¶ Making a Compelling Apple TV Update

I love my Apple TV HD. It is effectively the core interface for my TV, since I don’t use any of the “smart TV” features. In fact, I rarely use the TV’s own remote. When I pick up the Apple TV remote and press a button, the TV turns on. When I put the Apple TV to sleep, the TV turns off. And I have the Apple TV remote’s volume switch tied to my soundbar. It’s really fantastic, and I’ve gotten a lot of value from my Apple TV over the years.

I love that my Apple TV has been going strong for years, and shows no sign of reaching obsolescence. Apple doesn’t release new models very often. The most recent advancement to the Apple TV hardware was the Apple TV 4K. I’m sure that’s great for today’s 4K screens. Aside from being able to display 4K video, the newer hardware also supports Dolby Atmos for sound. As an avid Apple TV user with a 1080p TV, there is nothing that compels me to move to the newer Apple TV 4K. And that’s fine. The lower priced (though still expensive at $149) HD version suits my needs perfectly.

But I have been thinking about what could be done to move the Apple TV hardware forward. The rumor mill paints a pretty lackluster picture of a chip update, presumably to drive gaming with the upcoming Apple Arcade service. That’s cool and all, but what could be done to make Apple TV…well, more worthy of its price tag?

Last night I was perusing The Verge, and I saw two closely related articles: First, the Roku Smart Soundbar which combines a 4K Roku set-top box with a nice looking soundbar, and; second, Anker is making an nearly identical product, but equipped with Amazon’s Fire TV.

This sounds like (pun not intended) exactly what Apple should do for a future Apple TV. Create a soundbar that looks stunning with a TV, taking what they have learned about sound from the HomePod, building in the Apple TV hardware and tvOS, and letting that deliver a rich on-screen and audio experience. Maybe it could pair with a HomePod or two to bring true surround sound.

An Apple TV soundbar would make a compelling device able to push Apple Music and the upcoming Apple TV+ and Apple Arcade services.

Hey, Apple – The Activity App Needs Rest Days Like Right Now

My friend Gedeon Maheux wrote yesterday about how he would love for Apple’s Activity app to start offering rest days as part of its goal for helping users becoming more healthy over time.

Contrary to what the folks on Apple’s Activity team may tell you, this isn’t actually healthy. It’s important to give your body (and mind) a break to recover and rebuild every now and then. Which is why iOS desperately needs to build in the concept of rest days into its Activity app.

Let’s just set aside the fact that the Activity app doesn’t even allow you to keep your streaks alive if you become sick or injured. That’s bad enough. But not to be able to give myself a much-needed break after many months of filling my rings is a poor decision on Apple’s part. I had really hoped iOS 13 would introduce Rest Days or Rain Checks or something that would allow us to take a day or two off a month and keep streaks alive, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The concept is simple – For every perfect month of activity award I complete, give me one rest day that I can use at any time to take an activity break and recuperate. Over time they would accrue like vacation days and I could even apply them for actual vacations so I don’t have to worry about filling my rings when I’m laying on the beach or waiting in line at Disney World.

I couldn’t agree more. One of the Activity awards I am most proud of achieving is my Longest Move Streak, which I let lapse at 1,000 consecutive days on December 31, 2018. I ended it for several reasons, and one of the biggest ones was ending the streak on my terms, and not losing it due to a sick day. You’ll enjoy the irony here: on January 2nd, 2019, I got the flu and was so weak I barely moved, aside from the frequent trips to the restroom to throw up.

So yeah, if I hadn’t ended my streak on my terms, just two days later I would have had it ended anyway.

A system for rest days would have saved my bacon if I had continued my streak. In fact, another streak I have maintained was saved by the app’s inclusion of rest days. I currently have 1,397 day streak going in Pedometer++. The system “Underscore” David Smith created for Pedometer++ (and Activity++) for rest days is well-balanced, and useful. From the settings screen of Pedometer++:

When enabled, activity streaks will not be broken by a single day missed after six consecutive days of reaching your goal.

