Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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by Jason Snell

More depth on iPadOS 15 multitasking

TechCrunch’s Mathew Panzarino got an interview with Apple marketer Bob Borchers and exec Sebastien Mariners-Mes in which they addressed the changes to multitasking in iPadOS 15:

“It was a very deliberate decision on our part,” says Mariners-Mes about adding this new element. “This really brings a new level of productivity where you can have, you know, this floating window. You can have content behind it. You can seamlessly cut and paste. And that’s something that’s just not possible with the traditional (iPadOS) model. And we also really strive to make it consistent with the rest of multitasking where that center window can also become one of the windows in your split view, or full size, and then go back to to being a center window. We think it’s a cool addition to the model and we look really look forward to 3rd parties embracing it.”

I’m of the opinion that the changes in iPadOS 15 aren’t rearranging deck chairs, but resetting the iPad’s multitasking metaphor so it’s capable of growing into a new take on a multi-window interface.1 The floating center window and QuickNote are both examples of Apple being a lot less precious about preventing windows from overlapping other windows on the iPad. It sure feels like this is the first step in a much larger interface overhaul.


  1. In advance of fully supporting large external displays. I want to believe! 
—Linked by Jason Snell

By Stephen Hackett

WWDC 2021: Safari 15 to bring huge UI changes

When Apple’s annual updates ship this fall, Safari will be at version 15. Each new version of Apple’s browser is marked by security and performance improvements, but this year Safari is getting an all-new design as well.

Apple seems to be unhappy with the traditional browser design that includes navigation tools at the top, with websites being forced to live in their own view down below, and with Safari 15, it has blurred the line between browser and web content. This goes far beyond the mere splashes of color that Safari users may be used to seeing behind their navigation controls when scrolling a long webpage.

Now, the new tab bar takes on the color of the website, letting the entire window take on the personality of whatever website is visible. Apple says that this lets browsing feel more expansive, as the browser’s UI is now yielding to the content.

Safari 15

The color the tab bar takes on can be manually set by including setting a meta tag named theme-color in the head of the webpage.1 (Optionally, different values can be set for light and dark modes.) If this value isn’t set, Safari will choose its own color from the website’s background color or header image. Thankfully, Safari is smart enough to not use colors that interfere with UI elements like standard window controls in macOS.

Tab Groups are a new way to organize tabs and save groups of them for later. Conceptually, these are different from bookmarks in that they dynamically adjust as you open and close tabs and move to different webpages, but if you’ve ever used the trick to open a folder full of Safari bookmarks at once, it’ll feel a bit familiar. Tab Groups sync across iOS, iPadOs and macOS via iCloud. They are accessible via the sidebar in Safari and appear as a menu item in the tab bar itself.

To further minimize Safari’s UI, the tab bar and address field have been collapsed into one new user interface. When a tab is active, it expands into a full address field. Taken all together, Safari looks radically different than before:

Safari 15

On the iPhone, things get even weirder. The tab bar is now at the bottom of the screen and will minimize as the user starts scrolling. This new tab bar works a bit the Home indicator on a Face ID device. The user can swipe horizontally between tabs, like swiping between apps. A swipe up brings up an overview of open tabs and a UI to swap between Tab Groups.

Safari 15 on iPhone

Safari 15 brings big changes, and surely not everyone will be a fan. I, for one, think the expanded use of color is distracting, and the tabs-aren’t-just-tabs-anymore design confusing at times. I hope Apple might reconsider some of these more drastic design changes during the beta process this summer.


  1. Six Colors readers on Safari 15 will have already noticed. -J.S. 

[Stephen Hackett is the author of 512 Pixels and co-founder of Relay FM.]


June 11, 2021

Did anything happen this week? Oh, just a few things.

Become a member (members, sign in) to listen to this podcast and get more benefits.



2021 Apple Design Awards announced

Apple announced the winners of its annual design awards today, and it’s a really impressive collection of iPhone and iPad apps1.

