Category Archives: iOS Devices

Readdle debuts Spark, a highly customizable email app for iPhone & Apple Watch

Spark

Readdle today released a new addition to its giant collection of productivity apps for iOS with the debut of Spark. Spark is described in short as “fast and smart email for your iPhone” while its core features include tons of customization options and intelligent notification and filtering options that help take the stress out of email. Though Spark is only the latest third party email app to land on the iPhone, it is the first solid email client I’ve used on the Apple Watch so far. How does it compare to Apple’s own Mail app in this case?

Out of the box, Spark lets you easily plug in your iCloud, Google, Exchange/Outlook, or Yahoo email account to offer a unified inbox experience. I set up Spark using my Google Apps account, and the login screen featured 1Password’s extension for filling in my email and password with Touch ID. Very handy.

Next up, Spark asks you which type of notification you prefer from the iPhone email app. You can choose between three options: standard notifications, smart notifications, or no notifications. I typically don’t want to miss a single email on my Mac, but Spark’s smart notification feature promises to only notify you about emails you care; this seems fine for iPhone and even better for Apple Watch.

After first plugging in your email credentials, you land in your inbox for the first time. Spark resembles Google’s Inbox email app with a floating compose button on the bottom right, and you can quickly swipe threads left or right to archive/delete or pin/snooze a message similar to Dropbox’s Mailbox app. The toolbar at the top lets you jump into a view to see only your snoozed messages or archived messages.

Spark Mail2 Spark Mail3 Spark Mail1

You can also drill into search from here with natural language search options like ‘forwarded emails from Mark Gurman in March” and Spark will show you just that. A star button lets you favorite your searches for easily using the same query again in the future, or you can reuse recent searches again without favoriting.

Spark lets you switch between your smart inbox and full inbox from the basement menu on the right side. The smart inbox is useful as it separates new messages from the rest of your inbox; Spark can also separate messages from important people and newsletter subscriptions. From here you can also view an inbox that only shows attachments or any of your other mailboxes associated with your email account.

The settings section here is where the real customization begins. You can set emails to archive after you’ve seen them, change what actions goes with which swipe directions, toggle email read receipts on or off (neat!), setup different email signatures which Spark lets you easily choose when writing messages, and plug in other services. At launch, these services include Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, OneDrive, Readability, Pocket, Evernote, OneNote, and Instapaper.

Spark Apple Watch 15 Spark Apple Watch 16 Spark Apple Watch 18

Over on the Apple Watch, Spark is even more impressive. Unlike Apple’s Mail app on the watch, Spark allows you to actually respond to messages that you receive using quick replies or dictation. Apple’s Messages app offers the same features, but Apple’s Mail app on Apple Watch limits responses to flagging, marking as unread, or deleting.

While I usually don’t want to be dictating longer messages into my watch, the ability should be just as convenient as replying to text messages or iMessages as you can already do. Spark isn’t lighting fast on the Apple Watch as it relies on pulling information from the iPhone, but it works well enough considering that’s the state of third party apps for now. I haven’t seen a better Apple Watch email app yet.

There’s certainly a whole lot more to Spark’s customization options and smart filtering behaviors, but on the surface Spark is an easy-to-use and potentially more capable email app on the iPhone. On the Apple Watch, Spark is a must-have if you want to do more quick actions than what Apple allows in its own app.

Spark is available completely free for iPhone and Apple Watch from the App Store.


Filed under: Apple Watch, Apps, iOS Devices Tagged: Apple watch, Apple Watch apps, Dropbox, email, Gmail, icloud, Mail, messages, Readdle, Spark

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Apple posts official support doc with temporary workarounds for Messages bug

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 10.45.31 PM

Earlier this week a bug was discovered that centered around a string of text that when received via a message would cause your iPhone to reboot and the Messages app to crash continuously. At the time, Apple said it was aware of the bug and working to push an update to fix it. In the meantime however, the company tonight has published an official support document with a few suggestions on how to temporarily work around the issue.