I like this system. You have to earn the rest day, but it isn’t an arduous amount to earn it. You could conceivably take one day off each week and maintain a streak. It’s really similar to the idea of a Sabbath — a day of rest. And, of course, you don’t have to use it. But it doesn’t carry over and stack up, as Ged wants for vacations.

Either way, rest days are important for everyone, and sorely needed in Apple’s approach to healthy living in the Activity app. While I still try to complete my Move ring every day, I don’t sweat it if I just need a rest from it now that I’ve sealed away my Longest Move Streak at 1,000 days. For those still striving to keep that streak going, I hope Apple gives them a break with rest days in a future update.

Apple Launches Independent Repair Provider Program

If you live near an Apple Retail Store or an Apple Authorized Service Provider — such as every Best Buy in the US — you can typically get an Apple device repaired by trained technicians with genuine parts that won’t void your warranty.

But if you don’t live near either of those, you’ve had to rely on either mailing your device off to Apple or taking it to a local place that may or may not be using sketchy parts or practices.

Well, that all changes today with Apple’s launch of its new Independent Repair Provider Program. Apple Newsroom:

Apple will provide more independent repair businesses — large or small — with the same genuine parts, tools, training, repair manuals and diagnostics as its Apple Authorized Service Providers (AASPs). The program is launching in the US with plans to expand to other countries.

This is great news. Now those cellphone repair outfits or local computer repair shops can have access to the same training, equipment, tools, guides, and more as Apple and its authorized providers use. This means that end users like you and me can have a little more trust if needing to have a device repaired.

Another great tidbit is the barrier to entry for independent providers is pretty low.

There is no cost to join Apple’s independent repair program. To qualify for the new program, businesses need to have an Apple-certified technician who can perform the repairs. The process for certification is simple and free of charge. To learn more and apply, visit support.apple.com/irp-program. Qualifying repair businesses will receive Apple-genuine parts, tools, training, repair manuals and diagnostics at the same cost as AASPs.

Now, instead of advising friends and family to only seek repairs from a small list of places, I can check and see if a shop has this certification and access, and feel better about recommending them.

I’ve had friends take their device to independent shops and I have definitely seen some sketchy repairs — such as a Touch ID/Home button that doesn’t feel quite right, making me think it is a knock-off part. And since that is a part that is supposed to be part of the security of the device, it left me with a bad feeling.

I’m very glad Apple has launched this program, and I hope independent repair shops take it seriously and join the program.

¶ Twitterrific 6 for iOS Tailors Twitter Your Way

When my friends at The Iconfactory said that Twitterrific 5 on iOS was released 6 years ago and has had 86 free updates, I almost didn’t believe them. There’s simply no way Twitterrific 5 is 6 years old. Looking back at my own review confirmed its vintage.

Let’s put this in perspective. 6 years ago this site had a different name and domain, iOS 7’s new design language hadn't yet been revealed, and iPhones still had tiny screens.

Twitterrific has seen a lot of changes in that time. The design was completely overhauled for iOS 7 and tweaked frequently to stay fresh, features have ebbed and flowed as Twitter has given and taken away, and like a Phoenix from the ashes Twitterrific made its triumphant return to the Mac.

Today is the next perch in Ollie’s journey with the release of Twitterrific 6.0 for iOS. This new version of Twitterrific is CHOCK-full of experience enhancements that make Twitter usable and — dare I say — enjoyable.

Media Matters

A great deal of the improvements are related to media handling. Videos and GIFs now silently autoplay in the timeline and direct message threads. If they do contain sound, a speaker icon is shown so you aren’t surprised if you tap it. Also, autoplay can be disabled in the settings if you prefer that.

Image thumbnails now display at the photo’s native aspect ratio. If you like to add GIFs to your tweets, there is a new GIF button in the composer that integrates with GIPHY. I’m fond of the built-in filters for Reactions, Memes, and Swear Trek. Is that a buffet? Not for long.

Speaking of the composer, it’s media capabilities have been revamped. Now you can tap the thumbnail for attached media to see it larger and add accessibility descriptions — even to videos and GIFs. And you can swipe between multiple attachments to quickly add descriptions.

