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Posts tagged with "iOS"

iOS 12: The MacStories Review

After years of unabated visual and functional changes, iOS 12 is Apple's opportunity to regroup and reassess the foundation before the next big step – with one notable exception.

We left last year's iOS 11 update with a palpable tension between two platforms.

On one hand, following a year of minor changes to the iPad and a hardware refresh that came in later than some expected, Apple once again devoted plenty of attention to reimagining the tablet's role in the world of modern computing. iPad updates in iOS 11, despite having their fair share of critics, largely did not disappoint. On the other hand, the iPhone – by and large still Apple's crown jewel – had to play second fiddle to a platform that was more in need of a strong, coherent message. And so despite blessing the iPhone with the same features of its larger multitouch cousin (at least most of them), Apple seemed content ceding the smartphone's spotlight to the iPad. There was a healthy array of new functionalities for both, but iOS 11's "Monumental leap for iPad" tagline pretty much told the whole story.

iOS 12, available today for the same range of devices that supported iOS 11, feels like a reaction to changes that have occurred around Apple and consumer technology over the past year.

While iOS 11 may go down in Apple software history as the touchstone of the iPad's maturity, it will also be remembered as one of the company's most taxing releases for its users. You don't have to look far into the iOS 11 cycle for headlines lamenting its poor stability on older hardware, plethora of design inconsistencies (which were noted time and time again), and general sense of sluggishness – issues that may have contributed to a slower adoption rate than 2016's iOS 10.

There were debacles in Apple's PR and marketing approach as well: performance problems with battery and power management were handled poorly during a key time of the year, culminating with a year-long discounted battery replacement program and a somewhat rushed battery-related addition to iOS' Settings. Then, of course, there was the much derided iPhone X ad clearly showing one of the many reported iOS bugs on TV, which had to be fixed with an updated commercial before the actual software was fixed. No matter how you slice it, it's been a rough few months for Apple in the realm of public perception of its software.

At the same time, toward the beginning of 2018, technology observers witnessed the rise of Time Well Spent – an organization and, perhaps more broadly, a public movement demanding that tech companies prioritize enabling healthier relationships with mobile devices. The principles underlying Time Well Spent, from battling smartphone addiction and notification overload to including superior parental controls in mobile OSes, may have originated as a natural consequence of breakneck technological progress; as some argue, they may also be a byproduct of global socioeconomic and political events. Time Well Spent's ideas found fertile soil in Silicon Valley: earlier this year, Facebook made key changes to its news feed to improve how users spend time on the social network; Apple made a rare commitment to better parental features in a future version of iOS; Google went all out and turned digital well-being into a suite of system features for Android.

It's important to understand the context in which iOS 12 is launching today, for events of the past year may have directly shaped Apple's vision for this update.

With iOS 12, Apple wants to rectify iOS' performance woes, proving to their customers that iOS updates should never induce digital regret. Perhaps more notably though, iOS 12 doesn't have a single consumer feature that encapsulates this release – like Messages might have been for iOS 10 or the iPad for iOS 11. Instead, iOS 12 is a constellation of enhancements revolving around the overarching theme of time. Apple in 2018 needs more time for whatever the next big step of iOS may be; they want iOS users to understand how much time they're spending on their devices; and they want to help users spend less time managing certain system features. Also, funnily enough, saving time is at the core (and in the very name) of iOS 12's most exciting new feature: Shortcuts.

iOS 12 isn't Apple's Snow Leopard release: its system changes and updated apps wouldn't justify a "No New Features" slide. However, for the first time in years, it feels as if the company is happy to let its foot off the gas a little and listen to users more.

Will the plan work?

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    PCalc 3.8 Adds Support for iOS 12’s Siri Shortcuts, Including Powerful Clipboard Commands

    PCalc, James Thomson's advanced calculator for iPhone and iPad, has been updated this week to version 3.8. I've been testing PCalc 3.8 for the past couple of months on my devices running iOS 12, and it features one of the best implementations of Siri shortcuts I've seen from a third-party developer yet. Even more than the app's excellent widget, shortcuts have enabled me to integrate PCalc features into different aspects of my daily workflow, including conversations with Siri via my HomePods.

