Today, Federico published his iOS and iPadOS 15 review. The review has become the centerpiece of what is always a busy fall season at MacStories. It has also become a tradition that we release a wide variety of perks exclusively for Club MacStories members alongside Federico’s review.
Posts tagged with "iOS"
A quieter release for even stranger times.
In my career as an iOS reviewer, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a response as universally positive and enthusiastic as the general public’s reception of iOS 14 last year. From the “Home Screen aesthetic” popularized by TikTokers to the incredible success of widgets and the resurgence of custom icons, few iOS updates managed to capture the cultural zeitgeist as globally and rapidly as iOS 14 did. The update broke out of the tech community and, perhaps for the first time in decades, made UI personalization a mainstream, easily attainable hobby. For once, we didn’t have to convince our friends and family to update to a major new version of the iPhone’s operating system. They just did it themselves.
The numbers don’t lie: five weeks after its release, iOS 14 was already set to surpass iOS 13’s adoption rate; in April 2021, seven months after launch, over 90% of compatible devices were running iOS 14. Which begs the obvious question: if you’re Apple, you’re planning to follow up on what made iOS 14 successful with even more of it, right?
Well, not quite.
With the world coming to a halt due to the pandemic in early 2020, Apple could have easily seized the opportunity to slow down its pace of software updates, regroup, and reassess the state of its platforms without any major changes in functionality. But, as we found out last year, that’s not how the company operates or draws its product roadmaps in advance. In the last year alone, Apple introduced a substantial macOS redesign, pointer support on iPad, and drastic changes to the iOS Home Screen despite the pandemic, executing on decisions that were likely made a year prior.
Surprisingly, iOS 15 doesn’t introduce any notable improvements to what made its predecessor wildly popular last year. In fact, as I’ll explore in this review, iOS 15 doesn’t have that single, all-encompassing feature that commands everyone’s attention such as widgets in iOS 14 or dark mode in iOS 13.
As we’ll see later in the story, new functionalities such as Focus and Live Text in the Camera are the additions that will likely push people to update their iPhones this year. And even then, I don’t think either of them sports the same intrinsic appeal as widgets, custom Home Screens, or the App Library in iOS 14.
It’s a slightly different story for iPadOS 15, which comes at a fascinating time for the platform.
As I wrote in my review of the M1 iPad Pro earlier this year, Apple needed to re-align the iPad’s hardware and software on two fronts. For pro users, the company had to prove that the new iPad Pro’s hardware could be useful for something beyond basic Split View multitasking, either in the form of more complex windowing, pro apps, or desktop-like background processes; at the same time, Apple also had to modernize iPadOS’ multitasking capabilities for all kinds of users, turning an inscrutable gesture-based multitasking environment into a more intuitive system that could also be operated from a keyboard. It’s a tall order; it’s why I’ve long believed that the iPad’s unique multiplicity of inputs makes iPadOS the toughest platform to design for.
Apple’s work in iPadOS 15 succeeds in laying a new foundation for multitasking but only partially satisfies the desires of power users. Apple managed to bring simplicity and consistency to multitasking via a new menu to manage the iPad’s windowing states that is easier to use than drag and drop. Perhaps more importantly, Apple revisited iPad multitasking so it can be equally operated using touch and keyboard. If you, the person reading these annual reviews, have ever found yourself having to explain to a family member how to create a Split View on iPad, tell them to update to iPadOS 15, and they’ll have a much easier time using their iPads to their full extent.
But after three months of running iPadOS 15 on my M1 iPad Pro, I can’t help but feel like power users will still be left wishing for more. Yes, iPadOS 15 brings extensive keyboard integration for multitasking with a plethora of new keyboard shortcuts and yes, the new multitasking menu and improvements to the app switcher benefit everyone, including power users, but iPadOS 15 is a foundational update that focuses on fixing the basics rather than letting the iPad soar to new heights.
While Apple is probably preparing bigger and bolder updates for next year, there are still plenty of features to discover and enjoy in iOS and iPadOS 15 – some that could still use some refinement, others that already feel like staples of the modern iPhone and iPad experience.
Let’s dive in.
Silvio Rizzi, the developer of RSS client Reeder, has released a brand new recipe and cooking app called Mela for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, which has immediately become my favorite apps for planning and preparing meals. For me, the two essential aspects of an app like this are how it handles adding new recipes and whether it is easy to use while you’re cooking. Mela excels at both.
