to my todo list" instead of using a specific Todoist terminology. There are some caveats (you can't specify Todoist projects, for instance), but this looks like a solid first step.

I configured Todoist with my Amazon Echo earlier today, and everything was up and running in less than two minutes. The Amazon Echo's excellent voice recognition helps Todoist understand natural language queries for due dates, and I've been positively impressed with the speed and consistency so far. I think I'm going to be using this very often.


Exploring the iMessage App Store One Month Later: Our Favorite Stickers and iMessage Apps

It was clear before iOS 10 launched that sticker packs and iMessage apps were going to be big. The only question was – how big? In the last 30 days, the iMessage App Store has exploded. According to SensorTower, there were over 1,650 sticker packs and apps available in the iMessage App Store after just ten days. The first couple of weeks felt like the early days of the App Store. If you wanted to, you could browse every sticker pack and iMessage app available. There were a lot, but you could make out the edges where the store stopped. One indication of the iMessage App Store's growth is that those edges are rapidly disappearing.

Over the past four weeks, we've been scouring the iMessage App Store for the best stickers and apps. We started sharing some of the best in the Club MacStories Weekly newsletter, but every time we went back to the store there were three more cool things for every one we had shared. So, to mark the first full month of iOS 10, we thought we would do another, even bigger roundup of iMessage apps and sticker packs with the best ones shared with Club MacStories members so far, plus a whole lot more.

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Lessons Learned from the Demise of the Next Keyboard

The Next Keyboard by Tiny Hearts made a big splash when it launched. Funded by a successful $65,000 Kickstarter campaign, it grabbed a lot of press, including from mainstream news outlets like CNBC. At it’s peak, the Next Keyboard made almost $20,000 in a single day, but like most apps, it rode a steep slope down after the initial spike.

Tiny Hearts recently announced that it is discontinuing work on the Next Keyboard and pulling it from the App Store at the end of next week. Robleh Jama, the founder of Tiny Hearts, explores what went wrong:

When we built Next Keyboard, we were amongst the first to experiment with Apple’s custom keyboard functionality. Unfortunately all third-party iOS keyboards — including Next Keyboard — were never truly stable because of Apple’s API. There’s a surprisingly poor user experience around using third-party keyboards (such as setting up a new keyboard). Even Google’s Keyboard, Gboard, has issues today, a full two years after third-party keyboards were announced.

It’s hard to turn any app into a sustainable business, but the Next Keyboard faced greater challenges than most. Third-party keyboards are hard to build, limitations in the Apple APIs mean they cannot match the system keyboard feature-for-feature, and big companies like Google and Microsoft entered the market shortly after the Next Keyboard was launched.

The experience was a costly and disappointing one for Tiny Hearts, but not without value. As Jama explains:

Even though it was an expensive lesson, things worked out. There are things we wished would’ve turned out differently. We let our users down, and we don’t feel good about that. But we came out stronger and smarter for it, we’ve learned an unbelievable amount, and we will still bet on iOS, messaging and conversational interfaces. If you don’t play, you’ll never win. It’s been tough for us to swallow, but we paid for one of the most important lessons: making money with an app is risky.


Apple Debuts New Advert Showcasing Redesigned Apple Music

Apple yesterday debuted a new advert on its YouTube channel which showcases the redesigned Apple Music that comes with iOS 10. The extended, 80 second, advert explores the key features of Apple Music and actually shows, step-by-step, how you can use the app.

The walk-through begins by showing how you can access your own music library, and then moves on to demonstrate the For You feature of Apple Music which, based on your tastes and listening history, will recommend "music you'll love next". The advert then pivots to demonstrating how you can share music and your playlists, before showing you how to download music to your device and explore new music in the Browse tab of Apple Music. Finally, the advert highlights the live and on demand radio stations that Apple Music offers, with a particular focus on Beats 1, which also offers interviews with musicians.

This Apple Music advert follows last month's tongue-in-cheek Apple Music advert featuring James Corden. You can watch this advert on Apple's YouTube page, or below the break.

(via MacRumors)

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Walt Mossberg on Siri’s Failures and Inconsistencies

Walt Mossberg, writing for The Verge, shares some frustrations with using Siri across multiple Apple devices:

In recent weeks, on multiple Apple devices, Siri has been unable to tell me the names of the major party candidates for president and vice president of the United States. Or when they were debating. Or when the Emmy awards show was due to be on. Or the date of the World Series. When I asked it "What is the weather on Crete?" it gave me the weather for Crete, Illinois, a small village which — while I’m sure it’s great — isn’t what most people mean when they ask for the weather _on _Crete, the famous Greek island.

Google Now, on the same Apple devices, using the same voice input, answered every one of these questions clearly and correctly. And that isn’t even Google’s latest digital helper, the new Google Assistant.

