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New Touch ID Rules

Glenn Fleishman, writing for Macworld on a recent change to Touch ID authentication in iOS 9:

When iOS 9 was released, Apple updated its list of cases in which iOS asks for a passcode even when Touch ID is enabled. A previously undocumented requirement asks for a passcode in a very particular set of circumstances: When the iPhone or iPad hasn’t been unlocked with its passcode in the previous six days, and Touch ID hasn’t been used to unlock it within the last eight hours. It’s a rolling timeout, so each time Touch ID unlocks a device, a new eight-hour timer starts to tick down until the passcode is required. If you wondered why you were being seemingly randomly prompted for your passcode (or more complicated password), this is likely the reason.

This explains why I've been seeing the passcode prompt during the weekends (when I stay up late and occasionally sleep more than 8 hours).

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Union Square Apple Store Revealed with New Design Elements, Community Programs

Apple PR:

Apple today revealed its new store on San Francisco’s Union Square, offering many new features and services rolling out to Apple retail stores worldwide. The new store will open its signature 42-foot tall sliding glass doors to customers on Saturday, May 21 at 10 a.m.

“Fifteen years ago today Apple opened its first two stores and we’re thrilled to mark the occasion with the opening of Apple Union Square in San Francisco,” said Angela Ahrendts, Apple’s senior vice president of Retail and Online Stores. “We are not just evolving our store design, but its purpose and greater role in the community as we educate and entertain visitors and serve our network of local entrepreneurs."

Apple Union Square’s glass doors open the store to Post Street and Union Square. The building’s unique position connects San Francisco’s most famous square to a rejuvenated plaza to the north, creating a beautiful gathering place for the community. The art-filled plaza offers seating, public Wi-Fi, a 50-foot tall “green wall” and regular acoustic performances. The store is powered by 100 percent renewable energy, including power produced by photovoltaic panels integrated into the building’s roof.

Matthew Panzarino, Rene Ritchie, and Harry McCracken have shared photos of the new location in San Francisco, which include a "Genius Grove" and a "Plaza" that will only be found at the "most significant stores". The new elements are looking good and I like the community ideas; I wonder if we'll ever get something like this in Rome.

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The MacSparky Hazel Video Field Guide

Mac Power Users co-host David Sparks has released his latest MacSparky publication:
The Hazel Video Field Guide. Hazel is one of my favorite automation tools, and was recently updated to version 4. I bought it before I even downloaded the new version. That’s how great of a tool it is.

As David says: “The thing I love about Hazel is the way it can turn mere mortals into automation gods. Anybody can do this. You don't need a lick of programming knowledge.” He’s right. Hazel is easier than Folder Actions, and a lot more powerful too. If you can write Mail.app rules, you can automate your Mac with Hazel.

But what if you’ve never used Hazel and want to jump right in and learn the best of what it has to offer? That’s where David comes in. In almost 2.5 hours of video, David will walk you through Hazel, showing you everything from the basics to more advanced features using AppleScript. I’ve been using Hazel for years and would call myself a power user, but I learned some new tricks from David in this guide.

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Allo and Duo Are Google’s 2016 Plan for Messaging and Video Calling

At its I/O keynote earlier today, Google announced that it would venture further into messaging and video calling with two new apps: Allo and Duo. A familiar combination of text messaging and video chat, the two will provide a new way to chat with friends and obtain useful information within Google's ecoystem.

The apps, which will be released this summer, will come to both Android and iOS, directly challenging the latter's own iMessage and FaceTime services. Although Google did not put a strict release date on Duo or Allo, it did offer a sneak peak of what's next.

Allo

Drawing inspiration from iMessage, Slack, and Google's own Inbox, Allo looks to enrich the messaging experience by providing contextual information in a typical conversational format.

Based on your phone number, Allo will use your contacts to create a conversation. In many ways, Allo is a familiar messaging app, promoting back-and-forth conversation and displaying the responding status of the other party. However, Google has added a few features to make conversing easier and smarter.

Smart Reply

Mirroring Inbox, Allo supports Google's Smart Reply system, a feature that scans the conversation and presents pre-written responses for your choosing. This can be anything from a simple "Hello!" to a response to a dinner request and, more impressively, a comment on a photo. Google claims that Smart Reply can identify the context of the action in a picture and suggest responses based on what it's seen. As with much of Google's software, the service will learn how you interact and adjust its replies based on your language patterns.

Google's Assistant

Within a conversation, Google will present relevant search results based on the information you type. If, for example, you wanted to suggest to your friend that you should get coffee, the assistant would display an option to perform a search for coffee shops nearby.

