Posts tagged with "macOS"

macOS Big Sur: Widget Roundup

Developer adoption of new macOS features is often a little slower than it is on iOS and iPadOS. However, that hasn’t been the case with Big Sur widgets. Apple wisely took the same SwiftUI-based system used for creating widgets on the iPhone and iPad and implemented it on the Mac, providing a relatively simple approach for developers to bring their existing widgets to the Mac. The result has been an immediate explosion of widget options for Mac users.

Over the course of the summer and fall, I tried several different widgets as I ran the Big Sur betas. A few of those widgets — which have been in development the longest and were highlighted in my Big Sur review — remain some of my favorites and are recapped below. However, many more terrific widgets have been released since and deserve consideration as well, so let’s dig in.

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macOS Big Sur: The MacStories Review

Big Sur is a big deal. The OS picks up where Catalina left off, further rationalizing Apple’s product lineup through design, new ways to bring apps to the Mac, and updates to existing system apps. The approach realigns functionality across Apple’s platforms after years of divergence from their common foundation: Mac OS X. The result is an OS that walks a perilous line between breaking with the past and honoring it, acknowledging the ways computing has changed while aiming for a bold future.

macOS, which OS X has been called since 2016, is a mature operating system, so more often than not its annual updates are incremental affairs that don’t turn many heads. Big Sur is different. It’s an update that promises a future that’s connected to its past yet acknowledges today’s mobile-first computing landscape and harmonizing user experiences across devices.

Big Sur also clarifies Apple’s Mac strategy, the contours of which began to emerge with Catalina. It’s a vision of a continuum of computing devices that offer a consistent, familiar environment no matter which you choose while remaining true to what makes them unique. In practical terms, that means a carefully coordinated design language and a greater emphasis on feature parity across OSes. Conceptually, it’s also an opportunity for macOS to shed the perception that it’s a legacy OS overshadowed by iOS and reclaim a meaningful place in Apple’s lineup for years to come.

Together, the changes to macOS set the table for Apple’s M1 Macs, the next big step in the Mac’s modernization, and easily earn Big Sur its designation of version 11.0.

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Craft Review: A Powerful, Native Notes and Collaboration App

Note-taking apps on Apple platforms have never been in a better place. Apple Notes is a fantastic built-in option with deep system integrations. Bear offers an elegant Markdown experience and powerful note linking features. Agenda takes a unique date-based approach to note-taking. Evernote just launched its long-in-the-works redesign, and Noto provides a great mix of style and substance. There are quality Pencil-based note-takers like Notability and GoodNotes. And certain web-based tools like Notion are starting to put a higher priority on their app experience.

But for all the excellent options already out there, it can never hurt to have another. Especially when that new option is as well done as Craft.

Craft is launching today across iPhone, iPad, and Mac as a new note-taker that blends the block-based approach of Notion with a thoroughly native experience, taking advantage of all the OS technologies you would hope for and throwing in valuable features like real-time collaboration. It’s the most exciting note-taking debut I’ve seen in years.

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Mac Catalyst 2.0: Doubling Down on the Alignment of the Mac and iPad

WWDC 2020 brought Mac Catalyst into sharper focus than ever before. Introduced as an unnamed ‘sneak peek’ in 2018, Mac Catalyst offered the promise of a simple and efficient way for iPad developers to bring their apps to 100 million Mac users. The reality was that it can be hard to transition an app from an iPad to a Mac, and the results weren’t always great.

The trouble was the result of a confluence of multiple factors, including:

  • The first iteration of Mac Catalyst used iPad design conventions in places that felt out of place on the Mac
  • There was too little documentation
  • Excitement surrounding SwiftUI left developers wondering whether Apple was committed to Mac Catalyst

WWDC 2020 was different. Apple introduced what was effectively Mac Catalyst 2.0 with its Optimized for Mac initiative, a separate Mac Catalyst path that follows Mac conventions more closely but requires more work. The company also built Messages and Maps, two of its flagship apps, using Mac Catalyst, demonstrating a deeper commitment to the technology than ever before. The result is a brighter future for Mac Catalyst that clearly has a role to play alongside SwiftUI and Apple’s other frameworks.

