Automate HomeKit, Notifications and Widgets

Early Experiments with BetterTouchTool’s ‘Notch Bar’ as a Visual Shortcuts Launcher for macOS

The notch bar in BetterTouchTool.

The notch bar in BetterTouchTool.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been playing around with (and thoroughly enjoying) BetterTouchTool’s latest major feature: the notch bar. This feature is currently available as an optional alpha update in BetterTouchTool, and it’s still rough around the edges, so don’t consider this short post a full review of it; I’m sure we will revisit this functionality more in depth over the course of 2022. However, since I believe the notch bar is one of the most exciting developments in the Shortcuts for Mac ecosystem lately, and since I’m having so much fun with it, I figured it’d be worth an early hands-on preview before the end of the year.

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DetailsPro: A Design Tool for SwiftUI [Sponsor]

DetailsPro is the accessible, graphical tool for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac that brings your app designs to life with SwiftUI. The future of modern app design on Apple’s platforms is SwiftUI, and with DetailsPro, you can be up and running immediately, designing UIs without typing a line of code.

DetailsPro uses a drag and drop interface to make designing app interfaces, widgets, and screens a completely graphical, natural experience. There are no multi-gigabyte downloads or any of the complexity you find in a tool like Xcode. Instead, DetailsPro focuses on your design first. The app is also a fantastic way to learn core SwiftUI concepts in an environment that provides immediate feedback. There’s also a terrific DetailsPro community that offers in-app downloadable templates to learn, remix, or use as starting points for your own projects.

When you’re happy with your design, simply export it to SwiftUI code to Swift Playgrounds or Xcode. That’s the sort of design pipeline that makes handing your work off to your developers simple while ensuring that the fidelity of your designs is preserved in the process.

Built in SwiftUI itself by a former Apple Design Prototyper, DetailsPro is trusted industry-wide by designers at companies like Apple itself, Starbucks, Microsoft, Nike, and Porsche, and it’s easy to see why. DetailsPro brings sophisticated SwiftUIs to life quickly and easily in a way that feels like magic.

If you’ve been looking for a way to get into designing with SwiftUI, your search is over. You can download DetailsPro today for free and use it with five files, but you can unlock unlimited files, MapKit maps, and upcoming features like versions, reusable components, designing with data, and more for just $19.99/year or a one-time payment of $49.99. That’s a fantastic price for an app that will save you time and simplify your design process.

So, download DetailsPro today, and get started designing with SwiftUI.

Our thanks to DetailsPro for sponsoring MacStories this week.

MacStories Unwind: Best Videogames of 2021


This week on MacStories Unwind:

Best Videogames of 2021

MacStories Rewind

Swift Playgrounds 4.0: First Look

Source: Apple.

Source: Apple.

Yesterday, Apple released Swift Playgrounds 4.0, the first version of the app from which you can build an app and publish it on the App Store. That’s a big step forward for the app that started as a limited sandbox for learning to code. The app is not as capable as Xcode. Still, with support for Swift 5.5, live previewing of the app you’re building as you code, multiwindowing, access to SwiftUI, UIKit, the ability to move projects between Swift Playgrounds and Xcode, and more, the app has an enormous amount of potential waiting to be tapped.

Apple's coding course selection has grown steadily since 2016.

Apple’s coding course selection has grown steadily since 2016.

Swift Playgrounds has steadily improved since its introduction in 2016 on the iPad and launch on the Mac last year. Early versions of the app were firmly grounded in learning to code. That’s still the case. The app includes an extensive catalog of lessons on how to code and build apps. There’s also a new ‘Get Started with Apps’ lesson and an App Gallery section that includes several sample apps to help teach coding basics.

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Pixelmator Photo for iPhone: First Impressions

Pixelmator Photo has long been one of my favorite iPad photo editing apps. The app makes great use of the iPad’s large screen, which provides space for tools alongside the image you’re editing. Reducing that experience to even the largest model of iPhone is a tall order, but from my preliminary testing, it looks as though the Pixelmator team has pulled it off.

Pixelmator Photo on the iPad offers an extensive suite of editing tools that strike a nice balance. The app makes it simple to apply the app’s machine learning-based tools for quick editing and sharing, but it also includes fine-grained controls for when you want to more finely tune a photo. The same is true on the iPhone, but the design tilts in favor of quick access and edits, which I think is appropriate on a device like the iPhone. The deeper tools are still there, just beneath the surface and easy to access when you need them, but on the iPhone the emphasis is on accessing frequently-used tools quickly.

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iOS and iPadOS 15.2 Overview: Music, Privacy, Security, and Safety, and a Grab Bag of Other Additions and Refinements

Yesterday, iOS and iPadOS 15.2 were released with a grab bag of new features, refinements, and fixes. There are some handy details in this release, many of which are found deep within the Settings app, so it’s worth poking around to find the ones you want to try.


Source: Apple.

Source: Apple.

One of the first things Apple announced in October alongside the new colorful HomePod minis was Apple Music Voice Plan, a more affordable version of the company’s music streaming service that is controlled solely by Siri. The new plan lets subscribers access Apple Music’s deep catalog of music, playlists, and radio stations with Apple’s voice assistant. Specific items from Apple Music’s catalog can be requested, or you can ask for songs that fit a mode or ones that are picked based on your like and dislike history. There’s also a feature called Play it Again that allows you to access recently played music.

The new Voice Plan costs $4.99/month and has some limitations compared to other Apple Music Plans. Like Individual Plans, the new Voice Plan is limited to one person. There is no multi-person family plan. Voice Plan doesn’t include the following features either:

  • Real-time lyrics
  • Music videos
  • Spatial audio
  • Lossless audio
Searching inside a playlist.

Searching inside a playlist.

