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Posts tagged with "macOS"

Getting Started with Shortcuts for Mac and the Stream Deck

The Stream Deck has been a favorite of Mac users who are into automation for a while now, but the device’s utility has grown substantially for a couple of reasons. First, you can use the Stream Deck to run Shortcuts, which expands the device into an entirely new realm of automation.

Second, the Stream Deck opens up new ways to approach all automation on your Mac that aren’t possible with any single Mac app, allowing you to mix and match different kinds of automation in one interface. It’s a powerful combination that unlocks the ability to organize the automation tools you use to fit with the way you think and work.

To get you started, I’m going to cover:

  • What the Stream Deck is and how it works
  • The many ways to run your Shortcuts from the device
  • Approaches for organizing your shortcuts and other automations with the Stream Deck
  • An alternative to the Stream Deck

Let’s dig in.

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macOS Monterey: The MacStories Review

OSes are never truly finished. macOS has been continuously evolving for decades, and it would be foolhardy to declare it ‘finished’ in any sense of the word. It’s not.

However, when you step back and look at macOS over time, trends and storylines emerge from the feature list minutiae of each release. For the past few years, no narrative thread has been more important to the Mac and its operating system than their realignment within Apple’s product lineup. It’s a fundamental transformation of both hardware and software that has taken shape over years, beginning publicly with Craig Federighi’s WWDC Sneak Peek in 2018.

The story begins with a Sneak Peek at the end of a WWDC keynote in 2018.

The story begins with a Sneak Peek at the end of a WWDC keynote in 2018.

A parallel story has been playing out with the iPad’s hardware and OS. The iPad’s trajectory has been different than the Mac’s, but today, we find ourselves with two distinct but more closely aligned platforms than ever before. To get there, the iPad has grown into a powerful, modular computer, while the latest Macs now run on the same processor architecture as the iPad Pro and no longer work differently in places just because that’s the way it’s always been.

The journey hasn’t always been easy, especially in the wake of questions about Apple’s commitment to the Mac. The company took those concerns head-on in an unusual meeting with a handful of tech writers in 2017. Still, it was only natural for users to question whether the direction macOS was heading was the correct one.

It didn’t help that those first Catalyst apps that were part of the 2018 Sneak Peek – Home, News, Stocks, and Voice Memos – were rough around the edges and a departure from long-held beliefs about what constitutes a great Mac app. The Mac’s apps had historically been held out as a shining example of the kind of user experiences and designs to which developers who cared about their apps could aspire. Unfortunately, many early Mac Catalyst apps weren’t very inspiring.

The realignment has been rocky for iPad users, too, especially for iPad Pro uses. The Pro’s hardware has been infrequently updated, and the performance of the Apple silicon processors they’ve run on has outpaced what the apps on the platform can do.

Users’ fears have also been fueled by Apple’s institutional secrecy and the multi-year scope of the company’s undertaking. Early communications about Mac Catalyst and SwiftUI left developers and observers confused about the role of each. The situation is more clear today, but at the same time, the question of how to approach building a Mac app is best answered with ‘it depends.’ That isn’t a very satisfying answer. Nor does it help that despite the added clarity, technologies like SwiftUI still have a long way to go to reach their full potential.

Catalina was full of promise, but the road ahead was unclear.

Catalina was full of promise, but the road ahead was unclear.

Yet despite the bumps along the road, macOS has made great strides since that 2018 Sneak Peek. With Catalina, we saw the first steps down a path that pointed the Mac in a new direction. Although sometimes messy, the promise of Catalina was exciting because, as I concluded in that review:

There’s no greater threat to the Mac than resistance to change that exists not because the change is worse, but because it’s different.

Catalina was a counter-strike against the sort of inertia that would have doomed macOS eventually, even though at the time, it was more a promise than a destination.

Big Sur's design changes brought the direction of macOS into sharper focus.

Big Sur’s design changes brought the direction of macOS into sharper focus.

Big Sur picked up where Catalina left off, adjusting course and clarifying where macOS was heading. The update continued the harmonization of user experiences across Apple’s entire lineup, creating a more natural continuum among the company’s products through new design language and updated system apps without abandoning what makes the Mac unique. I don’t mean to suggest that Catalina or Big Sur were unmitigated successes. They weren’t, and some of the missteps of those releases have yet to be addressed, but there was no mistaking where macOS was headed after the release of Big Sur.

Monterey harmonizes system app updates across all of Apple's platforms.

Monterey harmonizes system app updates across all of Apple’s platforms.

Monterey’s focus is all about system apps, a topic near and dear to me. With the technical building blocks in place and a refined design out of the way, Monterey is one of the most tangible, user-facing payoffs of the past three years of transition. More than ever before, Apple is advancing system apps across all of its platforms at the same time. Finally, everything is everywhere.

However, as much as it pleases me to see the groundwork laid in years past pay dividends in the form of new features being rolled out simultaneously on all platforms, Monterey’s payoff isn’t an unqualified success. Every OS release has its rough spots, but this year, Shortcuts is especially rough. As optimistic and excited as I remain for Shortcuts to be the future of automation on the Mac, it’s too frustrating to use at launch. That’s not to say I haven’t enjoyed any upside using Shortcuts on my Mac, and it has improved over the course of the beta period, but it still gets in my way more often than it should.