Twitterrific also embraces Twitter’s new ability to add media to tweets that contain quote tweets, as well as viewing said tweets properly.

Twitter Your Way

Twitterrific has always offered customizations to its experience, leaning heavily into one of its tag lines: Twitter your way. Version 6 continues that theme with three new home screen icon choices (Crow, Dove, and Neon — I have been loving Neon during the beta), five new themes (Dove, Akikiki, Puffin, Falcon, and Parakeet, twelve new “Olliemoji” iMessage stickers, a new font, and a few new display customizations.

Pricing

After 86 free updates over 6 years to Twitterrific 5, there are naturally some long overdue changes to the app’s pricing to continue its development — sort of.

No matter what, all features are available for free, but are subsidized with banner ads from The Iconfactory’s own ad network. Users at the free tier will also see reminders for the next level of supporting development — subscriptions.

A monthly or yearly subscription (99¢ and $9.99, respectively) will remove the banner ads and subscription reminders during the length of the subscription. There are some scenarios where recent purchasers of version 5 or users of its Tip Jar feature get a grace period. The Iconfactory has a support article outlining the scenarios.

For those who are not fond of the current app trend of subscriptions there is, thankfully, a one-time “Forever” option priced at $29.99 USD. The quote marks around “Forever” are in the app’s official documentation, and I don’t think it means forever. I would assume it means the lifespan of version 6. Which, if that is the case, shouldn’t be a concern given the longevity of version 5.

Flying Into the Future

It's no secret to users of third-party Twitter clients that Twitter has been hostile to these apps over the past years. Yet a few bravely remain to make Twitter a more delightful place on the internet to connect at. The Iconfactory has poured a lot of love into Twitterrific for the past 10+ years, and it’s encouraging to see them continue to push the needle forward in the face of adversity.

I have no doubt that as long as Twitter continues to allow its existence, and it has a dedicated user base willing to put their money where their tweets are, Twitterrific will continue to soar for years to come. That may seem like a tall order, but the people at The Iconfactory have faced overwhelming odds in the past and persevered, and I know they can continue to do so — as long as we stand alongside them.

¶ Ulysses 16 Brings a Second Helping of Editor Goodness

Back in March my favorite writing app, Ulysses, launched Split View editing on Mac. The idea is simple: Have the ability to open two texts, what Ulysses calls files, side-by-side within the same view. Of course, while the idea sounds simple, the execution was not, even on Mac. From the Ulysses 15 announcement:

See, split view editing sounds simple enough: Just split the editor in half and load a second sheet, right? Well… let’s be 100% us and ask questions first.

And from there they asked approximately eleventy billion questions about how to implement it. And it shows, because they really sweat the details on it and pulled it off smoothly.

It didn’t take me long to ask the Ulysses team how soon that could come to the iPad version.

A few weeks ago I received an invite to the Ulysses 16 beta to test Editor Split View on the iPad. And today the feature is available for everyone with Ulysses 16. Unsurprisingly, they put the same level of thought and detail into the iPad version of Split View Editing.

A couple of weeks ago, we introduced the option to show a second editor to our Mac app, and now we’re following suit on iPad. As a matter of fact, “Second Editor” is a bit of an understatement here, since we actually open a fully-fledged second instance of Ulysses. Yes, we show the whole app twice.

“Woah”, you say, “wait, what?”, and we feel you, but here’s what it does. Per default, the second editor will always open in editor mode, so you can use a second sheet as reference or actually edit two sheets side-by-side. Since both views are “the full app”, you can then navigate the second view to your heart’s content — even display the (live) export preview.

With iPad they went far beyond the Split View idea and duplicated the entire app into the split view instance. This makes the Second Editor navigable. You can use one text as reference while working on another, or even have the same text open, and put it into Export mode, and watch your preview update live as you work on the main text.

Split view of Ulysses 16 on iPad, with a live preview of the active text.

Split view of Ulysses 16 on iPad, with a live preview of the active text.

Insert some banana emojis here, because this is bananas: 🍌🍌🍌

There are four different ways to open the Second Editor, covered in the gallery below.

