There can be no doubt that 2020 has been a record year for package deliveries. Perhaps things were already trending that direction pre-pandemic, but during a year in which many people have unexpectedly found themselves staying home more than ever, the number of deliveries being made has surely seen a huge spike.
Deliveries, the package tracking app for iOS and Mac, has received a strong update today with a wide variety of quality of life improvements. There’s nothing huge or flashy here, but the sum of the many small changes should help Deliveries continue being one of the best and easiest ways to track that steady stream of packages heading your way.
Working from home isn’t for everyone. Many of us have been challenged by the loss of structure that an office or other public workspace provides. Not only that, but homes often provide far more distractions than a dedicated workspace. As a result, I expect that more people than ever need aids to help them do focused, productive work.
A new app from developer Michael Tigas aims to help. Focused Work is a simple, but valuable utility for creating timed focus sessions of productivity. While this may sound like merely a Pomodoro timer app, what I appreciate about Focused Work is that while it can be used with the Pomodoro Technique, it’s much more flexible than that because it enables creating any timers or sequence of timers that will best meet your own needs and fit with the way you work.
For the first time that I can ever recall, Apple is releasing a point update to iOS just a week after the update’s first beta debuted. iOS 13.7 is rolling out now to iPhone users, bringing the COVID-19 Exposure Notifications system to users without the need to download a separate third-party app. This version of the system is being dubbed Exposure Notifications Express. Per an Apple-Google quote provided to The Verge:
As the next step in our work with public health authorities on Exposure Notifications, we are making it easier and faster for them to use the Exposure Notifications System without the need for them to build and maintain an app. Exposure Notifications Express provides another option for public health authorities to supplement their existing contact tracing operations with technology without compromising on the project’s core tenets of user privacy and security.
After installing the update, from Settings ⇾ Exposure Notifications users can either opt-in to the new system, which was developed in a partnership between Apple and Google, or sign up to be notified when the system becomes available in their region. Currently, even though a separate app download isn’t necessary anymore, Apple is still only activating its system in areas where public health authorities are explicitly on board and have the processes in place to utilize data gathered from iPhones and Android devices for the sake of contact tracing. This means availability still doesn’t extend to all iPhone users, but it will hopefully expand quicker than when a separate app download was required. In the US, Exposure Notifications Express will launch in Maryland, Nevada, Virginia, and Washington D.C. with more states expected to be supported throughout the remainder of the year.
There was no better time than 2020 for my discovery of Portal, the immersive ambient noise app I reviewed at the start of the year.
Back in January Portal impressed me with its multifaceted approach to providing an escape from your current surroundings. Not only are the app’s 3D soundscapes of a high sound quality and perfectly paired with headphones, especially noise-cancelling ones like AirPods Pro, but Portal also engages your other senses to help you focus, sleep, or mentally escape when you can’t physically escape. One way the app does this is through its visual scenes, which provide each different sound portal with a location’s snapshot that your imagination can lock on to. Another way is via Philips Hue integration, which enables your home lights to automatically sync to different colors and brightness settings that fit best with the portal environment you’ve chosen. This combination of immersive sound with visual scenes and real-world correlation via smart lights makes Portal a uniquely holistic experience.
I’ve been using Portal ever since January, but even more since March, when my ability to physically leave home was drastically scaled back. I don’t use it when sleeping, but it’s certainly helped me both focus and escape, providing the much-needed feeling of being in a new environment even when my physical surroundings are left unchanged. For these reasons, as well as the presence of features like breathing exercises in the app, I find it appropriate to call Portal not just an ambient noise utility, but a wellness app too.
Today, Portal is launching a big 3.0 update that leans into its core strengths by providing more of what makes the app great: its portals. Previously the app offered a total of 19 portals, and today that number more than doubles as 25 new portals have been added for a total of 44 – and more are on the way.
I’m very picky about wallpapers on my devices, and when I finally find one I like, I stick with it for a very long time. At some point during that very long time, I start getting tired of my wallpaper and look for a replacement, only to quickly give up and conclude that none of the other options are good. The number of wallpapers available on the web is practically infinite, yet these days I scarcely bother to look for anything new.
