THIS WEEK'S SPONSOR:

SaneBox

Clean up your inbox today and keep it that way forever


Posts tagged with "apps"

Dark Sky Predicts Its Last Storm

With the turn of the New Year, Apple closed down Dark Sky for good. Apple acquired the app in 2020 and left it up and running until January 1st as it incorporated the app’s radar and real-time forecast features into its own Weather app. Dark Sky’s API, which was used by many third-party weather apps, was discontinued at the end of 2021 and was subsumed within Apple’s own WeatherKit API, which debuted last fall.

Over the holidays, Slate took a look at the app’s indie success story, which began with a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2011 that raised $40,000. One thing that I didn’t realize about Dark Sky is that its short-term precipitation forecasts were based solely on analysis of radar images, which didn’t win it fans among meteorologists:

Indeed, Dark Sky’s big innovation wasn’t simply that its map was gorgeous and user-friendly: The radar map was the forecast. Instead of pulling information about air pressure and humidity and temperature and calculating all of the messy variables that contribute to the weather—a multi-hundred-billion-dollars-a-year international enterprise of satellites, weather stations, balloons, buoys, and an army of scientists working in tandem around the world (see Blum’s book)—Dark Sky simply monitored changes to the shape, size, speed, and direction of shapes on a radar map and fast-forwarded those images. “It wasn’t meteorology,” Blum said. “It was just graphics practice.”

I hadn’t used Dark Sky in years when Apple bought it, except as a data source in other weather apps. Its forecasts may not have been as nuanced or accurate as a meteorologist’s, but there’s no denying its cultural impact on the world of apps, which is why I’ll be tucking this story away in my app history archives.

Permalink

MacStories Selects 2022: Recognizing the Best Apps of the Year

Introduction

John: It’s time for the MacStories Selects awards, our annual celebration of the apps we love and the people who make them. Every year since 2018, we’ve paused at the end of a busy year to reflect on the hundreds of apps we’ve tried and recognize the best.

It’s been another big year for apps, driven by the ingenuity and creativity of the developers who make them combined with new technologies introduced by Apple. Note-taking apps were big again, and just as we get ready to put 2022 in the rear-view mirror, the read-later app space has begun heating up like it’s 2010 all over again.

Last year, we kicked off the MacStories Selects Awards with a new Lifetime Achievement Award, which we gave to PCalc by James Thomson whose app will celebrate its 30th anniversary in a couple of days. This year, we’ve got another app that has stood the test of time and had an outsized impact on the world of apps, which you can read about in a special story written by our Alex Guyot, whose history with the winning app makes him the perfect choice to present the award.

It’s also time to pause and honor the best apps of the year in the following seven categories:

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

which were picked by the MacStories team, plus the winner of the Readers’ Choice Award, which was picked by Club MacStories members, for a total of nine awards, plus six runners-up, all of which are covered below.

We also recorded a special episode of AppStories covering all the winners and runners-up. It’s a terrific way to learn more about this year’s apps and includes an interview with our Lifetime Achievement Award winner.

You can listen to the episode below.

0:00
01:06:13

So, without further ado, it’s my pleasure to introduce the 2022 MacStories Selects Awards to the MacStories community.

Read more


The MacStories Selects 2022 Lifetime Achievement Award

Drafts

When we chose the second annual lifetime achievement award winner, there was no doubt in my mind that it should be Drafts. Developed and maintained by Greg Pierce of Agile Tortoise, Drafts has been the place where text starts on iOS for nearly a decade now. Times have certainly changed, but Drafts remains. Through the years, it has evolved into so much more than the simple text utility it once was.

While it has evolved, the most beautiful thing about Drafts has been the fervent dedication to its original mission statement. If you are about to type some text – any text — on your iPhone or iPad (and even, in modern times, your Mac), you should open Drafts. The app is so focused on text capture that it defaults to opening a new blank “draft” every time you open the app.

Writing text is only as useful as what you do with it, so the second pillar of the Drafts mission is its action menu; an infinitely customizable list of actions that allow you manipulate and send text from the app to essentially anywhere else you can think of. From random web services to other native apps on your devices, Drafts can almost certainly deliver your text. As your words get delivered throughout your entire digital life, you can take comfort in knowing that you can always search for and find anything you’ve written simply by looking up its record in Drafts.

Drafts in 2022. From left: the editing view, the action menu, and the filtering view.