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    Compiling and Exporting Chapters for My iOS 12 Review with Drafts 5


    Back in June, I wrote on MacStories that I was evaluating whether Drafts 5 could replace Editorial for my Markdown automation and become the app I use to write my annual iOS review. Putting together these longform pieces involves a lot of writing, editing, and navigating between different sections; the more I can automate these tasks, the more time I can spend doing what actually matters for the review – testing the new version of iOS and ensuring the review is up to my standards.

    Once I started looking into Drafts 5, I realized I could take advantage of its JavaScript automation engine to build a custom action that would compile the latest version of my iOS review draft and back it up to multiple locations as a single Markdown (.md) text file.

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    Text Case for iOS Adds Title Case Text Transformations Based on Popular Style Guides

    Several weeks ago I mentioned Chris Hannah’s recently-released iOS text transformation utility Text Case in the Club MacStories weekly newsletter. The app has a simple, utilitarian design that uses the big, bold header text popularized by Apple apps like News and Music. Version 1.0 included a long list of built-in text transformations. Some, like URL encoding and decoding, are useful, and others, like ‘Mocking SpongeBob,’ are just for fun. By and large though, the transformations in version 1.0 were geared more towards developers than writers. That’s changed with version 1.2 of the app, which should make it appeal to a wider audience.

    The latest update adds Title Case, which can transform headlines according to the style guides for the Associated Press, American Psychology Association, Modern Language Association, or Chicago Manual of Style. The update also adds sentence case and Pascal case.

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    Due 3.0 Adds Pure Black Theme, Custom Snooze Times, and Haptic Feedback

    My task manager is packed with personal and work tasks. I rely on it to keep me on track day-to-day and week-to-week. The reason my task system works though is that it doesn’t include absolutely everything. If I started adding the minute-to-minute minutiae of life, I’d get bogged down in the volume of tasks each day.

    For a while now, I’ve been using Apple’s Reminders app to keep track of one-off tasks, little things I might forget to do, errands, and tasks with deadlines. I’ve found that it’s a great way to stay on top of items that don’t have a home in a formal project. For the past couple of weeks though, I’ve largely replaced Reminders with Due, which was updated to version 3.0 today.

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    Game Day: Donut County

    Tomorrow, Donut County by developer Ben Esposito will be published by Annapurna Interactive, which also backed the critically-acclaimed Florence. The game, which was announced in 2014, but has been in development since 2012, tells the story of a raccoon named BK, his friend Mira and an assortment of other characters from Donut County who are trapped 999 feet beneath the surface of the Earth. You play by manipulating a hole that grows as you move it across the landscape swallowing objects. If the premise sounds strange, that’s because it is, but it also works through a combination of a clever game mechanic, funny writing, and engaging sound design and artwork.

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    Dark Sky Update Consolidates Weather Data in a Single Vertical View

    Dark Sky’s signature feature has always been its uncanny ability to predict when it was about to rain. The app has a reputation for working better in the US than other parts of the world, and in my experience, it’s not as good at predicting snowfall, but its ability to keep users from getting caught off guard by a sudden storm has garnered it a lot of fans.

    Besides an app, Dark Sky is an API that other weather apps use to deliver their data. That means you can experience many of the benefits of Dark Sky by using other weather apps, which is what I’ve done for some time. Dark Sky was once my weather app of choice, but over time, I moved to other apps that used its API and presented weather data in ways I prefer.

    Yesterday, Dark Sky's app was updated with a redesign that addresses many of the shortcomings of earlier versions. The main Forecast view now features a higher density of information and visual cues that make it easier to understand predicted weather changes at a glance. It’s a marked improvement over previous versions of the app, but the new focus on a vertical timeline comes with drawbacks that won’t be to everyone’s taste.

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    FiftyThree Apps Paper and Paste Acquired by WeTransfer Along with Its Other Assets

    FiftyThree, the maker of the iOS apps Paper and Paste, has been acquired by WeTransfer, a file transfer company based in Los Angeles and Amsterdam. Paper, FiftyThree’s iPad drawing app, was named iPad App of The Year in 2012. Paste, which is FiftyThree’s iOS presentation app, allows users to create slides collaboratively.

