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Posts tagged with "iOS 16"

Lock Screen One: Text Widgets for Your iOS 16 Lock Screen Automated with Shortcuts

Yesterday, I covered Widgetsmith, which among many other things, can display whatever text you’d like in an iOS 16 Lock Screen widget. Lock Screen One is a new app from Sindre Sorhus, the maker of Shortcuts utility Actions, which does something similar, but with a twist. Like Widgetsmith, Lock Screen One lets you add text to an inline or rectangular widget, but it also lets you automate the process with Shortcuts. Let’s take a look.

I’ve been thinking about text-based widgets ever since trying them in Widgetsmith. Paired with Focus modes, they can be used as an added contextual reminder of the Focus mode you’re in, displaying information relevant to what you’re doing, for example. However, the downside of a Focus mode approach is that it’s inflexible. Who wants to change that text manually or set up multiple Focus modes with different text widgets? I sure don’t.

Lock Screen One solves that problem with Shortcuts. The app has just two Shortcuts actions, but they’re exactly what you need, along with personal automations to check and change a Lock Screen widget’s text on a schedule or based on other conditions. Add the Always-On display of the iPhone 14 Pro to the mix, and you can create an element of dynamism with simple text widgets that’s impressive.

The only real constraint on what you can do with the ability to update a text widget is space. Neither widget size offered by Lock Screen One holds a lot of text, but that still opens up possibilities like displaying sports scores, short daily quotes, weather data, and more.

My demo Daily Stats shortcut.

My demo Daily Stats shortcut.

To give you an idea of what’s possible, I created a shortcut that feeds into a Lock Screen One rectangular widget that lists my total time tracked in Timery for the day, the number of incomplete tasks I have in the Reminders app and my next event in Calendars. The shortcut, called Daily Stats, uses Lock Screen One’s Set Lock Screen Text to change the widget’s text and can be tied to personal automations that are triggered throughout the day to update the widget regularly. Lock Screen One also offers a Get Lock Screen Text Shortcuts action that returns whatever the app’s widget is currently displaying.

You can download Daily Stats, which requires Timery, here.

Note that I’ve seen some circumstances where data in Timery or Reminders doesn’t update every time the shortcut is run. I’m not sure if this is a Shortcuts or Lock Screen One bug. I’d also like to see Lock Screen One updated to allow for its inline and rectangular widgets to use different text. Currently, if you use both widget types, they display the same string of text.

Lock Screen One is a great example of an app that uses Shortcuts to its advantage to make what would otherwise be a static widget that you’d have to change manually or with Focus modes into one that is far more dynamic. Not only do Lock Screen One’s Shortcuts actions extend how its widget can be updated, but it opens the widget to data from other apps and web APIs, greatly expanding what is possible with a simple text-based widget.

Lock Screen One is free to download on the App Store.


Sticker Drop Lets You Use iOS 16’s Subject Isolation Feature to Make iMessage Stickers

Years ago, when the iMessage Store first debuted, I covered the best sticker packs every week in MacStories Weekly, our Club MacStories newsletter. It wasn’t long before I had more sticker packs than Messages could manage. Finding individual sticker packs became a chore, so I gradually stopped using them, except on rare occasions.

One of my favorite categories of sticker apps from those early days was apps that allowed me to make my own stickers from photos. However, the process was too laborious and fiddly to justify making more than a handful of my own stickers.

That’s changed with the release of Sticker Drop, a DIY sticker creation utility for the iPhone that leverages iOS 16’s new subject isolation technology for images. What sets Sticker Drop apart is how easy it is to make and manage your own stickers.

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Widgetsmith Is Coming for Your iOS 16 Lock Screen Too

It’s been two years since Widgetsmith took the App Store by storm. The app, which was created by long-time indie developer David Smith, lets users create custom Home Screen widgets. Then, shortly after the app’s release, it went viral when TikTokers discovered it and dropped Dave and his app squarely in the center of the Home Screen aesthetic phenomenon.