So in some respects I’m both the best and worst person to review The Wallpaper App, a new Lumen Digital utility for iPhone, iPad, and Mac that does nothing but supply new wallpaper options. Best because I could use a new wallpaper solution, and worst because my passionate condemnation of most wallpaper options makes me inclined to find little of value in a new wallpaper app.
I see four primary strengths to The Wallpaper App, all of which give it an advantage over other wallpaper apps or services I’ve tried in the past.
- It’s extremely simple to navigate
- All wallpapers are designed to work well behind app icons, widgets, etc.
- You can customize wallpaper colors manually
- Wallpaper size options are tailored for Apple device sizes
One trend that emerged from stay-home orders this year is that many people have spent more time cooking than ever before. Many restaurants have been unable to offer indoor dining, and the lack of a commute as much of society adjusted to work-from-home life provided the opportunity to spend more time in the kitchen. Bread baking became a popular habit, but so did home cooking in general. All of this has brought an influx of new entrants to cooking.
I’m not new to cooking, but I’ve nonetheless found myself in the market for a better solution for recipe management, meal planning, and cooking walkthroughs. The app I’ve found best suited for my needs is Crouton, from developer Devin Davies.
Crouton offers a handful of valuable aids for cooking, but the feature at the center of it all is the app’s recipe management system. Once you have recipes stored in the app, you can view those recipes in a well-designed, intuitive format, but you’ll also be able to easily assign recipes to your weekly meal plan, add ingredients to your grocery list, or be guided through step-by-step instructions while cooking.
Last summer developer Charlie Chapman launched Dark Noise, an ambient noise app for iPhone and iPad that’s packed with delightful design details and key system integrations. My initial review praised how Chapman was able to take an otherwise standard utility app and build a standout experience which, from day one, raised itself above a crowded market of competitors.
The main reasons I loved Dark Noise from the start had little to do with the app’s basic utility: playing ambient noise. The app has always had a good selection of noise options, but nothing in the sound department made it truly special to me. It was the other areas of the app experience, everything surrounding that basic utility of ambient noise playing, that was so great. Icon animations, buttery smooth panel transitions, haptic feedback, strong iPad support, alternate app icons, Shortcuts support, a customizable widget, and more all made for a compelling product.
One of my only disappointments with Dark Noise was the inability to mix different noises together. Each noise could only be played in isolation, never more than one at a time, which proved a disadvantage compared to other ambient noise apps I’d used that enabled mixing different noises to create a custom soundscape. I’m happy to say that Dark Noise 2, released today, adds this functionality at last.
In Dark Noise 2 not only can you mix different sounds to create custom noises, but there are also eight new sound options to choose from, iCloud sync has been added for syncing your favorite sounds and custom mixes, and there’s optimized support for the iPadOS cursor. It’s a big release that retains the design elegance Dark Noise has had from day one, but expands the app’s usefulness in key ways.
Today Apple released what is essentially a COVID-19 update for iPhones. iOS 13.5 includes several features specifically designed for our current global pandemic, including exposure notifications, mask detection for bypassing Face ID, and a new prominence setting for FaceTime, along with a nice new Apple Music sharing feature optimized for Instagram Stories. With WWDC and iOS 14’s reveal only a month away, this is likely the last major update to the current OS release cycle.
Apple has released version 13.5 Developer Beta 3 for iOS and iPadOS, which includes the COVID-19 exposure notification API that it is developing with Google. A beta of Xcode 11.5 was released alongside the OSes too.
According to a story published by Mark Gurman of Bloomberg:
The tool set is a combination of software updates for iOS and Android, and software development kits to help developers build and test their apps. Apple released an early beta version of its software update that incorporates the technology, iOS 13.5, while Google is rolling out an update via its Google Play app store.
The first phase of the system will let health agencies build apps that allow a person who tests positive for Covid-19 to input their diagnosis. The system will then use Bluetooth technology to learn who the person has come into contact with and then notify those people of a possible exposure.
Additional details and sample code are set to be released by Apple and Google on Friday.
As reported by 9to5Mac, the update to iOS and iPadOS also adds a change to Face ID that detects if you are wearing a face mask, skipping directly to the screen for entering your passcode. It’s a small but useful change that will hopefully help prevent iPhone owners from pulling down face masks in public to unlock their devices.