I’m going to focus primarily on the iPad experience for this review because the iPad strikes the best balance of portability combined with a large screen that works well when you’re in the kitchen cooking, but the app is also available on the iPhone and Mac. Although my overwhelming preference is to use Mela on an iPad, an equal amount of attention has gone into the design of the iPhone and Mac apps, accounting for the different screen sizes and making the most of each. That’s true on the iPad, too, where the experience differs depending on the size of the iPad you’re using.
Maps is unique among Apple system apps. Most system apps, like Notes or Reminders, are only updated at the same time that major revisions of the company’s underlying operating systems are released. Tweaks are sometimes made with OS point releases but never separate from the OS updates themselves.
Maps is different because so much of the experience is tied to the data that the app delivers. That allows Apple to add mid-cycle updates that aren’t tied to an OS release. There are many recent examples, like the addition of COVID-19 travel guidance for airports, vaccination site locations, and places offering volunteer opportunities. At the same time, the company continues to expand and enhance the accuracy and detail offered by Maps at a deeper level with its ongoing initiative to rebuild the app’s underlying maps worldwide.
Apple has been at it, improving Maps since iOS 6, and it’s a task that by definition will never truly be finished. However, the introduction of new features in recent years and broader expansion of its effort to deliver rebuilt maps to more of the world has allowed Apple to refine the app across the board. Using the latest map data the company has collected has enabled it to redesign the Maps experience, providing more relevant information to users, and expanding its view of the world around us.
The intersection of tasks and notes poses an interesting problem. Often, a task requires notes for context and details that can’t be captured with a single line of text. Likewise, notes very often spawn tasks of their own. The difficulty is how to harmonize the two coherently.
If you’re a Club MacStories member, you know this is something that has bedeviled Federico’s annual iOS and iPadOS review for years. He solved the problem by combining Obsidian with Todoist’s web API linking the two apps together in a way that complements the way he writes.
Federico’s approach takes advantage of the web technologies underlying those apps. It’s a powerful solution, but it’s not a fully native approach technically or from a design standpoint. The technique is also less suited for someone who isn’t writing thousands of words most days, and instead, just needs to flesh out their tasks with context than the single line of text many apps offer. Fortunately, there are many alternative approaches to the task and note-taking conundrum, including a new one out today from Cultured Code, the maker of Things that I like a lot.
Instead of injecting tasks into notes, Things brings a full-featured note-taking solution into version 3.14 of Things. Adding a note to a task isn’t new to Things, but the latest update expands the feature significantly. Using Markdown syntax, you can now create headings, make text bold or italic, and add bulleted and numbered lists, links, code blocks, and highlight text. The formatting is rendered inline, providing a sense of structure and style to notes. For anyone unfamiliar with Markdown syntax, Cultured Code has also created a handy guide.
Things’ bulleted lists support multiple levels of indentation based on the number of spaces that precede the bullet. Everything is neatly lined up and orderly, although I do have one quibble. I’m used to using the tab key to indent and Shift + Tab to outdent bulleted lists, which is common to most text editors and note-taking apps. Unfortunately, because the tab key is used to move the focus between UI elements in Things, to increase the level of indentation, creating a nested list, you’ll need to back up, add a space, and then move back to where the text of your note goes. I do appreciate, however, how you can cut and paste a bulleted item from one spot to another in a list without winding up with a duplicated bullet at the beginning of the item that you have to delete.
Because notes attached to tasks can be full-blown documents now, Things has also added the ability to search inside a note. On the iPhone and iPad, tap the More button and select Find in Text. On the Mac, you’ll find the option in the Edit menu, or you can use the keyboard shortcut ⌘⇧F, which also works on iOS and iPadOS. Things offers the option to Find and Replace text too. Finally, Cultured Code has improved its sync engine, making the syncing of notes more efficient and faster, which should benefit anyone who uses it to take extended notes.
I wish every developer that offered notes functionality in their app would put as much care and attention into them as Cultured Code. Few apps provide formatting, let alone what is effectively a mini Markdown text editor just for notes. It’s the sort of flexibility that sets Things apart from other task managers. I expect the new notes functionality will be perfect for anyone who has felt constrained by the typical one-liner plain text notes found in most alternatives.
Sofa 3.0, an app that I last reviewed in March, is out with loads of new ways to track, organize, and browse the media lists you create. The app also has a new subscription business model for its pro features.
Media recommendations come at us all from every angle, whether it’s friends and family or sources like reviews. You can save lists of books, movies, videogames, and other media you want to try in lots of ways. You could use an app like Apple’s Notes or Reminders, but they’re general-purpose apps that don’t address the specific needs related to media consumption. Plus, trying to track media in something like a task manager gets out of control and messy fast.