Two years later, it’s fair to say that few people know widgets like Dave knows widgets. He’s spent the past two years refining Widgetsmith. Also, Widgetsmith is just one of many apps Dave has released over the years, many of which included some of the best Apple Watch apps available. That unique combination of experience uniquely positioned Dave to take advantage of iOS 16’s Lock Screen widgets.

If you’ve used Widgetsmith to create Home Screen widgets, you’ll hit the ground running with Lock Screen widgets. There’s a new segmented control near the top of the iPhone app’s Widgets tab that toggles between Home Screen and Lock Screen widget creation. The Lock Screen view is divided between the inline text widgets that fit above the time on the Lock Screen and circular and rectangular widgets that sit below the time.

It's true, read the Messages section of his iOS 16 review.

It’s true, read the Messages section of his iOS 16 review.

When you tap to add an inline text widget, Widgetsmith opens its editor, which offers 11 categories of widgets, each which has its own set of options. The inline text widget can be used display whatever text you want that fits. Other options include multiple time, date, weather, calendar, fitness, and reminder widgets.

Setting up a circular widget.

Setting up a circular widget.

The circular widget offers six categories: photo, time, weather, step counting, reminders, and astronomy, each with multiple styles and available themes. Photos, which is also available to use with rectangular widgets, is interesting. It allows you to add a photo to the widget itself. Of course, the photo is rendered as a monochrome image when added to a widget, which can make images that aren’t high-contrast hard to see, but there’s also an option to isolate people from their backgrounds, which can help. The photo widget isn’t for me, but I can imagine situations where someone might want to add one. The rectangular widget category includes even more categories from which to choose. Between the overlap with other widget types, plus the Battery and Tides widgets, there are a total of 13 widget types that can be added to a rectangular widget and themed.

One of the best parts of Widgetsmith is browsing through its extensive catalog of widget types and then tweaking your favorites to make them fit with your own style. There are so many possibilities that I’d wager that the app has something to offer for everyone. If you want to dive deep in iOS 16 Lock Screen customization, Widgetsmith is a great place to start.

Widgetsmith is a free update on the App Store. The app offers a time-limited free trial after which it requires a $1.99/month or $19.99/year subscription.


LockFlow: A Simple Way to Add Shortcuts to the iOS 16 Lock Screen

A shortcut isn’t worth building if invoking it is more trouble than doing the same thing another way. Fortunately, that’s rarely the case because shortcuts can be triggered in so many ways. Still, you can never have too many options because more options mean more contexts where running the shortcut saves time. That’s why I was glad to see a brand new app called LockFlow released alongside the iOS 16 release. The app makes it incredibly simple to add shortcut widgets to your iPhone Lock Screen.

There are a couple of ways to set up your shortcuts to work with LockFlow. The first option is to use a special helper shortcut that’s bundled with the app. When you run it, the shortcut prompts you to pick the shortcuts for which you’d like to make Lock Screen widgets. The shortcuts you pick will then be listed in the LockFlow app for turning into widgets.

One word of warning, though. If you have hundreds of shortcuts, the scrolling performance of the helper shortcut isn’t great. However, because Lock Screen widget space is limited, I expect that most people won’t need to use the helper shortcut often. You also have the option of adding shortcuts by hand inside LockFlow, but you need to be careful to enter the exact name of the shortcut for the widget to work.

Adding a shortcut to LockFlow can be accomplished in the app or with a helper shortcut.

Adding a shortcut to LockFlow can be accomplished in the app or with a helper shortcut.

When you’re finished adding shortcuts to LockFlow, tap on one to give it an icon and test it if you’d like. That’s it. There’s nothing else to do other than head to your Lock Screen and add one of your new widgets.