We highlighted these fixes already when the bug first emerged, but this support document from Apple, first spotted by iDownloadblog, confirms that they should work for most users. Some readers, however, have informed us that none of the current workarounds fully solve the issue for them. Again, the bug centers around a certain string of text, as seen in the screenshot above, that causes your iPhone to reboot when received and the Messages app to crash.

Below are the workarounds Apple suggests to solve the issue of the crashing Messages app:

  • Ask Siri to “read unread messages.”
  • Use Siri to reply to the malicious message. After you reply, you’ll be able to open Messages again.
  • In Messages, swipe left to delete the entire thread. Or tap and hold the malicious message, tap More, and delete the message from the thread.

In addition to offering workarounds for the issue, the support document also notes that Apple is aware of the issue and is working to make a software update available, similar to the statement the company provided us earlier this week. “Apple is aware of an iMessage issue caused by a specific series of unicode characters and we will make a fix available in a software update,” the company wrote on the support page.


Filed under: AAPL Company, iOS, iOS Devices Tagged: Apple, bug, document, messages, support, workaround

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Apple posts official support doc with temporary workarounds for Messages bug

Screen Shot 2015-05-28 at 10.45.31 PM

Earlier this week a bug was discovered that centered around a string of text that when received via a message would cause your iPhone to reboot and the Messages app to crash continuously. At the time, Apple said it was aware of the bug and working to push an update to fix it. In the meantime however, the company tonight has published an official support document with a few suggestions on how to temporarily work around the issue.

We highlighted these fixes already when the bug first emerged, but this support document from Apple, first spotted by iDownloadblog, confirms that they should work for most users. Some readers, however, have informed us that none of the current workarounds fully solve the issue for them. Again, the bug centers around a certain string of text, as seen in the screenshot above, that causes your iPhone to reboot when received and the Messages app to crash.

Below are the workarounds Apple suggests to solve the issue of the crashing Messages app:

  • Ask Siri to “read unread messages.”
  • Use Siri to reply to the malicious message. After you reply, you’ll be able to open Messages again.
  • In Messages, swipe left to delete the entire thread. Or tap and hold the malicious message, tap More, and delete the message from the thread.

In addition to offering workarounds for the issue, the support document also notes that Apple is aware of the issue and is working to make a software update available, similar to the statement the company provided us earlier this week. “Apple is aware of an iMessage issue caused by a specific series of unicode characters and we will make a fix available in a software update,” the company wrote on the support page.


Filed under: AAPL Company, iOS, iOS Devices Tagged: Apple, bug, document, messages, support, workaround

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Reading Roundup: Everything to know (so far) about iOS 9 and OS X 10.11

Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve published several articles detailing the future of iOS (the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch’s operating system), OS X (the Mac’s operating system), and Watch OS (the software that runs on the Apple Watch). Here’s a list of links to the stories we’ve written thus far about the new operating systems, and we’ll keep updating this page as we publish new and relevant details.

iOS

Apple plans to refresh iOS 9, OS X 10.11 using new Apple Watch font: This story details Apple’s plans to utilize a new typeface for iOS 9, taking a page out of the design language for the Apple Watch.

– Apple’s planned iOS 9 ‘Home’ app uses virtual rooms to manage HomeKit accessories: This article discusses Apple’s testing of a new application called “Home” that will be used to manage various HomeKit devices within the home.

Maps Transit

Apple readies Transit subway, train + bus guides for iOS 9 Maps, deploys robots for indoor mapping: After not being ready for release last year, Apple is apparently finally ready to take the wraps off of its Transit directions service for the iOS Maps application. This story also details Apple’s indoor mapping initiative and special robots roaming the Apple Cupertino campus.

