It's been a busy 2018 so far for Cultured Code, makers of Things for Mac and iOS. Earlier this year, the company shipped Things 3.4, which, thanks to app integrations and a toolkit for third-party developers, propelled the task manager into the elite of automation-capable apps on iOS. It doesn't happen very often that a task manager becomes so flexible it lets you build your own natural language interpreter; Things 3.4 made it possible without having to be a programmer by trade.
Today, Cultured Code is launching Things 3.5, a mid-cycle update that refines several aspects of the app and prepares its foundation for other major upgrades down the road. There isn't a single all-encompassing change in Things 3.5 – nor is this version going to convince users to switch to Things like, say, version 3.4 or 3.0 might have. However, Things 3.5 is a collection of smaller yet welcome improvements that are worth outlining because they all contribute to making Things more powerful, intuitive, and consistent with its macOS counterpart.
In a recent episode of Connected, we rounded up some of our favorite "iOS little wonders" and Myke was surprised by one of my picks: the ability to launch individual notes on iOS through shared links. The ensuing discussion inspired me to assemble a list of tips and tricks to improve how you can work on an iPad with iOS 11.
Even though I covered or mentioned some of these suggestions in my iOS 11 review or podcast segments before, I realized that it would useful to explain them in detail again for those who missed them. From keyboard recommendations and shortcuts to gestures and Siri, I've tried to remember all the little tricks I use to get work done on my iPad Pro on a daily basis.
After several years of being iPad-only for the majority of my work, I often take some of these features for granted. And admittedly, Apple doesn't always do a great job at teaching users about these lesser known details, which have become especially important after the productivity-focused iPad update in iOS 11. I hope this collection can be useful for those who haven't yet explored the fascinating world of iPad productivity.
Let's dig in.
David Sparks has a knack for breaking down big topics and making them approachable with his series of MacSparky Field Guides. His latest book, the iPhone Field Guide, covers everything iPhone-related. The guide is Sparks’ most ambitious work yet, coming in at 450 pages with over 50 screencasts.
The raw numbers are only part of the story though. New iPhone owners will appreciate Sparks’ coverage of the basics and Apple’s stock apps, but there’s a lot here for more experienced iPhone users too. The book is full of short tutorials and app recommendations to help all users get more out of their iPhones. I especially like that many of the screencasts focus on third-party apps, which is a great way for readers to get a feel for them before deciding to download.
The iPhone Field Guide is a fantastic reference that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to anyone who wants to take their iPhone and iOS use to the next level. Skimming through the book, I found many MacStories favorites among the apps covered, and having them all available in a beautifully-designed, interactive iBook makes picking out new apps a pleasure.
The MacSparky iPhone Field Guide is available on the iBooks Store for an introductory price of $19.99, which will increase at a later date.
One of Workflow's least known functionalities is its ability to get details about the hardware it's running on and control some system features. Among these, Workflow can both retrieve an iOS device's current volume level and set the volume. A few days ago, I realized I could make a workflow to quickly adjust my iPhone's volume when streaming music to one of our HomePods. Unlike other automations I've crafted over the years, this workflow was quite a success in our household and I felt like it was worth sharing with the wider MacStories audience.
Next Tuesday, Apple will take the stage at Lane Tech College Prep High School in Chicago to announce ‘creative new ideas for teachers and students.’ As any Apple event approaches, it’s natural to speculate about what products might be announced. After all, that’s what usually happens at an Apple event.
However, there’s a forest getting lost for the trees in all the talk about new hardware and apps. Sure, those will be part of the reveal, but Apple has already signaled that this event is different by telling the world it’s about education and holding it in Chicago. It’s part of a broader narrative that’s seen a shift in Apple’s education strategy that can be traced back to WWDC 2016. Consequently, to understand where Apple may be headed in the education market, it’s necessary to look to the past.
Apple has updated the iOS Apple Store app to version 5.0 with a new Sessions tab and improved personalization.
In the center of the tab bar, the new Sessions tab highlights upcoming Today at Apple programs. The tab is broken into Spotlight, Upcoming, Recommended Sessions, and Signature Programs sections. At the very bottom of the page, you can also browse sessions by category.
Recommended sessions are based on the Apple products you owned and perhaps also previous sessions you’ve attended. For example, in my case, the app recommended a Swift Playgrounds session either because my son attended a similar class in December or because I own an iPad Pro and ‘How To: Run a Connected Business’ because I have a Mac mini. The sessions listed were located all over the Chicago area, which I like, except that it made it harder to find sessions at the Apple Store closest to my home.
The app also uses its history of your Apple devices to let you know if accessories you purchase are compatible with the hardware you already own. I like this feature a lot because it spares me the trouble of investigating compatibility myself, and presumably will spare Apple from some returns by customers.
In the Discover tab of the app, your product history is used to provide personalized product recommendations. The tab also includes reminders of items you’ve marked as favorites, suggesting you take another look at them, and adds new ways to manage your orders.
