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Posts tagged with "iOS"

Apple Starts Selling App Store Search Ads, Launching October 5th

First announced at WWDC in June and beta-tested over the Summer, Apple launched Search Ads for iOS apps today. The ads will appear at the top of App Store customers’ search results based on a combination of search relevancy and bidding. According to Apple, the program is designed to be a simple way for developers to get their apps in front of potential customers. Developers can sign up today and schedule campaigns, but ads won’t go live until October 5, 2016.

In an email to developers Apple says:

Search Ads was designed to be effortless for small and independent developers. Invest as much or as little time as you have and still get results. We create your ads and match them to relevant searches. You can refine who sees your ad with optional keyword, audience and location features, and you only pay when a customer taps on your ad.

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Castro 2 Review

Castro 2 from Supertop demonstrates that there is still plenty of room for innovation in podcast apps. Although every podcast app starts with the goal of helping listeners find and play podcasts, the path each app takes varies as widely as the listening habits of users.

Castro 2 eliminates much of the complexity of other podcast apps by focusing on a single podcast queue. The result is a focused listening experience that emphasizes episodes over shows, playlists, or feeds. It's not an approach that will appeal to everyone, but if you find yourself looking for a simpler way to manage podcasts, or listening to some, but not all, episodes of shows, Castro is worth considering.

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Workflow Adds IFTTT Integration

One of the unique traits of Workflow is its integration with native iPhone and iPad apps. By abstracting URL schemes from the process of building workflows that communicate with apps, the Workflow team has been able to offer actions to automate apps such as OmniFocus, Drafts, and Ulysses with support for text, images, and even documents.

Increasingly, however, iOS users who rely on their devices as their primary computers are leveraging web services for their daily tasks. And in the past few years, a different kind of automation – web automation – has complemented (if not replaced altogether) native automation to save time on the iPhone and iPad through web APIs.

The Workflow team knows this, and their latest integration is aimed at extending Workflow to any web service – even if it doesn't offer an iOS app or a native web action in Workflow. Today, Workflow is launching a new IFTTT integration to trigger web recipes.

By fusing workflow actions with the power of IFTTT's web API glue, IFTTT support in Workflow promises to take iOS automation further than it's ever been, drastically altering the scope of Workflow's capabilities.

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Google Adds Find Your Phone Feature for iOS Devices

Google continues to improve and refine its ‘My Account’ features with a service that complements Apple’s ‘Find iPhone’ feature. Google’s ’Find Your Phone’ which has been available for a while for Android phones, allows Google users to:

  • find their iOS device and lock it by redirecting users to iCloud.com;
  • call an iOS device;
  • leave a callback number on an iOS device's screen;
  • log out of your Google account;
  • contact your mobile carrier; and
  • locate a local lost and found using Google Maps.

To access Find Your Phone, log into your Google ‘My Account’ page on the web or use the Google iOS app on another iOS device.


Workflow 1.5: App Store Automation, Trello and Ulysses Actions, Audio Metadata, Safari View Controller, and More

In seven years of MacStories, few iOS apps fundamentally changed how I get work done as much as Workflow. Pythonista, Editorial, and Tweetbot are in that list, but Workflow, with its ongoing improvements and deep iOS integrations, continuously makes me question how I can optimize my setup further.

Nearly two years (and an Apple Design Award) later, Workflow is reaching version 1.5 today, an important milestone towards the road to 2.0. Unsurprisingly for the Workflow team, this release adds over 20 new actions and dozens of improvements. Some of them are new app actions based on URL schemes, while others introduce brand new system integrations (such as iTunes Store, App Store, and Safari View Controller) and web actions for the popular Trello team collaboration service. Workflow 1.5 is a packed release that is going to save heavy Workflow users a lot of time.

After testing and playing with Workflow 1.5 for the past month, I've been able to streamline key aspects of writing for MacStories and managing Club MacStories. With a bigger team and more Club responsibilities, we've been thinking about how to improve our shared tasks and creative process; Workflow 1.5 has played an essential role in it.

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On the Limitations of iOS Custom Keyboards

Somewhat buried in a good Verge piece on iOS custom keyboards is a reiteration by Apple on why they don't allow dictation for third-party keyboards:

Apple has long been a stalwart for erring on the side of caution when it comes to keeping your data private and asking you to make sure you know you’re sharing something. The company’s policy is to not allow microphone access for extensions (like these keyboards) because iOS has no way to make it clear that the phone is listening. Giving third-party keyboards access to the microphone could allow nefarious apps to listen in on users without their knowledge, an Apple spokesperson says.