Drafts in 2022. From left: the editing view, the action menu, and the filtering view.

It amazes me that after hearing that pitch (and even personally writing about it) again and again for over a decade, I still find it to be an alluring idea. Drafts’ longevity is a testament to the prescience of Pierce’s original vision. It pleases me immensely to see this app carrying on for so long, and it’s an honor to award it MacStories’ Lifetime Achievement award.

Read more


Freeform Leverages the Freedom and Flexibility of a Blank Canvas

Freeform is a brand new iPhone, iPad, and Mac app from Apple that lets users create multimedia boards on an infinite canvas that include text, images, drawings, links, files, and more. It’s an ambitious entry into a crowded category of apps that take overlapping approaches, emphasizing everything from note-taking to collaborative design to whiteboarding.

As is so often the case with Apple’s system apps, Freeform falls squarely in the middle of the landscape of existing apps. Freeform isn’t going to replace apps that are deeply focused on a narrow segment of apps in the blank canvas category. Instead, Freeform is targeted at a broader audience, many of whom have probably never even considered using this sort of app. For them, and for anyone who has felt constrained by more linear, text-based ways of exploring ideas, Freeform is a perfect solution.

At first blush, Freeform’s spare interface may give the impression that it’s a bare-bones 1.0 release, but that’s not the case. The app is easy to use and impressively feature-rich for a new release. So, let’s dig into the details to see what it can do.

Read more


iOS 16.1 and Apps with Live Activities: The MacStories Roundup, Part 2

When Live Activities debuted with iOS 16.1, a long list of apps supported the feature. There were some great examples, like the ten apps I covered in October and Timery, which was updated shortly thereafter. Because developers didn’t have a lot of time to prepare their apps for Live Activities, I expected a steady stream of updates that take advantage of the feature, but that hasn’t happened. Live Activity support is still being added to apps, but I thought I’d have more interesting, innovative examples to share by now, but I don’t.

Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t follow up October’s story with a few additions to my favorite examples of Live Activities. I’m sure there are some I’ve missed and others that will be released in the future, which we’ll cover in the future, but today, I’m going to focus on Dark Noise, Shelf, and Lock Launcher.

Read more


Apple Announces the 2022 App Store Awards

Source: Apple.

Source: Apple.

Apple has revealed its annual App Store Awards winners, recognizing the standout apps and games of 2022. This year, the company picked a collection of 16 apps and games from among the millions available on the App Store, naming them the Apps of the Year. The company’s App Store editorial team also recognized five apps and games that have had a cultural impact.

This year, the 16 winners from a wide range of categories:

“This year’s App Store Award winners reimagined our experiences with apps that delivered fresh, thoughtful, and genuine perspectives,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “From self-taught solo creators to international teams spanning the globe, these entrepreneurs are making a meaningful impact, and represent the ways in which apps and games influence our communities and lives.”

In a first, Apple has included App Store links to the winning apps and games, which I was glad to see. Another difference from last year’s awards is a new category: China Game of the Year, which was added without any explanation from Apple, although based on Apple’s developer site it appears that many of the other winners aren’t available in China, which may explain the new award.

Source: Apple.

Source: Apple.

This year’s app winners are:

Source: Apple.

Source: Apple.

Apple also recognized games on each of its platforms, plus a new China Game of the Year:

Source: Apple.

Source: Apple.

The apps and games that the App Store editorial team recognized as having a cultural impact are:

Details about the winners are also available on Apple’s Developer site and through a dedicated App Store Today page story covering all of the winners and separate stories for each winning app and game.

To commemorate this year’s App of the Year winners, Apple’s designers created physical awards. The blue awards resemble the App Store’s icon and are made from 100% recycled aluminum with the winner’s name engraved on the back.

Congratulations to this year’s Apple Store Award winners. It’s always great to see developers’ hard work and contributions to Apple’s platforms recognized.


Oceanic+ for the Apple Watch Ultra Arriving Today

Source: Apple.

Source: Apple.

Oceanic+, the dive computer app for the Apple Watch Ultra that was previewed at Apple’s September press event will be available today. The app, developed by Huish Outdoors in collaboration with Apple, takes advantage of the Ultra’s depth gauge and water temperature sensors and can be used by divers at depths of up to 40 meters.

According to Apple’s press release:

Oceanic+ was designed to assist anyone looking to dip a toe into the adventures that await in the underwater world. The app teams up with Apple Watch Ultra to handle all of the complex calculations required to explore the ocean safely, offering simple, easy-to-understand cues and guidance before, during, and after a dive.