 Future of iPad: Dual-app viewing mode, then J98/J99 ‘iPad Pros,’ multi-user support: In this story, we detail three major iPad-centric initiatives, including planned multi-user software support, a split-screen app viewing mode coming in iOS 9, and a pair of 12-inch iPads with enhanced industrial designs.

 iOS 9 & OS X 10.11 to bring ‘quality’ focus, smaller apps, Rootless security, legacy iPhone/iPad support: This extensive story reveals Apple’s plans for using its 2015 Mac and iOS updates as a time to introduce significant performance, optimization, and bug fix-based enhancements. Apple is also planning on supporting older iPhones and iPads, while boosting their performance simultaneously.

iOS 9 supports ‘iPhone 6S’ Force Touch, may enhance iMessage, Keyboard & Apple Pay: This story discusses how iOS 9 builds in support for the upcoming Force Touch Display feature in the next iPhone hardware upgrade. We also discuss Apple’s plans for adding new features to iMessage, the iPhone and iPad keyboard, and Apple Pay’s next stop.

iOS 9 Transit Maps to launch in a handful of cities in North America, Europe & China: This article builds upon our initial report about the mass transit mapping feature coming in iOS 9, and specifies which regions the service will initially launch in.

Apple’s ‘Proactive’ to take on Google Now with deep iOS 9 search, Augmented Reality Maps, Siri API: This expansive story provides an in-depth look at Apple’s development of a significant new iOS initiative internally named “Proactive.” Combining major upgrades to Siri, Spotlight, and Maps, “Proactive” is a long-term Apple strategy to combat the Google Now feature found on Android devices.

OS X

screen-shot-2014-06-10-at-4-30-39-pm

– Apple plans to refresh iOS 9, OS X 10.11 using new Apple Watch font: This story details Apple’s plans to utilize a new typeface for OS X 10.11, taking a page out of the design language for the Apple Watch.

 iOS 9 & OS X 10.11 to bring ‘quality’ focus, smaller apps, Rootless security, legacy iPhone/iPad support: This extensive story reveals Apple’s plans for using its 2015 Mac and iOS updates as a time to introduce significant performance, optimization, and bug fix-based enhancements. We also share the first details about Apple’s upgraded Swift programming language and platform for developers. Apple is also planning to add some new features to the Mac, including a Control Center panel that swipes out from the left side of a Mac’s display.

Watch OS and Apple TV

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– Apple readies first significant Apple Watch updates, ’TVKit’ SDK for Apple TV: This story details the first significant updates coming to the Apple Watch, including upgrades for third-party complications and better Apple TV remote support. Speaking of the Apple TV, this article also details Apple’s plans for a new iOS-based Apple TV to debut at WWDC.

Stay Tuned

As the early June Worldwide Developers Conference gets closer, we’ll publish a thorough roundup of everything to expect, so keep an eye out for that as well.


Filed under: AAPL Company, Apple Watch, iOS, iOS Devices, Mac Tagged: App Store (iOS), Apple Inc, Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, IBooks, iOS, iPad, iPhone, IPod Touch, iTunes, OS X

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Apple’s ‘Proactive’ to take on Google Now with deep iOS 9 search, Augmented Reality Maps, Siri API

Spotlight

After several years of quiet development, Apple is readying a major new iOS initiative codenamed “Proactive,” which will leverage Siri, Contacts, Calendar, Passbook, and third-party apps to create a viable competitor to Google Now for Android devices. Like Google Now, Proactive will automatically provide timely information based on the user’s data and device usage patterns, but will respect the user’s privacy preferences, according to sources familiar with Apple’s plans.

As an evolution of iOS’s Spotlight search feature, Proactive is the fruit of a long-term initiative that involved the acquisition of small app developers, and integration of core iOS apps. It will also work with Apple’s Maps application to display personally relevant points of interest using an augmented reality interface, and integrate with a third-party Siri API codenamed “Breadcrumbs”…

How Spotlight Will Become A Google Now Rival

Apple began to lay the groundwork for Proactive with its acquisition of a personal assistant app called Cue in 2013, seeking to relevantly broaden iOS’s Spotlight and Safari search results. iOS 8’s ability to display Wikipedia Search results within Spotlight was the first taste of the Proactive initiative, and was partially designed to reduce iOS’s search reliance on Google. Sources say that Apple’s internal iOS usage metrics indicate that Google clicks have indeed fallen since iOS 8’s release last fall.