To understand where Mac Catalyst is heading, though, we first need to understand where it has been over the past two years.

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Podcasting on iPad Pro and Mac: A Streamlined Approach with the Sound Devices MixPre-3 II

Anyone new to a job has probably thought or even asked:

“Why do you do it that way?”

and gotten the age-old answer:

“Because that’s how we’ve always done it.”

It’s human nature to stick with a solution that works and is familiar. When a workflow is so ingrained that it’s a habit, that’s good because it allows the task to become less about the tools and more about what you’re creating.

Paradoxically, though, familiarity can also lead to inflexibility, a resistance to change that undermines the very productivity that the solution enabled in the first place. It’s an inertial force that’s hard to resist, but I think it’s important to push back against it. Not solely for the sake of efficiency, but also to improve the results of your efforts.

The trick is knowing when experimentation with new workflows is unproductive fiddling and when it’s meaningful exploration. I’ve seen too many people fall into the trap where improving the process becomes the goal itself.

Early last year, I decided I was finished with letting tasks dictate how I work. I work across the Mac, an iPad Pro, and an iPhone all day long. Some jobs are more suited to one device than another, and some I just prefer to do on a particular device. The point is, though, that it’s something I want to be my choice, instead of something foisted on me by the nature of the work itself.

I’m fortunate that most of what I do migrates effortlessly from one device to another. Still, I’ve historically had two weekly responsibilities where I’ve felt tied to a Mac.

The first was producing the Club MacStories newsletters using Mailchimp’s web app. As I wrote last January, Safari’s updates in iOS and iPadOS 13, which made web apps work roughly the same on my iPad Pro as on my Mac, solved that problem for me.

The second Mac-bound task was podcast recording and production. I recognize that there have been ways to accomplish podcasting on an iPad for a while. However, when it comes to recording in particular, I didn’t want to change the way I record episodes to work around the iPad’s limitations for the same reasons Federico articulated in Beyond the Tablet.

What made these two tasks frustrating is that they’re both tied to schedules that have limited flexibility. When I was traveling more, that left me with little choice but to take a Mac. I prefer to travel with my iPad Pro, but regardless, I’d rather pick how I work myself, even when I’m at home.

I’m not doing as much traveling now, but a recent road trip to Michigan led me to start thinking about my podcasting setup again. As with many trips in the past, I wound up taking my MacBook Pro along, in this case so I could record interviews for an episode of AppStories. The setup was perfectly fine, but it felt like too much equipment for recording a few short interviews. Plus, I took my iPad Pro because I prefer it for writing and wanted to stay connected to mobile data as I wrote a story in the car.

Ever since Jason Snell wrote about his iPad Pro podcasting setup on Six Colors early last year, and Federico adapted it for his setup when he can’t use his Mac mini, I’ve wanted to try something similar. What held me back, though, was a combination of the complexity, cost, and infrequency with which I assumed I’d use the setup.

I also held out hope that iPadOS 13 or 14 would include improved audio routing that would make it possible to talk on Skype and record a local audio track. That hasn’t happened. Although I expect Apple will add that functionality eventually, it’s been 18 months since Safari solved my Mailchimp problem. With only podcasting standing in the way of my goal of device independence, and no software solution from Apple in the early iPadOS 14 betas, I figured it was time to revisit my hardware options.

I wanted a solution that worked equally well when I’m sitting at my Mac or iPad, allowing me to talk over Skype and record myself locally. What I discovered was an incredibly versatile solution that accomplishes in a single device what Snell and Federico cleverly constructed from a field recorder and USB audio interface: the Sound Devices MixPre-3 II.

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Michael Flarup on Big Sur’s New Design

In the years since iOS 7 ushered in flat, minimalistic design, Michael Flarup has consistently pushed back, insisting that the trend had gone too far and there was still room for fun and expression in design. With the redesign of macOS 11 Big Sur, Apple surprised the design world by introducing a design that harmonizes macOS with the company’s other OSes, while providing room for expressiveness.

As Flarup explains:

Materials and dimensionality has made its way back into the interface —and every single app icon for every application and utility that Apple ships with macOS has been redesigned with depth, textures and lighting. This is a big deal. Probably bigger than what most people realise.