    In addition to its apps, FiftyThree is well-known for its creation the Pencil, a BlueTooth stylus that debuted before Apple’s identically-named Pencil. Although the Pencil is not mentioned by name in WeTransfer’s press release, the company is acquiring all of FiftyThree’s assets including intellectual property, which presumably covers hardware too.

    WeTransfer provides web and app-based tools for transferring files among its users. In addition to offering a free version of its service, WeTransfer includes a premium paid version of its service and sells ads that appear in its web app. WeTransfer’s CEO Gordon Willoughby stated in the company’s press release that it had acquired FiftyThree to expand its ‘family of obvious creative tools, both on mobile and the web.’

    FiftyThree has sought to reassure customers saying that:

    For the millions using Paper and Paste, we want to assure you that we are dedicated now more than ever to building and growing both tools. This doesn’t change our path, it only accelerates it — the same great team will continue working on both tools. If you’re a paying Paste or Paper customer, nothing is changing around pricing or functionality in the near term, and we’ll keep you well-informed of any upcoming changes that may impact you. We’ve got a few big ideas cooking that we think you’ll be thrilled about.

    I imagine the introduction of Apple’s Pencil took its toll on FiftyThree’s attempt to use hardware to build a sustainable business model. Hopefully, joining forces with WeTranfer will allow Paper and Paste, which are both excellent apps, to continue to be developed long into the future.


    Castro Adds iCloud Drive Sideloading and Chapter Playback Pre-Selection

    Supertop has released another solid update to its podcast player, Castro. In today’s update, Castro adds file sideloading for Plus subscribers, significantly adding to the app’s utility as general purpose audio player. Subscribers can also pre-select the chapters of a podcast they want to play too.

    For plus subscribers, the update adds a ‘Castro’ folder in iCloud Drive. Add an MP3 or AAC file into the ‘Sideloads’ folder, and it shows up in your Castro inbox (or wherever else you designate in settings) ready for playback.

    Adding audio to Castro is equally simple on a Mac or iOS device. On a Mac, open the Finder and drag in the audio files you want to add. On iOS, use the Files app to add files to your Sideloads folder from any file provider like Dropbox, Box, or Google Drive.

    Once added, audio files show up in your Castro Inbox by default where they can be added to your listening queue like any podcast to which you subscribe. Instead of your Inbox, you can also add sideloaded audio to the front or back of your Queue or Castro’s Archive from the app’s settings.

    Sideloading opens up exciting possibilities, especially when combined with other apps. For example, you can add DRM-free audiobooks, audio from lectures or conferences recorded from YouTube or other sources using an app like Audio Hijack, or add downloaded bonus podcast episodes like the AppStories Unplugged episodes that we’ve created for Club MacStories members. Podcasters can also use sideloading as a way to listen to draft episodes before publishing them. With one straightforward feature, Castro has become a far more flexible, general-purpose audio player.

    Overcast has a similar feature for subscribers, but it’s web-based and limited to 2 GB of storage. Overall, I prefer Castro’s implementation, which doesn’t require navigating to a website. Though Overcast’s 2 GB limit hasn’t been an issue for me, the lack of a cap in Castro is a definite advantage for anyone who wants access to lots of sideloaded audio.

    Sideloading a draft episode of AppStories and deselecting chapters for playback.

    Sideloading a draft episode of AppStories and deselecting chapters for playback.

    The second feature added to Castro is what Supertop calls Chapter Pre-Selection. In Castro, if you tap on the current chapter in a podcast episode, it displays a list of all the chapters so you can skip around inside the episode. With today’s update, Castro adds checkboxes to each chapter. By default, all of the chapters are selected. If there are chapters in the list to which you don’t want to listen, tap the checkmark icon to deselect the chapter, and only the selected chapters will play.

    The convenience of selecting chapters in advance is greater than I had imagined. By pre-selecting chapters, I can, for example, head out for a run or walk without having to fiddle with skipping chapters on the go, which means fewer distractions and opportunities to drop my iPhone.

    Supertop continues to regularly update Castro with interesting features. If you haven’t tried Castro in a while, it’s worth another look. The app is free to download on the App Store and you can try the Plus features, including sideloading, free for one week, after which they are $2.99 every three months or $8.99 per year.