It's a little odd that Mossberg didn't mention Siri's new third-party abilities at all, but it's hard to disagree with the overall assessment.

Like Mossberg, I think Siri has gotten pretty good at transcribing my commands (despite my accent) but it still fails often when it comes to doing stuff with transcribed text. Every example mentioned by Mossberg sounds more of less familiar to me (including the egregious presidential debate one).

Five years on, Siri in iOS 10 is much better than its first version, but it still has to improve in key areas such as consistency of results, timeliness of web-based queries (e.g. Grammys, presidential debates, news stories, etc.), and inferred queries (case in point). Despite the improvements and launch of a developer platform, these aspects are so fundamental to a virtual assistant, even the occasional stumble makes Siri, as Mossberg writes, seem dumb.


Amazon Music Unlimited Launches in the US

Amazon announced its long-anticipated streaming music service, called Amazon Music Unlimited, with a focus on Echo integration and pricing. According to Dan Seifert of The Verge:

…while Spotify relies on its intelligent music recommendation and discovery as a draw and Apple pushes people towards its service with major album exclusives, Amazon is touting Music Unlimited’s tight integration with its Echo devices and Alexa voice assistant as the real differentiator here. Not only do Echo owners have access to a discounted version of the service (though it’s only available on one Echo device at a time), they can request songs from Music Unlimited in a variety of ways just using their voices.

The service also differentiates itself from Spotify, Apple Music, and others with a feature called Side-by-Side that adds artist commentary to certain albums.

For now, Amazon Music Unlimited is available only in the US, but it is scheduled to be released in the UK and Germany later this year according to 9to5Mac. After a 30-day free trial, Amazon Prime members can subscribe to Music Unlimited for $7.99 per month. Non-Prime customers pay $9.99 per month (the same as an individual Apple Music subscription), unless they have an Amazon Echo, in which case the service costs just $3.99 per month. Amazon plans to offer a family plan that can be used by up to six family members for $14.99 per month, the same as Apple Music’s family plan, but it’s not yet available.

Music Unlimited looks like a great deal for Echo owners, but apart from the cost advantage and Echo integration, it remains to be seen how the service’s music selection, playlists, and other core features stack up against competing services.


OmniGraffle Standard and Pro for Mac Gets a Big Update

It's hard to capture exactly what OmniGraffle 7 is. Sure, it's a vector drawing and diagraming tool, but the power of OmniGraffle lies as much in the flexibility of its tools as anything else. By giving users the ability to tweak virtually any property of a shape, line, or other graphic element on its canvas, OmniGraffle works equally well for prototyping an iPhone app as it does for laying out an addition to your house or creating a corporate organization chart. With Version 7 of OmniGraffle, The Omni Group plays to its strengths, further extending the power, adaptability, and ease of use of those tools in what adds up to an outstanding update.

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CardioBot Provides Effortless Heart Rate, Sleep Tracking

About a month ago, developer Majid Jabrayilov slipped a gem into the App Store: CardioBot for iPhone and Apple Watch. It’s an informative yet minimalistic take on an activity and sleep tracker that gets you the right information within just a couple of taps.

After granting CardioBot access to the Health app on the iPhone, you’ll get a colored calendar view against a dark background. Each day will be assigned a dot with a designated hue for a heart rate range: gray for low, blue for resting, orange for high resting, and red for elevated. Also present on each day is your average beats per minute.

You can dive into each day to see more detailed facts, like a percentage graph of your daily heart rate or the time of your minimum and maximum BPM. Tapping on the summary graph will display every reading your Apple Watch took throughout the day.

CardioBot also includes graphs for sleep tracking, which can be done while wearing the Apple Watch in bed, and workouts. Both break out data into different heart rate ranges, so you can get a better idea of how your body is performing.

On the Apple Watch, you can get a quick glance at your last heart rate measurement and the minimum, average, and maximum measurements from the day. Press the screen to start a sleep measurement before bed – just don’t forget to stop it in the morning like I tend to do.

For the few days that I’ve had CardioBot installed, I’ve enjoyed the amount of information it gives me about my health. Setup is a breeze and it was great to see my data imported into the app without a hitch. Although other apps feel inclined to bombard you with information, CardioBot elects to present you with digestible figures and graphs, making this a tool that anyone can use without struggle.

At $1.99, CardioBot is an easy purchase for the quality you’re getting. You can pick it up on the App Store here.

Update: Through a combination of emails and tweets, I've been asked the differences between CardioBot and HeartWatch. When I reviewed HeartWatch back in February, it was in version 2 and looked noticeably similar to how CardioBot looks now. However, now that HeartWatch is in version 3, it has gained many features that have grown it from its 2.0 version. While CardioBot does look similar to HeartWatch's previous product, I believe the two serve different markets today: HeartWatch for the pro health tracker and CardioBot for the rest. With that being said, I want to point out that they do look similar.