Playlists are searchable now too. When you open a playlist in the Music app, swipe down to reveal the search field at the top of the screen, which will allow you to find individual songs – a nice addition for lengthy playlists.

However, I still wish Apple would allow me to search for playlists organized into folders. You can’t make folders of playlists on an iPhone or iPad, but you can on a Mac. Unfortunately, organizing playlists into folders comes with a substantial penalty. If you go to the Playlists section of Music and search for the title of a playlist that happens to be in a folder, it won’t show up in the results unless you first navigate to the folder where the playlist is stored.

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The MacStories Selects 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award


John Voorhees: I’d love to tell you that there was drama surrounding the selection of this year’s first-ever MacStories Selects Lifetime Achievement award, but there wasn’t. In the end, it was the easiest pick of the lot. Last month, I sat down with Federico in Rome to go over the Selects awards, and we began by scanning a list of potential Lifetime Achievement candidates that we’d put together over the previous weeks. In the end, PCalc by James Thomson, which started on the Mac and has been adapted to every possible Apple platform, was the obvious choice. Not only are James and PCalc longstanding pillars of the Apple community, but PCalc represents the sort of innovative and creative spirit that we value most at MacStories.

Below, you’ll find a written interview that Federico conducted with James about PCalc’s history, what makes the app special, having to adapt to hardware and software transitions by Apple, and what the future may hold. James also joined us for a special segment of AppStories, covering the Lifetime Achievement award and other MacStories Selects winners. Before we get to the interview, though, I’d like to take a moment to introduce you to PCalc, which has a long and rich history that not all readers may know.

PCalc 1.0 for the Mac (1992) and PCalc 1.0 for the iPhone (2008).

PCalc 1.0 for the Mac (1992) and PCalc 1.0 for the iPhone (2008).

PCalc was first released almost exactly 29 years ago with an email to Info-Mac, an online file hosting service that pre-dates the Internet. In the years since version 1.0, PCalc has updated, refined, and ported to other platforms, including the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and even the Apple TV, where you can enter calculations using a videogame controller.

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MacStories Selects 2021: Recognizing the Best Apps of the Year

John: The MacStories Selects Awards are our annual celebration of the apps we love and the people who make them. Every year, the MacStories team uses hundreds of apps. Some are familiar favorites, but most are new. So, after many months of testing those developers’ apps, we stop to recognize the best.

This year, as we headed into the final stretch of the year, we decided it was time for the MacStories Selects to honor more than just the apps from the past year. MacStories has been covering apps since Federico published his first story in 2009, and having covered thousands of apps spanning more than twelve years, it’s time to look back at all of those apps and honor the standouts that have withstood the test of time with an annual Lifetime Achievement Award, which you can read about more in a special story that includes a bit of history about the winning app and interview with its developer.

Apps have become part of the fabric of our daily lives, which makes it easy to forget that they’re the result of hard work by creative people. The MacStories Selects awards are our chance to pause and appreciate just how fortunate we are to have such a wealth of fantastic tools available from so many talented developers before we start the new year.

2021 has been an exciting year for apps. The resurgence of note-taking apps ignited by apps like Craft, Obsidian, and Roam Research continued unabated. We also saw new apps successfully remix technologies and approaches and apply them to new domains, and of course, automation continued to be a central theme, with a long list of established and new apps testing the waters of Shortcuts for Mac for the first time.

As a result, we had a wealth of apps to choose from as always for the following awards:

  • Best New App
  • Best App Update
  • Best New Feature
  • Best Watch App
  • Best Mac App
  • Best Design
  • App of the Year

Along with the Lifetime Achievement Award and Readers’ Choice Award, which was chosen by Club MacStories members, that makes a total of nine award winners plus seven runners-up for these fourth annual MacStories Selects Awards, which began in 2018. As we did last year, we have also created beautiful physical awards commemorating the winners, which we will be sent to each of the winners this week.

We also recorded a special episode of our podcast AppStories all about the MacStories Selects winners and runners-up. It’s a terrific way to learn more about this year’s apps.

You can listen to the episode below.


We will hold our Monthly Town Hall live event with additional MacStories Selects coverage in our Discord community for Club MacStories+ and Club Premier members tomorrow, December 14, 2021, at 12:30 PM Eastern US time and release it later as a Town Hall podcast episode for those who can’t join live.

So, with those preliminaries out of the way, it’s my pleasure to introduce the 2021 MacStories Selects Awards to the MacStories community.

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Concepts: Sketch, Note, Draw [Sponsor]

Sketch, note, and explore endless ideas with Concepts’ infinite canvas for iPad. Draw in designer COPIC colors with liquid pens and brushes, and organize images, text and sketches into visual mood boards. Used by creative professionals for visual thinking, note-taking, team communication, storyboarding, product design and architectural planning, Concepts lets you sketch and share your ideas in the moment.

Everything you draw in Concepts is a flexible, editable vector. Nudge, edit and reorganize your ideas with natural finger gestures. Drag and drop images and objects onto the canvas for fast ideation and reference, use layers and grid layouts to organize your work, mark up PDF documents, and apply real-world scale for professional design projects. Export and share standard, high-resolution and vector file types for flexible work between teams and apps.

Concepts’ built-in Presentation Mode lets you connect with others for live sharing and graphic discussion too. Whiteboard virtually with teams and clients using apps like Zoom, then instantly share your discussion.

The app comes free as a basic sketching tool, with the ability to unlock 200+ libraries of brushes, objects and services via subscription or one-time purchase. To learn more about Concepts visit their website today.

MacStories readers – Enjoy a special 1 month extended free trial when you sign up for an annual subscription. Get a month of infinite creativity before you are billed.

Our thanks to Concepts for sponsoring MacStories this week.