Alright, that’s enough looking back. Let’s dig in and see where things work, where they don’t, and what lies ahead when you install macOS Monterey.

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Mela: An Elegant and Innovative Recipe and Cooking App for iPhone, iPad, and Mac

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.

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Apple Maps for iOS and iPadOS 15 and macOS Monterey: The MacStories Overview

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.

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Things Adds Extensive Markdown Support and Search for Extended Notes Attached to Tasks

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.

If you write in Markdown, Things is fully capable for a drafting a story like this one.

If you write in Markdown, Things is fully capable for a drafting a story like this one.

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.

Bulleted lists are easy to reorganize in Things.

Bulleted lists are easy to reorganize in Things.

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.

Things is is sold separately for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac for $9.99, $19.99, and $49.99 respectively.


Doppler for Mac Offers an Excellent Album and Artist-Focused Listening Experience for Your Owned Music Collection

I haven’t purchased much music in the past six years or so, but there was a time when it was a big part of my entertainment spending. I still have a huge collection of albums ripped from CDs I bought and later purchased online from the iTunes Store. That changed with the advent of streaming services like Spotify, Rdio, Beats Music, and later Apple Music. I still have those files frozen in time on the 2015 Mac mini I use as a Plex server. So, when Ed Wellbrook told me he was bringing Doppler, his excellent iPhone music player to the Mac, I figured it was time to dust of my old music collection and give it a try.

Doppler, which we’ve covered before here and in MacStories Weekly, including, most recently, Issues 252, 261, and 275, is a music player for people who buy their music. Apple’s Music app continues to maintain backward compatibility for users who own their music libraries, but Apple’s focus these days is squarely on streaming, not purchasing. That’s left apps like Doppler to fill the void offering features like the ability to add new music to your library from an iPhone, something that isn’t possible with Apple Music.

The minute you try Doppler, you can tell it’s made by someone who cares deeply about music and the experience of listening to it. The interface puts albums and artists front and center, focusing on album art and simple, intuitive controls to make listening to music on-the-go a pleasure.

Wellbrook has brought the same sensibility to a native Mac version of the app, which was released today. Doppler for Mac is a lot like what I’d imagine Apple’s Music app would be like if Music were split into separate apps for streaming and owned music. That’s not likely to ever happen, but fortunately, Doppler has you covered if you own your music.

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Transloader 3: A Simple, Versatile Way to Remotely Manage Mac File Downloads from an iPhone or iPad

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.

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Apple Announces Find My Network and Three Initial Accessory Maker Partners

Today, Apple updated the Find My app to allow third-party products to take advantage of its network of devices to locate lost and stolen belongings from the app’s new Items tab. According to Apple’s press release:

“For more than a decade, our customers have relied on Find My to locate their missing or stolen Apple devices, all while protecting their privacy,” said Bob Borchers, Apple’s vice president of Worldwide Product Marketing. “Now we’re bringing the powerful finding capabilities of Find My, one of our most popular services, to more people with the Find My network accessory program. We’re thrilled to see how Belkin, Chipolo, and VanMoof are utilizing this technology, and can’t wait to see what other partners create.”

The Find My network program, which is part of Apple’s Made For iPhone program, allows accessory makers to hook into Apple’s Find My network to locate belongings securely and privately. Apple also said it is publishing a draft specification for chipset makers later this spring, so they can take advantage of the precise, directional capabilities of Apple’s short-range U1 chip.

Apple announced three initial partners who are incorporating Find My into their products. VanMoof is integrating the feature into its S3 and X3 e-bikes, Belkin is including it in its SOUNDFORM Freedom True Wireless Earbuds, and Chipolo is using Find My in its ONE Spot item finder. Find My’s integrations with these third-party products will work just like it does with Apple devices allowing users to do things like play a sound, locate items on a map, and put them in Lost Mode to lock them. Apple says all three partners’ products will be available next week, with more partnerships to rolling out soon.


The Case for Shortcuts on the Mac

Jason Snell writing on Six Colors:

The more I use Shortcuts, the more I realize that in many ways, user automation on iOS has outpaced automation on the Mac. Let me give you an example: On iOS I built a shortcut to grab the contents of selected text in Safari and open the results in a text editor—converted to Markdown, with the title of the page set as the title and its URL set as a link. It’s not remotely the most complicated shortcut I’ve built, but it’s great—and has saved me a lot of time while improving the quality of my link posts…

I love it so much, I decided to build the same automation on the Mac. The results were ugly. My Keyboard Maestro macro forces Safari to copy the selected text to the clipboard, moves to BBEdit, opens a new window, pastes in the HTML, runs an HTML to Markdown Service on the selection, then runs an AppleScript script that cleans up the results. It’s ridiculous.

This is a fantastic example of something that I’ve experienced over and over to the point where I hesitate before trying to automate anything on the Mac. As Jason points out, Shortcuts isn’t exactly easy, but I find that I usually spend the most time figuring out the best approach to a problem rather than how to implement it in Shortcuts, which is automation at its best. It’s a self-reinforcing cycle that encourages me to experiment more with Shortcuts and use Mac automation less.

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