And finally, the split view instance is adjustable. It defaults to a 50/50 split, but can be adjusted to a 70/30 split. You can tap and hold the drag handle to bring up more options, including a sneaky way to swap the views around or to dismiss one side. You can also dismiss a view by just dragging the drag handle to the edge.

Tapping and holding on the grab handle brings up some neat options, such as a way to swap the editors.

Tapping and holding on the grab handle brings up some neat options, such as a way to swap the editors.

I hope what Ulysses has made possible with their take on in-app split view is a foreshadowing of what Apple may someday do to enhance Split View. Safari has been able to open an pseudo-instance in Split View for a while now, but it cannot be resized or swapped. Ulysses has created a better, more powerful Split View within an app than Apple has done with Safari, and it is now the gold standard to reach for.

Safari’s rudimentary in-app Split View.

Safari’s rudimentary in-app Split View.

If you write regularly for any reason, I highly recommend Ulysses. It is worth every penny of its subscription that enables the Mac, iPhone, and iPad apps. They even offer a discount to students. If anything, check out the 14-day free trial.

I am overjoyed to have this feature on iPad. Even though I love my Mac, my iPad is where my writing juices really flow.

¶ Millennium Move Ring

I love my Apple Watch. Since its launch date in 2015 I have had an Apple Watch on my wrist every day. And one of my favorite features is all the fitness related stuff. Closing my Activity Rings is a huge motivator for me. I love collecting the digital Activity awards. It’s pure silliness, I know — they’re just pixels on a screen — but dang it, I earned them! Especially that National Parks one in 2017 where I had to walk at least 3.5 miles for it (I did 4.64, and my feet hurt for days afterwards).

One of the awards I am especially proud of is my Longest Move Streak. See, I last started my Longest Move Streak on Tuesday, April 5, 2016. And every day since then I have completed that Move ring no matter what. Even when I was sick! And honestly, that probably wasn’t a very healthy to do. I could write a whole other article about how Apple’s Activity app needs to factor in rest days without ruining a streak. Another time.

I’ve know my 1,000th day of this streak was coming for a while, and I’ve been super nervous something would happen that would foil my efforts to reach it. As I came within a few days of it, I realized my 1,000th day would land on New Year’s Eve. Seemingly poetic.

Just before 6:00 PM last night, I reached it.

And today — New Year’s Day 2019 — I’m going to rest. I am intentionally going to end my streak. 1,000 days is enough. I don’t know if I’ll ever reach it again. And that’s okay. I’m going to increase my goal, and make it truly challenging to close it. I need that. My goal wasn’t low by any means, but I have definitely been able to reach it handily for the past months. Some of that might be that the Series 4 I bought in September tracks more movement than the previous Series 2 did.

It feels good to end my streak on my terms. A good clean effort. Nearly three years of showing up every day. And one day of rest to celebrate the accomplishment.

Tomorrow is a new day, and a new challenge.

¶ The Aluminum Anniversary

July 11, 2008. 4:45 AM. My alarm goes off. In four days at almost this exact minute my son would draw in his first breath. But in this moment, now, I am groggy and slightly hesitant to leave home knowing he could arrive at any time. In retrospect, it was more than a little foolish to be doing what I was doing.

I quickly dressed, gave my wife a kiss on the forehead while she slept, grabbed my Motorola RAZR, and then got in the car and drove an hour to Omaha.

Why?

You know why. That’s where the Apple Store is.

I arrived at [Apple Store Village Pointe] around 6:00 AM. There was a line. I expected a line. Thankfully it wasn’t too long. I was 22nd in line.

After a little while some Apple employees began walking up and down the line, chatting up folks, offering donuts, coffee, and bottled water. I recognized one of them. A few days prior, Apple had posted some tutorial videos about the iPhone 3G, the App Store, and MobileMe ([remember that?]). The guy I recognized was the guy from the MobileMe videos. When he got to me, I pointed this out, and he confirmed it and told me his name was John. He still works in the Omaha store, and whenever I’m there we catch up. I still call him MobileMe John.