The post is a fantastic overview of where design stands on Apple’s platforms today and the influence that the company’s choices have on the design community. Whether intended or not, the unexpected design shift on macOS is one that Flarup expects to see radiate out to affect the design of iOS and iPadOS too:

With this approach Apple is legalising a visual design expressiveness that we haven’t seen from them in almost a decade. It’s like a ban has been lifted on fun. This will severely loosen the grip of minimalistic visual design and raise the bar for pixel pushers everywhere. Your glyph on a colored background is about to get some serious visual competition.

It’s interesting to consider where this new direction will lead. Big Sur’s iconography is part of a broad redesign on macOS that runs far deeper than the design changes made to iOS or iPadOS this year. Whether those platforms will follow the Mac’s lead in the future or take their own paths is something I expect to see debated a lot in the months to come. However it plays out, though, I’m glad to see the Mac retain character in its design as it heads into what promises to be a new era for the Mac.

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The Case for Low Power Mode on the Mac

Marco Arment on marco.org, outlining his self-created Low Power Mode-like system which relies on a third-party app, and making the case for Apple to add something similar as an official macOS feature:

The vast majority of the time I’m using it, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is a much better laptop with Turbo Boost disabled.

It’s still fast enough to do everything I need (including significant development with Xcode), while remaining silent and cool, with incredible battery life.

But soon, I bet I won’t be able to do this anymore.

Turbo Boost Switcher Pro relies on a kernel extension that’s grandfathered into Apple’s latest security requirements, but it can never be updated — and when macOS Catalina loads it for the first time, it warns that it’ll be “incompatible with a future version of macOS.” I suspect that this is the last year I’ll get to run the latest OS and be able to turn off Turbo Boost at will, making all of my future laptop usage significantly worse.

Low Power Mode is one of many useful features that iOS has had for years but that Mac users have been forced to live without. The feature’s popularity on iOS makes it a no-brainer addition for portable Macs, where battery life is already worse than what’s found in the iPhone and iPad.

Update: Former MacStories contributor TJ Luoma helpfully pointed out something that genuinely surprised me: Low Power Mode isn’t on the iPad either. Here’s hoping Apple brings it not only to the Mac, but the iPad as well.

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Front and Center, a Mac Utility from John Siracusa and Lee Fyock

John Siracusa writes on Hypercritical about the new Mac utility he just released in partnership with Lee Fyock. Following the release of macOS Catalina and its lack of support for 32-bit apps, such as DragThing, Siracusa needed a new solution for restoring a classic Mac OS behavior that he didn’t want to lose.

In classic, when you click on a window that belongs to an application that’s not currently active, all the windows that belong to that application come to the front. In Mac OS X (and macOS), only the window that you clicked comes to the front.
[…]
I tried to get used to it, but I could not.

Front and Center is the name of Siracusa and Fyock’s creation. It’s a tiny app that re-enables the classic behavior mentioned above, while also providing the option of using shift-click to engage the modern default of selecting the clicked window only. With Front and Center, long-time Mac users can have both the classic Mac OS behavior they enjoy, and the benefits of macOS’ modern approach, all at once.

Front and Center is available on the Mac App Store for $2.99.

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Triode: Internet Radio from The Iconfactory with AirPlay 2, Apple Music Integration, and CarPlay

Triode is a new Internet radio app from The Iconfactory for iOS and iPadOS, the Mac, and Apple TV that fills a niche all but abandoned by Apple. Internet radio stations used to claim a more prominent place in iTunes, but in Apple’s new Music app, they have been mostly abandoned in favor of Apple’s own radio stations. A handful of third-party broadcast stations are available in Music, the HomePod can play many more stations, and you can open any station’s stream on a Mac if you know the URL, but that’s it. Triode fills the gap with support for iOS, iPadOS, the Mac, and tvOS, plus CarPlay via the app’s iOS app.

As someone who hasn’t listened to the radio in years, I was a little skeptical of the utility of an Internet radio app at first, but Triode immediately won me over. The app is beautifully-designed, as you’d expect from The Iconfactory, and easy to use. Coupled with Apple’s latest technologies and a set of 31 hand-picked stations, the combination makes for a compelling way to discover new music.

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