After selecting the search, the assistant will insert options in a carousel with rating and distance. Choosing one of the shops would provide the opportunity to call, make a reservation, and so on. This isn't limited to restaurants, of course, and Google said that it will be working with developers to bring tailored results straight into your conversation.

The assistant also works by itself, using natural language processing to perform actions like searching the web or getting the day's schedule. One example from the keynote involved asking the assistant in a private conversation the result of the user's favorite team, returning the latest result for Real Madrid.

Miscellaneous

Allo provides a simple way to send and draw on pictures – when sending an image, a pencil icon can be selected to write on the image. This was only demoed for a few seconds, so it'll be interesting to see the customization options this features.

Also included is "WhisperShout," a method for adjusting the text size to fit the desired message. By tapping and holding on the send button, users can slide a finger up or down to change the size of the message.

Incognito mode also makes an appearance in Allo, providing "end-to-end encryption and discreet notifications" for conversations. According to Open Whisper Systems, the company is partnering with Google to use their Signal Protocol technology, a "modern, open source, strong encyrption protocol for asynchronous messaging systems." Incognito mode is not on by default, it seems, but it's a welcome feature for those desiring more privacy.

Duo

Along with text messaging, Google also showed Duo, a video messaging service akin to Skype or FaceTime. Essentially, it's much of the same story: a video call between two people through their phone numbers. Google claims Duo will show video in "crisp HD video" (up to 720p) and will switch between cellular and WiFi when it deems necessary. It also claims that video quality will adjust based on connection, ensuring that it's still possible to continue the call.

The biggest differentiator between Duo and its competitors is what Google calls Knock Knock. With Knock Knock, the caller's video stream will start before the video is accepted, meaning that the receiver is able to see the other party before picking up. Once the call is accepted, the video call will start between the two.


Without a firm launch date, Google is left with the task of providing information along the way to keep potential users interested. So far, it seems that both Allo and Duo are contenders in their respective categories; unfortunately, all we have of the apps today are the few screenshots, GIFs, and a blog post. In the coming months, it'd be nice to see a beta release from Google to get a better understanding how Allo and Duo work.


Quip Spreadsheets Redesigned and Updated

With a redesign and update on the Mac, iOS and the web today, Quip has made the spreadsheet component of its document collaboration tool significantly more powerful. However, most of the changes today are only to the Mac version of Quip.

Quip redesigned its spreadsheet menu and formula bars on the Mac to make existing features more discoverable. Number crunching is one of Quip’s strengths. The formula bar supports over 400 different functions and over a dozen data formats.

Quip for Mac also adds several new features to spreadsheets including:

  • Column filters
  • Cell merging
  • Checkboxes, which great for creating task lists
  • Better text formatting options
  • Additional currency options

One feature that sets Quip apart from many other spreadsheet apps is the ability to combine text and spreadsheets in one document, adding context to the numbers in a spreadsheet. This leads to another handy advantage. The formulas you are familiar with using in a spreadsheet can be dropped directly into the text surrounding the spreadsheet so the results of those formulas are automatically updated when the spreadsheet data changes. This, combined with the ability to add comments down to the individual cell level and chat in the sidebar with colleagues, makes an excellent choice for teams.

The improvements to Quip on the Mac and web are welcome, and bring Quip spreadsheets closer in functionality to dedicated spreadsheet apps like Numbers or Excel, but Quip for iOS’s functionality remains behind its Mac counterpart in significant ways. For instance, on iOS there does not appear to be a way to search for data in a spreadsheet or undo actions like sorts performed on columns, which is problematic if you make a mistake. Notwithstanding the limitations on iOS, today’s update of Quip make it a strong alternative to things like Google Docs.

Full details and a video preview on the Quip update are available on Quip's blog.


Apple Announces New iOS App Design and Development Accelerator in Bengaluru, India

Apple press release:

Apple today announced a new initiative to support engineering talent and accelerate growth in India’s iOS developer community.

The company will establish a Design and Development Accelerator in Bengaluru, the home of India’s startup scene. Tens of thousands of developers in India make apps for iOS, the world’s most powerful mobile operating system and the foundation for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. This initiative will provide additional, specialized support for them.

This new Design and Development Accelerator (which will open in early 2017) is similar to the announcement from January this year where Apple committed to opening an iOS App Development Center in Naples, Italy.

“India is home to one of the most vibrant and entrepreneurial iOS development communities in the world,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “With the opening of this new facility in Bengaluru, we’re giving developers access to tools which will help them create innovative apps for customers around the world.”

Today's India-specific press release comes after another Apple press release yesterday which announced that GarageBand added Chinese instruments and sounds. Tim Cook was in China, but arrived in India last night for his first official visit to India as Apple CEO. Cook is expected to visit Gurgaon, Delhi, Hyderabad and Mumbai, as well as meet Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

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