When you add a LockFlow widget to your Lock Screen, it will be a generic circle with the word Edit in the middle. Tap it and pick the shortcut you want the widget to launch, which will replace the generic graphic with the icon you picked in LockFlow. Now, whenever you tap that widget, it will run your shortcut. My only quibble with this part of the app is that I think the widget’s iconography should be a little bigger than it is.

There are a lot of interesting use cases for LockFlow. You can use the widget as an app launcher with a single-action shortcut using the Open App action. Other options include controlling HomeKit scenes, switching Focus modes, starting a favorite playlist, and a lot more.

Personally, I’ve been using LockFlow with a shortcut that I adapted from one Federico made for Club MacStories members that appends text to a dedicated section of a Markdown note in Obsidian. I’ve also used it to shuffle a playlist of every song I’ve ever marked as ‘Loved’ in Apple Music. Both are the kind of actions I want to get to as quickly as possible with little effort, which is precisely where LockFlow excels.

LockFlow is available on the App Store as a free download.


iOS 16 Review Extras: eBooks, Shortcuts, Making Of, and an Obsidian Plugin

Today, Federico published his iOS 16 review. As in past years, we’re releasing a wide variety of perks exclusively for Club MacStories members throughout the week, including an eBook version of the review, an eBook compilation of our 2022 OS Preview Series, two advanced shortcuts, two behind-the-scenes making of the review stories, and an update to one of our Club-exclusive Obsidian plugin.

What’s more, because Apple won’t be releasing iPadOS 16 until later this fall, we’ll have more perks for Club members when it’s released too.

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iOS 16: The MacStories Review

Customization is back, and Apple’s having fun again.

When is the last time your iPhone truly surprised you?

The answer to this question is a fascinating Rorschach test that can say a lot about a person’s relationship with Apple’s mobile platform. Some might say it was over a decade ago, when they feasted their eyes upon the Retina display for the first time in 2010. Some might say it happened when the iPhones got bigger – and sales skyrocketed – with the iPhone 6 lineup in 2014. Others might argue that it happened with Face ID on the iPhone X, or the first time they tried Portrait or Night mode, or perhaps when they first took an ultra-wide shot.

My point is: if you ask someone about the last time an iPhone truly surprised them, chances are they’ll reply with a hardware feature. That’s not a shocker: Apple prides itself upon the tight integration they’ve been able to achieve between the iPhone’s hardware and iOS; they’ve successfully managed to turn their design philosophy into a selling point of their entire ecosystem.

People buy iPhones because they know they’re going to work well for a long time, and, usually, because the model they’re getting has a cool new gimmick they want to try. For this reason, it’s not absurd to postulate that, by and large, the iPhone’s software serves to enable hardware sales and subscriptions. I do not mean this pejoratively: I like Apple’s approach, otherwise I wouldn’t be writing annual reviews about their operating systems. But I also recognize that on the iPhone (the situation is the exact opposite on iPad) the software now largely takes the backseat compared to hardware and services.

Which is why whenever the iPhone’s software truly surprises me, I get excited.

Software-related surprises are more rarefied on iOS these days, but the kind of people who are reading this story can point to a few examples in our recent history. Apple buying Workflow, turning it into a system app, and outright claiming that Shortcuts is the future of automation was a surprise. The extent to which Apple integrated dark mode in iOS 13 was a surprise.1 The arrival of two iPad features – Picture in Picture and inter-app drag and drop – on iPhone felt like a surprise. But, of course, no modern feature comes close to the surprise that we all witnessed with iOS 14 two years ago: a renewed focus on user personalization with custom Home Screen widgets and the ability to create multiple Home Screens.2

That’s why, following last year’s welcome (if perhaps a tad uninspired) quality-of-life update that was iOS 15, I’m excited about a new version of iOS again.

iOS 16, launching today for a variety of iPhone models dating back to the iPhone 8, marks Apple’s triumphant return to user personalization, with a twist: while in 2020 customization might have felt like a happy consequence of Apple’s engineering, this time the company has intentionally marketed iOS 16 as an update that will make an iPhone feel truly your own. As we explored in June and July, the first thing you see on your iPhone – the Lock Screen – is fundamentally changing in iOS 16. With the ability to create multiple Lock Screens, choose from a diverse collection of wallpaper sets, and customize each one with widgets, you’ll now have endless possibilities for the screen you always see when you pick up your iPhone.