In my limited time with the update, I’ve been impressed with the recommendations and greater personalization. Apple Stores are almost always packed with people near my home, so an improved Apple Store app experience is always welcome.
The Apple Store app is available as a free download on the App Store.
Every year soon after WWDC, I install the beta of the upcoming version of iOS on my devices and embark on an experiment: I try to use Apple's stock apps and services as much as possible for three months, then evaluate which ones have to be replaced with third-party alternatives after September. My reasoning for going through these repetitive stages on an annual basis is simple: to me, it's the only way to build the first-hand knowledge necessary for my iOS reviews.
I also spent the past couple of years testing and switching back and forth between non-Apple hardware and services. I think every Apple-focused writer should try to expose themselves to different tech products to avoid the perilous traps of preconceptions. Plus, besides the research-driven nature of my experiments, I often preferred third-party offerings to Apple's as I felt like they provided me with something Apple was not delivering.
Since the end of last year, however, I've been witnessing a gradual shift that made me realize my relationship with Apple's hardware and software has changed. I've progressively gotten deeper in the Apple ecosystem and I don't feel like I'm being underserved by some aspects of it anymore.
Probably for the first time since I started MacStories nine years ago, I feel comfortable using Apple's services and hardware extensively not because I've given up on searching for third-party products, but because I've tried them all. And ultimately, none of them made me happier with my tech habits. It took me years of experiments (and a lot of money spent on gadgets and subscriptions) to notice how, for a variety of reasons, I found a healthy tech balance by consciously deciding to embrace the Apple ecosystem.
Just before the annual Game Developers Conference began in San Francisco, Epic Games released its hit game Fortnite on iOS. In the first four days as an invitation-only game, it made over $1.5 million. As the conference got into full swing this week, PUBG was released. Both games are full versions of their PC and console counterparts and support cross-platform play, which is an impressive accomplishment.
Matthew Panzarino of TechCrunch interviewed Apple Vice President Greg Joswiak about the ramifications for mobile gaming:
“They’re bringing the current generation of console games to iOS,” Joswiak says, of launches like Fortnite and PUBG and notes that he believes we’re at a tipping point when it comes to mobile gaming, because mobile platforms like the iPhone and iOS offer completely unique combinations of hardware and software features that are iterated on quickly.
“Every year we are able to amp up the tech that we bring to developers,” he says, comparing it to the 4-5 year cycle in console gaming hardware. “Before the industry knew it, we were blowing people away [with the tech]. The full gameplay of these titles has woken a lot of people up.”
Ryan Cash of Snowman, part of the team that recently released Alto’s Odyssey agreed:
“We have a few die-hard Fortnite players on the team, and the mobile version has them extremely excited,” says Cash. “I think more than the completeness of these games (which is in of itself a technical feat worth celebrating!), things like Epic’s dedication to cross-platform play are massive. Creating these linked ecosystems where players who prefer gaming on their iPhones can enjoy huge cultural touchstone titles like Fortnite alongside console players is massive. That brings us one step closer to an industry attitude which focuses more on accessibility, and less on siloing off experiences and separating them into tiers of perceived quality.”
There’s a lot to like about iOS if you’re a game developer. The hardware is iterated on faster than consoles, a high percentage of users are on the latest version of the operating system, the device is always with players, and the install base is enormous. Those are all factors that have led iOS devices to succeed as gaming platforms, even though it sometimes feels as if Apple doesn’t quite understand the industry. The fact that Greg Joswiak comprehends the importance of full console games coming to iOS gives me a little hope that we may see better support for games on platforms like the Apple TV in the future.
For more from Ryan Cash about the state of gaming on iOS and a look behind the scenes at the making of Alto’s Odyssey, check out Episode 45 of AppStories.
Apple has introduced a new webpage that highlights the tools it makes for parents to limit kids’ use of the company’s devices, keep them safe, and make sure they are viewing appropriate content. The page provides an overview of:
- The Kids section of the App Store
- The App Store’s Ask to Buy feature, which requires children to get an adult’s permission to download apps
- Restrictions that allow parents to block In-App Purchases and viewing of certain media
- Settings that block adult content or limit browsing to certain sites on the Internet
- Location Services, including Find My Friends and Find My iPhone
- Media sharing
- Health and Safety Features, including the Emergency SOS and Medical ID features of the iPhone
- The Apple Watch’s fitness features
- Privacy features like Face ID and Touch ID
- The Classroom app
Each section links to additional resources on Apple’s website.
Apple was recently criticized by certain institutional shareholders in advance of its annual shareholders’ meeting for doing too little to help parents protect children that use their devices. The company responded swiftly with a statement:
“We think deeply about how our products are used and the impact they have on users and the people around them,” Apple said in the statement. “We take this responsibility very seriously and we are committed to meeting and exceeding our customers’ expectations, especially when it comes to protecting kids.”
Apple’s new Families webpage doesn’t include any new features. Instead, it’s a useful one-stop resource for parents looking for guidance about the tools already at their disposal. Apple has said, however, that additional features and enhancements to parental controls in the works.