As far as I know, it's not just custom keyboards: no kind of app extension can access the microphone on iOS (plus other APIs). This has been the case since 2014 and it appears Apple still thinks the privacy trade-off would be too risky.

The principle doesn't surprise me; at a practical level, though, wouldn't it be possible to enable dictation1 in third-party keyboards by coloring the status bar differently when the microphone is listening?

I also have to wonder if, two years into custom keyboards, it would be time for Apple to lift some of their other keyboard restrictions. To recap, this is what custom keyboards on iOS can't do:

  • Access the system settings of Auto-Capitalization, Enable Caps Lock, and dictionary reset feature
  • Type into secure text input objects (password fields)
  • Type into phone pad objects (phone dialer UIs)
  • Access selected text
  • Access the device microphone
  • Use the system keyboard switching popup

Aside from microphone access, secure input fields, and phone pad objects, I'd like to see Apple add support for everything else in iOS 10. More importantly, I'd like to see their performance improve. Here's an example: when you swipe down from the Home screen to open Spotlight, Apple's keyboard comes up with a soft transition that's pleasing on the eye; if you do the same with a custom keyboard, the transition is always jarring, and it often doesn't work at all.2

I struggle to understand the position of those who call custom keyboards "keyloggers" because, frankly, that's a discussion we should have had two years ago, not as soon as Google launches a custom keyboard. Since 2014, hundreds of companies (including Microsoft and Giphy) have released custom keyboards, each theoretically capable of "logging" what you type. That ship has sailed. Apple has featured Microsoft's Word Flow on the front page of the App Store and the entire Utilities category is essentially dominated by custom keyboards (and has been for a while). Every few weeks, a new type of "-moji" celebrity keyboard comes out and sits at the top of the Top Paid charts.

I think it's very unlikely Apple is going to backtrack on custom keyboards at this point. It's not just Google – clearly, people find custom keyboards useful, and Apple is happy enough to promote them.3

The way we communicate and work on iOS has grown beyond typing. Despite their limitations, custom keyboards have shown remarkable innovations over the past two years. With more privacy controls and some API improvements by Apple, they have the potential to work better and look nicer going forward.


  1. Not necessarily via Siri, so Google could use their own dictation engine in Gboard, for instance. ↩︎
  2. I've had multiple instances of iOS being "stuck", unable to load a custom keyboard or switch back to the Apple one. ↩︎
  3. Unless, of course, it's Gboard, which got no feature whatsoever this week, though it's currently the #1 Free app in the US App Store. ↩︎

With Launcher 2.0, I’m Rethinking My Notification Center Widgets

When iOS 8 came out, I thought I'd stop using URL schemes altogether. Until two years ago1, my attempts at working on iOS had focused on overcoming the lack of inter-app communication with URL scheme automation, as our old coverage here at MacStories can attest. iOS 8 showed a new way to get things done on the iPhone and iPad thanks to extensions, eschewing the limited functionality (and security concerns) of URL schemes for a native, integrated foundation.

Two years later, I've largely reappraised my usage of URL schemes, but, unlike I first imagined, they haven't disappeared completely from my iOS computing life. iOS automation has taken on a different form since 2014: thanks to its action extension, Workflow has brought deeply integrated automation to every app, while Pythonista remains the most powerful environment for those who prefer to dabble with Python scripting and advanced tasks (also while taking advantage of an action extension to be activated from apps).

Today, URL schemes are being used by developers and users who want to go beyond the limitations of system extensions: apps like Drafts and Workflow use URL schemes to invoke specific apps directly (which extensions can't do – see Airmail and its custom app actions) and to link more complex chains of automated actions. URL schemes are also the best way to set up templates and import workflows for dedicated functionalities – a good example being The Omni Group with their latest automation options for template generation in OmniFocus.

While Apple's goal with iOS 8 might have been to "kill" URL schemes by turning them into a niche technology mostly supplanted by extensions, that niche has continued to quietly thrive. iOS automation is drastically better (and more secure) today because of extensions, but, for many, URL schemes still are the backbone of app shortcuts and complex workflows. Where extensions can't go, there's a good chance a URL scheme will do the trick.

It's in this modern iOS automation landscape that Launcher, first released in 2014, is graduating to version 2.0 with a focus on what it does best: standalone app shortcuts. Launcher 2.0 offers more control than its predecessor over widget customization and activation, with new features and settings that have pushed me to reconsider how I use Notification Center widgets on both my iPhone and iPad Pro.

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