Source: Apple.

Source: Apple.

The collaboration between a third party and Apple on an app is unusual but makes sense given Huish’s diving expertise and Apple’s desire to jump-start development of Apple Watch Ultra apps. I’m not a diver, but judging by the screenshots, Oceanic+ is one of the most detailed Watch apps I’ve seen. The app has a pro feel and is free to download, but features like decompression tracking, tissue loading, the location planner, and unlimited logbook capacity cost $9.99 per month or $79.99 annually. There’s also a Family Sharing option for $129/year.

I’m curious whether a ‘pro’ Watch app market develops around the Apple Watch Ultra. It makes sense for specialized activities like diving, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we also see more advanced health and fitness apps emerge in other categories that take advantage of the Ultra’s unique set of features and sensors.


2022 Apple Design Award Finalists Announced

Like last year, Apple has announced the finalists in the running for its annual Apple Design Awards. The awards ceremony revealing the winners will be held during WWDC at 5:00 PM Pacific on June 6th.

The finalists have been divided into six categories that include six finalists each:

Inclusivity

Delight and Fun

Interaction

Social Impact

Visuals and Graphics

Innovation

The selections include a broad selection of games and apps, including some apps from smaller developers like Halide Mark II, Transit, and Slopes, as well as titles from bigger publishers.

This is the second year in a row that Apple has announced the finalists in advance, which I like a lot. Winning an ADA is a big achievement for any developer, but it’s also nice to know who the finalists are because it, too, is quite an honor among the many apps that could have been chosen.


The iOS App Icon Book: The MacStories Review

I’ve eagerly awaited The iOS App Icon Book by Michael Flarup ever since it was first announced in 2018. The book sits dead center among topics that are at the heart of MacStories: apps, app preservation, and design. As a result, my expectations were high, and I’m happy to report that it doesn’t disappoint. If you care about apps, you’ll love The iOS App Icon Book.

The cover of The iOS App Icon Book sets the tone with a large iridescent squircle, the shape that defines every app icon. It’s the canvas on which every app icon is created. The squircle has become iconic in its own right, creating a consistent thread that ties disparate designs together into a coherent whole. The shimmering foil used for the book’s squircle is an excellent touch that hints at the colorful variety of icons between its convers.

The iOS App Icon Book is an art book at its core. The book’s pages are packed with icons of varying sizes, but the book also features essays by Flarup, a foreward by Bjango’s Marc Edwards, a history of iOS iconography by Jim Nielsen, and profiles of a dozen designers and design studios. The focus of the book lies firmly on the icons themselves, but I’m glad the essays and profiles were included. The essays provide an outlet for anyone who happens upon The iOS App Icon Book and wants to know more about the history and design of icons, while the profiles put a face to some of the artwork on its pages.

Of course, the stars of The iOS App Icon Book are the icons themselves. Each high-resolution image is reproduced in vivid colors on high-quality paper that makes browsing through the book’s pages a pleasure. As someone who writes about apps, I enjoyed flipping through the pages, rediscovering the icons of apps from the early days of the App Store alongside the icons of apps I use every day. It’s a careful mix of old and new that blends the context of early app iconography with current design trends.

As you flip through The iOS App Icon Book, you’ll find that the icons are arranged in a number of different ways. Some are grouped by color, while others are organized thematically, like the pages featuring food, games, and photography apps. My favorite part of The iOS App Icon Book, though, is the pages that trace the evolution of specific icons. Each version is dated and connected by horizontal lines to indicate its lineage. It’s fascinating to see the directions that designers have taken app icons over the years.

The one thing that The iOS App Icon Book doesn’t do that I would have liked to have seen is trace the evolution of the icons used for some of Apple’s system apps. That may not have been feasible given the need to get rights to the artwork for printing in a book. However, it would have been interesting to see the extent to which Apple’s design work has influenced third-party designers.


iOS app icons are the first thing that users encounter when they download an app and use it for the first time. Icons set the tone and personality of an app. It’s an important part of the app experience that has a rich history on iOS. The iOS App Icon Book brings that history to life in a way that immediately had me flipping back and forth through its pages, rediscovering old favorites and studying the details of icons I’d never run across before. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in apps and design.

The iOS App Icon Book is still available to pre-order for €60.00 from its website.