After standing in line for a few hours, the store finally opened. It didn’t take long before I was paired up with an employee. I bought a 16GB iPhone 3G, in black, naturally. Of course, AT&T’s activation servers had already turned into molten slag, so setup didn’t get very far. The employee offered that I could stay and finish setup there whenever the servers connected again, or if I was comfortable with it I could finish the process of activating and porting my number at home via iTunes.

I thanked him, he gave me a high five, and I left the store, got more coffee, and drove home. Once I got back to my apartment I plugged my new iPhone into my MacBook, and started the setup process on iTunes. Activation was still unsuccessful, but trying. I decided to sleep while it did its thing. A couple hours later I was awoken by the shimmering sound of an iPhone connecting. Bleary-eyed, I looked at the screen. Activation successful.

I set up my iPhone from my iPod touch’s backup, and it worked flawlessly. I started installing apps: Twitterrific, Facebook, AIM, and a lightsaber app.

Fast-forward to the early hours of July 15. My wife tells me it is time to go to the hospital. I begin using the Clock app’s stopwatch to time contractions, using the lap function. When our doctor arrived at the hospital, he remembered my iPhone from our last visit with him the day before, and he cracked a joke asking if I would use the lightsaber app to cut the cord in a little while. No one thought it was funny.

A few hours after Jonathan was born, I took a photo of him with my iPhone, shared it to Mail, filled out a little message with the time, his length, weight — all that stuff people ask about when a baby is born — and then sent it to a bunch of people.

And ever since then some iteration of the iPhone has always been in my pocket. As strange as it sounds, the iPhone has been a part of my family. As the hardware became better, it has become my primary camera. I’ve taken more photos with the iPhone over the past ten years than I had taken at any other time in my life. I’ve made friends through this screen, both near and far. I’ve chronicled joyful and painful times of my life into it. My son and I have pointed it at the sky and seen constellations light up.

This object of glass is the technology I dreamed of as a kid watching Star Trek. It is my tricorder, my communicator, and my captain’s log. In many ways, it’s more than that — because it can become anything I need it to be.

How to quickly fix sideways video clips on iPhone or iPad

Serenity Caldwell on iMore has a fantastic tip on how to rotate videos on an iOS device:

This one's easy to miss, but a must-have for filming fiends: iMovie for iOS is a free app for more complex video editing projects, but it also offers a quick-fix extenison in Photos for iOS. This extension lets you trim a clip, silence it, or add filters, text, or music — but it also lets you flip video with a gesture.

The rest of the article has a step-by-step guide worth checking out. This tip was news to me, but it’ll be invaluable for those times when my iPhone doesn’t orient itself before I hit record.

¶ iPhone Batteries and Performance

A little over a week ago Apple addressed the perception some users had about their iPhones running slower. Apple’s statement then:

Our goal is to deliver the best experience for customers, which includes overall performance and prolonging the life of their devices. Lithium-ion batteries become less capable of supplying peak current demands when in cold conditions, have a low battery charge or as they age over time, which can result in the device unexpectedly shutting down to protect its electronic components.

Last year we released a feature for iPhone 6, iPhone 6s and iPhone SE to smooth out the instantaneous peaks only when needed to prevent the device from unexpectedly shutting down during these conditions. We’ve now extended that feature to iPhone 7 with iOS 11.2, and plan to add support for other products in the future.

Put simply, Apple stated (admitted?) that they began limiting the power draw on the battery during peak performance in January 2017 on iPhones with aged batteries that couldn’t handle the load.

I believe Apple in that the goal of this software feature was to prevent unexpected shutdowns, thus extending the useful life of an older iPhone, even if that meant it wasn’t as performant as it was when brand new.

The rest of the Internet seemed to disagree, and took this as proof of the age-old conspiracy theory that Apple intentionally plans the obsolescence of iPhones to drive sales of newer models.

That idea is folly, and ridiculous. Full stop.

This evidence is in the history. Apple offers software and hardware support for older models of phones far longer than anyone else in the industry. They also sell older models brand new at more affordable prices to make sure there is an iPhone model for almost anyone.

It simply does not make any sense that Apple would plan to slow down a brand new older model to push someone to buy a newer, more expensive model. That works directly against Apple’s best interests for itself and its customers.