Another option is to turn to an app designed for a specific type of media, and there are many good options available on the App Store. The advantage Sofa has, is that it makes it just as easy to pick a book as a movie or something else when you’re deciding what media to try next. It’s a subtle but important distinction. With single-purpose apps, you need to decide what kind of media you want to consume and then turn to an app to pick something. Sofa dispenses with the first step allowing you to answer a broader question: “How do I want to spend my free time?” That a one-stop approach is one of Sofa’s greatest strengths and one that the app leans into hard with the latest excellent update.
Apple Design Award winner CARROT Weather offers an unprecedented amount of user control over its interface, something which Federico and I recently discussed at length on AppStories and interviewed developer Brian Mueller about last month. The customization options that were introduced in January with version 5 of the app allow users to define the look and layout of multiple weather tiles along with the date presented by each. Since that UI overhaul in January, Mueller has continued to extend the customization system, most recently adding a preview system and other refinements to make it easier to experiment with and create different layouts.
With version 5.3 that was released today, Mueller has added Smart Layouts, allowing users to create different layouts for nighttime and when it’s going to rain. I like these new options a lot for a couple of reasons. The first is practical: if it’s nighttime, you probably don’t care about the day’s high temperature because it likely happened hours ago. Likewise, if it’s going to rain, a graph of when the rain is going to start and when it will be most intense is far more important to you than on a beautiful, sunny day.
With Smart Layouts, you can adjust your weather layouts for each circumstance. For example, I created a Smart Layout for nighttime based on the Siren template that emphasizes the current conditions followed by the hourly and daily forecasts. When rain is in the forecast, I’ve got a layout that moves a precipitation graph and radar view to the spots just below the current conditions. The changes I made were relatively minor but have made CARROT Weather more relevant as conditions change.
I also enjoy Smart Layouts because they’re another outlet for trying new layout templates and experimenting with setup options. The process is fun and adds an extra touch of personalization and variety that I enjoy. Smart Layouts require a Premium Club subscription to CARROT Weather.
The other headline feature of CARROT Weather’s update is Weather Reports, which lets you create 30-second weather report videos and share them. Whether you’re flexing from the beach on vacation or just want to complain about how hot it is to your friends, Weather Reports are a ton of fun. Videos are recorded with the front-facing camera, and CARROT Weather lends a hand by providing an overlay to help frame yourself. Videos can be scripted randomly by CARROT or unscripted, and you can even pick a funny weatherperson name if you’d like. If you pick a scripted video, the words scroll up the screen as you record yourself teleprompter-style. Here’s one I did from my backyard yesterday afternoon:
Weather Reports are a blast to create and will undoubtedly show up in droves on social media networks before you finish reading this.
Today’s update also adds a variety of smaller updates, including new layout components and multiple formats for taking screenshots of weather conditions for sharing.
CARROT Weather 5.3 is available as a free update on the App Store.
Matthias Gansrigler of Eternal Storms Software recently released Transloader 3, an app for remotely controlling Mac file downloads from an iPhone or iPad. Although the app has been around for a long time, version 3 might as well be a completely new app because it’s packed with new features, making it worth revisiting if you haven’t tried it in a while.
Transloader is one of those utilities that reduces the friction of working on multiple devices by solving a common problem that Apple’s OSes could handle better: cross-device downloads. There are a couple of scenarios where I run into this all the time. The first is with email. With no TestFlight for Mac yet, developers often send me links to a ZIP or DMG file of their apps to try. Going through email messages is one of those tasks that I often leave until late in the day when I’m away from my desk, using my iPad or iPhone. The second scenario is when I’m researching apps and find one or a related press kit I want to download to check out later.
In both cases, I could save the app or other files to iCloud Drive’s Downloads folder and revisit the materials the next time I’m at my Mac. However, with Transloader, I’ve got many more options thanks to its built-in automation tools as well as other features that make managing downloaded files easier.
This morning at Apple’s second fully-remote WWDC keynote address, Craig Federighi introduced iOS and iPadOS 15. This year’s updates include significant improvements to core first-party apps, new controls for maintaining focus, system-wide text and object recognition in images, and much more.
On the iPad-only side of things, Apple has announced a variety of new multitasking interface elements, feature parity with the iPhone’s Home Screen, quick note capturing available at any time in any app, and an overhauled Swift Playgrounds which supports building and shipping complete SwiftUI apps to the App Store.
As usual, developer betas are available today, with final versions scheduled to ship to all users this fall. Let’s take a look at all the details that Apple has in store for us this year.