Now Apple wants to take Proactive to the next level, and it may do so with iOS 9’s introduction at the annual Worldwide Developers Conference on June 8. While Apple has positioned Siri as an “intelligent personal assistant” since the fall 2011 launch of the iPhone 4S, Proactive will go much further to integrate with your data. To begin with, Proactive will become a new layer within the iOS operating system, replacing the pulldown Spotlight menu currently found on the iOS Home screen.

Interestingly, Proactive will be found to the left of the first Home screen, just as Spotlight was prior to iOS 7’s major redesign. According to sources, Apple’s usage metrics for iOS suggest that Spotlight is not used as frequently as it could be because it is hidden above the Home screen without any indication of its location. Adding the feature back to the left of the Home screen will presumably boost usage, and consequently, take searches away from Google’s window within Safari. Sources note that some builds of iOS 9 allow Proactive to be accessed both with pulldown and left-of-Home screen gestures, so it’s possible that pulldown Spotlight-style access will be retained.

Cue app bought by Apple

Cue app bought by Apple

Within the new Proactive screen, users will have a dedicated Search Bar at the top to access the established features of Spotlight: users will still be able to search for names, launch apps, and find audio tracks. Sources indicate that Proactive will include a greater emphasis on displaying news stories as search results, and will more reliably display news results when you search for information, including news on current topics and famous people.

Below the search bar will sit a new user interface that automatically populates with content based around three key parts of iOS: Apps, Contacts, and Maps, effectively a considerably upgraded version of Siri’s existing “digital assistant” functionality. For example, if a user has a flight listed in her Calendar application and a boarding pass stored in Passbook, a bubble within the new Proactive screen will appear around flight time to provide quick access to the boarding pass. If a user has a calendar appointment coming up, a map view could appear with an estimated arrival time, directions, and a time to leave indicator based on traffic. Proactive will also be able to trigger push notifications to help the user avoid missing calendar events. Even with these new notifications, however, the existing Notification Center apparently isn’t likely to see major changes.

Beyond Calendar integration, the feature will be able to integrate with commonly used apps. For example, if an iPhone user typically opens the Facebook app when he wakes up around 9AM, a button to access Facebook will start to appear for the user around 9AM. If the user calls his mother every Tuesday at 5PM, a bubble to “Call Mom” could appear around that time every Tuesday. As this feature integrates deeply with a user’s contact list, it is likely that the Recent Contacts menu introduced to the top of the Multitasking pane in iOS 8 will be relocated to Proactive’s interface. Lastly, Proactive will be able to display restaurant suggestions and ratings around breakfast, lunch, and dinner times in Proactive, changing based on the user’s location. Some of these features come from Apple’s acquisition of Spotsetter, a social-based search engine company founded by ex-Google Maps engineer Stephen Tse and Jonny Lee.

Yelp's Monocle feature

Yelp’s Monocle feature

Augmented Reality Maps, Browse Around Me

Beyond the new Spotlight interface, improvements to Maps will be a focal point for the Proactive initiative. In addition to a new public transportation service for bus, train, and subway routes, Apple is overhauling its Points of Interest (POI) system for the iOS Apple Maps application. While sources say Apple has explored new or expanded deals with Foursquare, Yelp, and Nokia’s HERE, the company ultimately decided to build its own new POI system for Proactive. Apple has developed a pair of new features around the POI system: an augmented reality view for local listings, as well as a feature dubbed “Browse Around Me.”

The augmented reality feature allows a user to hold up her iPhone in the Maps application, and point her camera toward a particular business or an area. Pointed towards a cafe, for example, the screen could show a virtual view of menu items or daily specials. If the user points her phone toward a street, a virtual outline of local businesses, restaurants, shopping stores, or coffee shops could appear. As a separate feature, the Browse Around Me button could simply show points of interest on an overhead map that are more tailored to previous searches and user preferences, a less flashy version of the augmented reality feature that’s similar to what Spotsetter was offering prior to its acquisition. Apple may choose to solely ship the Browse Around Me feature in iOS 9 and hold back the more extravagant augmented reality feature until later, the sources warned.