Sure, there’s an argument to be made for Lock Screen widgets also being developed in service of new hardware, but I don’t think that takes away from the breadth of this feature and how Apple created a whole narrative around wallpapers, widgets, photos, and Focus modes this year. As you’ll see, the customizable Lock Screen will be the main character of this review: I’ve had a lot of fun exploring different permutations of my Lock Screen this summer, and I’ve been able to test dozens of widgets from third-party developers, which I’ll also showcase in this story.

In keeping with my theory that modern iOS updates always need to have a little bit of something for everyone, there’s a ton of other (some bigger, some smaller) features I’ll be covering in this review.3 Messages, one of my most used apps on iPhone, has received a substantial update with the ability to edit and un-send messages, making it, in some ways, even superior to WhatsApp for me now. Mail – of all apps – has gotten a major upgrade with modern features such as scheduled send and, almost unbelievably, a revamped search that actually works. Reminders has officially turned into a serious task manager with even more filters for smart lists and the ability to create and share templates with others.

The new Lock Screen takes center stage this year and everything else pales in comparison to the massive update it received, but, overall, I find iOS 16 a more fun and useful update than iOS 15.

So, as with every September: let’s dive in.

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  1. Then again, wasn't that in service of OLED displays? ↩︎
  2. Perhaps the iPhone 14 Pro's Dynamic Island will be another major surprise for iPhone users. Fascinatingly, it's going to be a unique blend of hardware and software that shows how Apple has been playing the long game with their design strategy for the past few years, which is now paying off. However, the iPhone 14 Pro is not out yet and I haven't tested the Dynamic Island, so that's beyond the scope of this review. ↩︎
  3. That's in addition to the apps and features we've already covered in our annual OS Summer Series on MacStories↩︎

Shortcuts in iOS 16: The Potential of App Shortcuts for Everyone

App Shortcuts in iOS 16.

App Shortcuts in iOS 16.

A note from Federico: This year, I’ve decided to try some new things for my annual iOS 16 review. Some you’ll see on Monday. One of them is previewing small excerpts from the review in the OS Preview series on MacStories and MacStories Weekly for Club MacStories. Today, I’m posting a preview of a section of the Shortcuts chapter here, and a section of the Everything Else chapter in MacStories Weekly. I hope you enjoy these. I’ll see you for the full story – and more reveals – on Monday.


In iOS 16, the Shortcuts app hasn’t undergone a major redesign or technical rewrite; instead, Apple’s efforts have focused on adding more actions for system apps, extending the developer API, bringing more stability, and making Shortcuts more approachable for new users.

The last point is both important and likely the reason why some Shortcuts power users will be disappointed by this year’s update. There isn’t a lot for them in this new version of the app: as we’ll see in my iPadOS review, there’s no integration with Files quick actions, no support for Stage Manager actions, and no system-wide hotkeys still. If you’re an advanced Shortcuts user and were wishing for more system-level enhancements in addition to stability this year: I hear you, but we’ll talk about this later on.

What we do have in iOS 16 is a fascinating new feature to get newcomers started with the Shortcuts app, a grab bag of useful new actions for Apple apps, and some solid developer-related enhancements that will make third-party actions much better than before. Let’s take a look.

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The 2022 MacStories OS Preview Series: Maps and CarPlay

I recently moved from Illinois to North Carolina, and I don’t know the area at all. As a result, I’ve been using Maps and CarPlay a lot since I got here. The new features coming this fall to each aren’t as extensive as they’ve been in past years, but there are several small changes that represent the kind of incremental, ‘quality of life’ improvements that I expect users will appreciate.

