Which Apple apps or services are truly great?

I was recently reading this article about how Apple’s services are often creaky, slow and feel half assed and it got me thinking: for any given app or service, what is the best in breed for that area? I’ll skip some smaller utilities and such, and focus more on the core apps and services. Apple […]

Continue reading →

Albums 4.4 Released

Albums 4.4 was released this week, and it’s another feature-packed one. The 2 biggest additions for me is the ability to rate songs from within the app and the last.fm history import. The last.fm import in particular is awesome, as it gives the app the ability to build up a list of albums you have played but aren’t in your library as well as build up a historical “top albums played” in years prior to you using the app. As you may know, the way Apple Music tracks plays is simply incrementing play counts by 1, so frequency of listens is hard to do without a custom database. Fortunately, Albums does just that, and now it can backfill previous album listens along with the way it already tracks listening frequency.

Over the past few years Albums has become one of my most-used apps and I’ve really enjoyed seeing all of the love and attention Adam Linder has put into the app. I wrote about this a little while ago, but for me the ability to work through albums and see stats on what I’ve listened to and when has really made Apple Music that much better of a service to me. I rediscover music I haven’t heard in a long time as well as get insight into my listening habits in a way I haven’t been able to in other apps/services.

Albums is free for most of the functionality, and a $0.99/mo subscription for all of the bells and whistles.

Concept: Rethinking Safari in iOS 15 with the same core design principles and goals

From Parker Ortolani at 9to5Mac:

Apple’s newest Safari design in iOS 15 has been controversial, to say the least. It’s a complete overhaul of one of the iPhone’s most popular apps that follows entirely different design philosophies. Countless folks, including myself, have tried to come up with ways to “fix” the new design and make it more familiar and comfortable to use. This is my latest try. What I wanted to do was to follow the same principles and aim for the same goal. A mobile browser that’s easy to use in one hand and one that makes switching between sites on the fly a breeze.

This is very nicely done. This approach accomplishes a lot of what Apple says they’re trying to do with the new Safari on iOS but handles it in a manner that allows users to actually have an discoverable, enhanced experience.

Three Weeks with iOS and iPadOS 15: Foundational Updates

From Federico Viticci at MacStories:

Let me cut to the chase: I don’t think iOS and iPadOS 15 are massive updates like iOS and iPadOS 13 or 14 were. There are dozens of interesting new features in both updates, but none of them feels “obvious” to demonstrate to average users like, say, dark mode and iPad multiwindow in iOS and iPadOS 13 or Home Screen widgets in last year’s iOS 14. And, for the most part, I think that’s fine. The wheel doesn’t have to be reinvented every year, and the pandemic happened for everyone – Apple engineers included.

In many ways, iOS and iPadOS 15 remind me of iOS 10 and 12: they’re updates that build upon the foundation set by their predecessors, bringing welcome consumer additions that, while not earth-shattering, contribute to making iOS more mature, intelligent, and deeply integrated with Apple’s ecosystem.

As always, a great overview from Viticci. The thing that stuck out to me the most is his detailed breakdown of Safari on iOS and iPadOS. I’m still looking for a review that speaks in glowing terms about the UX tradeoffs made for these releases. As Federico says in the article:

So I have to ask: is it worth sacrificing everything else in the name of an address bar at the bottom?

I’ve been a Firefox user on the desktop for a while now, but have used Safari on iOS up to now. I’ve tried out Safari 15 on my Mac (you can download the Safari Technology Preview to check it our for yourself), and I can’t get into the changes on the nav bar. It’s a constant hunt to find the tabs you want because they’re always moving around and many of the things I use from the toolbar are now hidden behind an extra click. The past couple of years Apple has been on a quest to banish as much UI behind 3 dot menus, and it makes using their software more difficult to use. This seems to be in service of better aesthics over user experience. The idea of “elevating the content” is all well and good, but not if the rest of the UX suffers as a result. It doesn’t need to be an either/or proposition.

This release might push me to using a 3rd party browser on all of my devices. It looks that bad. I really hope they see the feedback and learn from it, becuase it’s overwhelmingly bad. I was really excited about the idea of true browser extensions on iOS/iPadOS but I’m not sure it’s worth the tradeoffs.

WWDC 2021 Wishlist

It’s that time again! Thought I’d throw a quick list together of the top things I wish Apple would do in next software versions at this year’s WWDC. Kind of a grab bag, but thought I’d put a flag in the ground now. Make entire play history available in Apple Music, not just library tracks. […]

Continue reading →

Progress Delayed Is Progress Denied

From The Infrequently Noted blog:

Apple’s iOS browser (Safari) and engine (WebKit) are uniquely under-powered. Consistent delays in the delivery of important features ensure the web can never be a credible alternative to its proprietary tools and App Store.

The author makes a lot of good points about where Webkit lags behind other browsers, and what its strengths are. The main thrust of the argument is that Apple won’t let other browsers onto iOS without being a branded interface wrapping around WebKit and that is harmful to users and the overall Open Web as there is no choice. Further, it puts a dent into Apple’s argument that people can always make a web app if they don’t want to participate in the App Store because the tech isn’t there to fully replace what many native apps do today.

Any time a tech company like Apple is insulated from competition, consumers suffer. iOS needs to open up their app store to alternative browsers as it will force Apple to compete more than they do right now. To their credit, they’ve done the bare minimum recently and allowed a non-Safari browser to be set as default, but they need to go the additional step and allow browsers to use their own engines. Not only would this be a win for the open web, but it would also increase competition and likely force Apple to invest more in their browser engine. There’s a lot they can differentiate on, but I don’t want it to be at the expense of web technologies advancing. I also want WebKit to be the best rendering engine out there because they focus on performance and security over chasing every single API, as that’s an area they can really hang their hat on. I personally feel like Safari on both the Mac and iOS has gotten worse in the past few years from a UX perspective (I’ll save that for another post) but better from a performance perspective. However, it would appear that WebKit as a standards-supporting platform has gotten worse. I hope they can find a good balance between the two.

This assessment can be true and it can also be true that the author is looking at the situation through Google-colored glasses. Google wants to push the web as much as possible because the web is more likely to have ads than an app would, so a more robust, “app-like” web means more opportunities for them to track and target you.

Everything New in the iOS 14.5 Beta

From Macrumors:

Apple today seeded the first betas of upcoming iOS 14.5 and iPadOS 14.5 updates, and while the new software serves as a deadline for when app developers must comply with App Tracking Transparency rules, there are also a handful of other changes worth noting.

The headline feature is the ability to unlock your phone with a watch when you’re wearing a mask. It’s also nice to see Apple getting into the habit of shipping features when they’re ready instead of rushing to get them all out at once. 

Apple’s App Store Issues

If you’ve been under a technology rock, you might have missed the kerfuffle Apple’s been in for the past few months. We’ve seen a few high-profile dust ups over Apple’s control of what goes on the App Store (HEY, Microsoft’s xCloud, Fortnite). The arguments vary for each of these but the common issue is that […]

Continue reading →

Album-focused Music Apps

Call me old fashioned, but I love queueing up albums and listening to them all the way through. Nowadays, playlists are all the rage, but because listening to Albums in a CD-changer was the way I grew up listening to music I still enjoy hearing the entire album from start to finish. For me, it […]

Continue reading →

WWDC 2020 Initial Thoughts

The WWDC 2020 “pandemic edition” is now behind us, and it was one of the better ones I’ve seen in quite some time. Apple announced a lot in the 2 hour presentation, with iOS and MacOS getting the bulk of the attention this year. What follows is a quick rundown of my thoughts after watching […]

Continue reading →