That said, the perception that Apple intentionally hobbles devices out of greed is one that is rampant, and has been for years. I have family who outright believe it. And Apple’s lack of communication and clarity at the outset of rolling out this feature only helped to sow more distrust.

This afternoon, Apple blinked. They issued an open letter apologizing for their lack of clarity.

We’ve been hearing feedback from our customers about the way we handle performance for iPhones with older batteries and how we have communicated that process. We know that some of you feel Apple has let you down. We apologize. There’s been a lot of misunderstanding about this issue, so we would like to clarify and let you know about some changes we’re making.

First and foremost, we have never — and would never — do anything to intentionally shorten the life of any Apple product, or degrade the user experience to drive customer upgrades. Our goal has always been to create products that our customers love, and making iPhones last as long as possible is an important part of that.

I very much believe Apple in that second paragraph. It fits in line with the history of their actions. To drive the point home further, Apple concludes with action.

We’ve always wanted our customers to be able to use their iPhones as long as possible. We’re proud that Apple products are known for their durability, and for holding their value longer than our competitors’ devices.

To address our customers’ concerns, to recognize their loyalty and to regain the trust of anyone who may have doubted Apple’s intentions, we’ve decided to take the following steps:

  • Apple is reducing the price of an out-of-warranty iPhone battery replacement by $50 — from $79 to $29 — for anyone with an iPhone 6 or later whose battery needs to be replaced, available worldwide through December 2018. Details will be provided soon on apple.com.
  • Early in 2018, we will issue an iOS software update with new features that give users more visibility into the health of their iPhone’s battery, so they can see for themselves if its condition is affecting performance.
  • As always, our team is working on ways to make the user experience even better, including improving how we manage performance and avoid unexpected shutdowns as batteries age.

At Apple, our customers’ trust means everything to us. We will never stop working to earn and maintain it. We are able to do the work we love only because of your faith and support — and we will never forget that or take it for granted.

Apple is making the right moves here. They are carving themselves off a giant piece of humble pie. The forthcoming update to iOS with greater transparency for battery health is how this feature should have been introduced. The $29 battery replacement fee should probably be permanent instead of just for 2018. We’ll see what happens there.

I can’t sum up my thoughts about Apple’s misstep with communication better than John Gruber did earlier today:

The funny thing about Apple is that their communication problems tend to happen only when they don’t communicate at all. This whole iPhone battery controversy erupted only because Apple had never explained what was going on, which opened them up to accusations of nefarious intent. When they do communicate, they do so with clarity, plain language, and honesty. And, when called for — as in this case — humility.

Apple Heart Study launches to identify irregular heart rhythms

The old saying goes, “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

But how much better would it be if an Apple device alerted you that you need to see a doctor, and it ended up saving your life? That’s now a reality, thanks to Apple Watch and Apple Heart Study, a joint study with Stanford Medicine.

Apple today launched the Apple Heart Study app, a first-of-its-kind research study using Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor to collect data on irregular heart rhythms and notify users who may be experiencing atrial fibrillation (AFib).

AFib, the leading cause of stroke, is responsible for approximately 130,000 deaths and 750,000 hospitalizations in the US every year. Many people don’t experience symptoms, so AFib often goes undiagnosed.

Apple is partnering with Stanford Medicine to perform the research. As part of the study, if an irregular heart rhythm is identified, participants will receive a notification on their Apple Watch and iPhone, a free consultation with a study doctor and an electrocardiogram (ECG) patch for additional monitoring. The Apple Heart Study app is available in the US App Store to customers who are 22 years or older and have an Apple Watch Series 1 or later.

I think this is a fantastic initiative. My mom has experienced AFib, as well as a dear mentor of mine. The idea that wearing an Apple Watch could detect this condition and alert you of it goes to show how advanced the heart rate sensor is in the device.

Features like this are why I think wearable technology like the Apple Watch can have a positive life altering — and even life saving — effect.

If you have an Apple Watch, meet the eligibility requirements, and are interested in participating, go download the Apple Heart Study app.