Maps

Because so much of Apple Maps relies on methodically mapping the world bit by bit, many users are stuck waiting for Maps’ underlying data to catch up with the app’s features. The more detailed maps and 3D models of landmarks introduced last year are good examples. Both came with asterisks because they were only available in certain cities or countries at launch.

This year is a little different. Apple announced new countries and cities where you’ll find the company’s more detailed maps, 3D landmarks, and other changes, but this year, multi-stop routes and tweaks to Maps’ routing UI will be available to everyone at the same time. It’s a nice mix of brand-new features and incremental improvements that includes something for everyone.

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A Month with iOS and iPadOS 16: A New iPad Era

iPadOS and iOS 16.

iPadOS and iOS 16.

Sometimes I truly have excellent timing with my stories.

As you may recall, a couple of months ago in the lead-up to WWDC, I published an article on my experience with using the M1 Max MacBook Pro for six months. That story was born out of a desire to get to know macOS again after years of iPad-only work; as I shared at the time, my curiosity was also the byproduct of Apple’s incoherent narrative for iPad power users for the past couple of years. Great hardware held back by lackluster software had long been regarded as the core weakness of the iPad platform; I hadn’t always agreed with the Apple community’s “consensus” on this, but an M1 iPad Pro carrying MacBook Pro-like specs with no new pro software features to take advantage of it was, indeed, a bridge too far. So when I published that story just in time for WWDC, I did it because a) that’s when it was ready and b) I wanted to bring some chaotic energy into the iPad discourse and see what would happen.

Like I said, sometimes I do have excellent timing with my stories. And in this case, not even my wildest expectations could have predicted that, in one fell swoop a week later, Apple would reimagine iPadOS around desktop-class apps and a brand new multitasking with external display integration, a new design, and – the unthinkable – overlapping, resizable windows with iPadOS 16.

Today, Apple is releasing the first public betas of all the operating systems that will launch to the wider public later this year: iOS 16, iPadOS 16, macOS 13 Ventura, and watchOS 9. We’re going to have overviews of all these public betas today on MacStories.1 As you can imagine given my annual reviewer responsibilities, I installed both iOS and iPadOS 16 as soon as they became available after the WWDC keynote on my iPhone 13 Pro Max and 12.9” iPad Pro with M1, and I’ve been using them as my daily drivers for the past month.

Obviously, I have some early thoughts and first impressions to share on iPadOS 16: it is fundamentally changing my relationship with the iPad platform and my workflow, which has been untouched for years since the introduction of multiwindow in iPadOS 13. Stage Manager, while still in need of refinements in several areas, is a game-changer for people like me, and it signifies a major course correction on how Apple thinks about iPadOS for power users.

But I should also say that I’m equally intrigued by iOS 16, which marks Apple’s return – after two years – to user customization with a drastic revamp of the Lock Screen, which can now be personalized with widgets, multiple wallpaper sets, and deep integration with the Home Screen, Focus, and even Apple Watch. The new Lock Screen is the proper follow-up to iOS 14 widgets we’ve been waiting for, and it’s going to be the feature that will push millions of people to update their iPhones to iOS 16 right away later this year. Besides the Lock Screen, there are dozens of other quality-of-life improvements to built-in apps and system intelligence that have caught my attention in iOS 16 in the past month, from the welcome updates to Mail and Reminders to system-wide unit conversions based on Live Text, Safari tab groups, and more.

There’s a lot to uncover in iOS and iPadOS 16, and I can’t possibly get into all of it today with this story. All the details and final opinions will have to wait for my annual review in the fall. Instead, below you’ll find a collection of initial thoughts, impressions, and suggestions for aspects of iPadOS and iOS 16 I’d like Apple to improve this summer. As with last year’s preview story, I’m going to include two recap segments at the end of each section with a list of improvements I’d like to see in iPadOS and iOS 16 before the public release.

Let’s dive in.

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