In order to develop this enhanced version of Maps into a small revenue source, Apple considered specifically highlighting points-of-interest that support Apple Pay transactions. However, this feature was cancelled amid development, according to a source with knowledge of the decision. Reports published during the initial launch of Apple Pay indicated that Apple takes 0.15% of every Apple Pay transaction conducted via an iPhone or Apple Watch.

“Breadcrumbs:” A Limited Siri API To Address User Privacy Concerns

Apple does not want to launch Proactive solely with support for its own apps and data. According to sources, Apple is preparing to allow developers to integrate their applications into both iOS’s search results and Siri, which has been redesigned to be more colorful in iOS 9, akin to its Apple Watch interface. While Apple has worked on a full Siri API that lets Siri access third-party app content, sources say the company is more likely to introduce a scaled-down service for developers codenamed “Breadcrumbs.” The decision is apparently based on a concern that a deeply integrated Siri will misinterpret words or contexts, sending personal data to the wrong third-party apps, and creating privacy issues, according to the sources.

Breadcrumbs allows Proactive and Siri to index parts of apps that have recently been accessed, and is apparently similar to the App Indexing feature Google announced previously for Android, and today for iOS. For instance, if a user typically watches certain genres of movies in the Netflix app, the ability to launch that particular section in the Netflix app could be opened by Siri. Eventually, Apple hopes to release a full Siri API for developers, but the company will not do so until all potential privacy concerns are sorted out. As one source said, “Apple’s talk about user-privacy is not marketing, it is core to [Apple’s] product development process.”

meet-craig-federighi-the-apple-executive-who-dominated-apples-big-presentation-today

Executives Mixed on Rollout

While all of the aforementioned features are far into development, none of them as described are a lock for iOS 9.0 due to Apple’s new focus on maintaining (and improving) quality in iOS and OS X. According to sources, Vice President of Product Management for iOS and OS X Kim Vorrath has been reluctant to launch the new Proactive initiative with such an ambitious set of features.

Apple would rather launch scaled down incarnations of the aforementioned enhancements and then improve the feature over time, according to the sources. Nonetheless, these features are currently in development within Apple’s Software Engineering department, and the scale at which they launch will become clear at Apple’s June 8th Worldwide Developers Conference kickoff keynote. Sources indicate that Apple’s marketing department will determine whether the features are launched under the Proactive umbrella name, or described as upgrades to existing features such as Spotlight, Maps, Contacts, Calendars, and Siri.

In addition to developing its new Proactive features, Apple is working on a series of other updates for iOS 9. As we have reported, Apple is developing a new streaming music service based on its acquisition of Beats Electronics, a new Home app for managing home automation accessories, a refreshed look for iPhones and iPads with the new San Francisco typeface, new security and optimization features, iPad split-screen apps, a new keyboard, and iMessage improvements.


Filed under: AAPL Company, iOS, iOS Devices Tagged: Apple, Apps, calendar, contacts, craig federighi, Cue, Facebook, Google, iOS 10, iOS 8, iOS 9, Kim Vorrath, maps, Passbook, Siri

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Pixelmator for the iPhone launching tomorrow, we go hands on (update: now available!)

06. iCloud

Update: Pixelmator for iPhone is now available. Download it here.

Pixelmator is releasing an update to its iOS app tomorrow, making the app available on the iPhone for the first time ($4.99). The universal app means you can buy once and download Pixelmator on both iPad and iPhone. Existing iOS users of the app naturally get the iPhone version for free as an update. The new version also brings the Distort tools, like warp brushes, to the iOS app for the first time.

Pixelmator for iPhone works very similarly to the iPad version but scaled down for the smaller canvas. You can read our full review of the iPad app from last year. Rather than popover panels, selecting an action opens full-width menus encapsulating options. This is a necessary concession for the size of the display.

IMG_0840 IMG_0839

Even on an iPhone 6, there just isn’t the room to have the same freedom as with an iPad or Mac. Although the Pixelmator team has done a good job of porting the app, I still find it painful to get anything done due to the lack of screen real estate. There are too many taps and too many contextual menus required to get anything done. Although every feature of the iPad app is present here, it’s generally a lot more frustrating to use.

Cropping is fast, but you don’t need Pixelmator to make nice crops and filters. The built-in Photos app already offers good, basic, editing tools for such purposes.

01. Color Adjustments

In landscape, the experience is a bit better due to the improved aspect ratio. You can drag out a view of the current layers in the image by swiping from the left edge. In landscape, Pixelmator for iPhone feels very similar to Keynote, but obviously its a layer stack and image preview rather than a slide deck. In landscape, tools windows use the elongated width to reflow controls into a long toolbar which helps with usability.

However, you still suffer the same modality problems brought about by the lack of screen space. It takes too many taps to do anything and it’s prone to misclicks on toolbar buttons. During my testing, I had to use the Undo feature on several occasions to remedy these inadvertent scribbles.

If you are downloading Pixelmator for iPhone as a standalone image-editor, then you should reconsider. Although it is possible to do some more serious editing (such as using the Retouch tool to eliminate small objects from a scene), you’ll get annoyed with the experience.

The best way to use Pixelmator for iPhone is as an accessory to the iPad and Mac apps, using iCloud to sync documents and apply final/quick adjustments to projects on-the-go with the phone. It is akin to the utility of Apple’s iWork apps on the iPhone. They serve as nice conveniences to continue working on documents created on the Mac or iPad.

02. Distort Tools

The distort tools work as you would expect — and to be clear — appear on both the iPhone and iPad versions. The Mac app has had these features for some time. Pick a warp, bump or twirl and then just trace over the image with your finger to apply the effects. Pixelmator uses a Metal rendering stack for optimum performance.

You can download Pixelmator for iPhone and iPad from the App Store for $4.99. Pixelmator for Mac is also available in the Mac App Store for $29.99. Pixelmator only needs an Apple Watch app to round out the suite …


Filed under: AAPL Company, Apps, iOS, iOS Devices, Mac, Reviews, Tech Industry Tagged: iPad, iPhone, Mac, Pixelmator

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Apple drops discoveryd in latest OS X beta following months of network issues

Screen Shot 2015-05-26 at 3.56.16 PM

After many complaints from the developer community about poor networking performance on Yosemite, the latest beta of OS X 10.10.4 has dropped discoveryd in favor of the old process used by previous versions of the Mac operating system. This should address many of the network stability issues introduced with Yosemite and its new networking stack.

The discoveryd process has been subject to much criticism in recent months as it causes users to regularly drop WiFi access and causes network shares to list many times over, due to bugs. Many developers, such as Craig Hockenberry, have complained about the buggy software and workarounds have been found to include substituting the older system (called mDNSResponder) back into Yosemite.

discoveryd would cause random crashes, duplicate names on the network and many other WiFi-relate bugs. In the latest beta, Apple appears to have applied the same fix as the enthusiasts by axing discoveryd completely.

Looking at Activity Monitor on OS X 10.10.4 seed 4, discoveryd is no longer loaded by the system — instead relying on mDNSResponder. The ‘new’ process is really the one Apple used to use pre-Yosemite and did not have these problems.

It is still unclear why the change in the networking stack was ever made given that the old process worked so well and the new process had so many issues. There has been some speculation that the new stack is related to AirDrop and Handoff functionality although testing showed that these features still worked when the system was reverted back to the old process.

Regardless, it will please many to see that Apple has finally addressed these complaints, even if it embarrassingly involves going back to the old system rather than fixing the new code. OS X 10.10.4 will be released to the public in the coming months.

Apple is focusing on performance and stability for iOS 9 and OS X 10.11, so it will be interesting to see whether discoveryd makes a comeback in Apple’s next-generation operating system.


Filed under: AAPL Company, iOS, iOS Devices, Mac, Tech Industry Tagged: Apple, bugs, discoveryd, fixes, flaws, Network, OS X, problems, yosemite

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