Here are the winners:

Apps

Games


  1. Technically two also run on tvOS, two on watchOS, and one on macOS. 
—Linked by Jason Snell

By Stephen Hackett

WWDC 2021: MailKit set to offer new Mail extension possibilities

For many years, power users have been able to use plug-ins to extend the capabilities of macOS’ built-in Mail application. And for years, those users have been accustomed to those plug-ins breaking as Apple has updated Mail and the operating system.

This year at WWDC, Apple introduced MailKit, a new Mac-only framework for building modern Mail.app extensions. This framework is based on the same underlying technology that powers Safari app extensions and share sheet extensions.

Mail Extensions

There are four types of Mail extensions:

  • Compose extensions will allow new workflows when composing mail messages.
  • Action extensions help people manage their inbox by providing custom rules on incoming messages.
  • Content blocking extensions provide WebKit content blockers for Mail messages.
  • Message security extensions can provide further security by signing, encrypting, and decrypting messages when people send and receive mail.

These extensions can be bundled into existing Mac applications, or be offered on their own, but must pass through the Mac App Store.

Time will tell what types of Mail extensions are possible in this new framework, but if Apple’s WWDC session about them is any indication, this should be an exciting change to an app that hasn’t seen much excitement or change in quite a long time.

Apple is clear that extensions are the future; existing Mail plug-ins will stop being supported in the future. While this means that some favorites may not be long for this world, I’m excited that Apple is now offering a sustainable, official way for developers to make Mail.app on the Mac more useful and flexible.

[Stephen Hackett is the author of 512 Pixels and co-founder of Relay FM.]


By Dan Moren

WWDC 2021: Apple dips its toes into Matter’s smart home

The early years of smart home tech have been a morass of competing standards and technologies, often hindering broad adoption by consumers who don’t want to figure out which devices work with which systems.

To combat this, most of the major industry players—including Apple—have recently signed on to a new interoperability protocol dubbed Matter (formerly Connected Home over IP or CHIP).

Matter accessories have not yet hit the market, which is why the support Apple is rolling out in the newest versions of most of its operating systems—iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and tvOS 15—is only billed as a “developer preview” targeted at those making smart home apps or accessories.

The arrival of Matter does not signal the demise of HomeKit—in fact, HomeKit will continue to exist as a layer on top of Matter, positioning it as a parallel to existing accessories.

Matter and HomeKit
Matter will exist as a parallel protocol inside HomeKit.

Apple’s stated goal, according to Selina Zhang from Apple’s Home Engineering team, is seamless integration of Matter with HomeKit. From the user’s perspective, interacting with a Matter accessory should look pretty much identical to interacting with a HomeKit accessory. When adding a Matter accessory to another app, the workflow will be basically the same: using a QR code, then selecting the correct home, rooms, scenes, and automations. Matter accessories can, at the user’s discretion, appear in the Home app, be accessed using Siri, and show up in Control Center, all right alongside HomeKit accessories.

From a developer perspective, interacting with Matter accessories should likewise be very similar to the way that they may already work with HomeKit accessories. Existing HomeKit APIs will work with Matter accessories as well; a new API will allow Matter accessories to be set up with other, non-HomeKit smart hubs. A future release will add the ability to access Matter custom features via HomeKit as well.

So if Matter just looks like HomeKit, what’s the real advantage? The main appeal is the interoperability, which should broaden the devices available to HomeKit users. Once Matter accessories exist, or existing smart home devices add support for the protocol, you’ll be able to interact with them just as with your existing HomeKit accessories.

Transparency in HomeKit
As a user, you’ll be able to choose more easily which apps and hubs to use to manage your smart home devices.

The addition of Matter also puts more control in the hands of users. If you decide that you want to use a system other than HomeKit to intermediate all your smart home accessories, you can do that. Updates to the Home app will allow you to see which home hubs are connected to a given accessory, as well as pair accessories with a new home hub, or manage all your existing home hubs.

As mentioned, full implementation of Matter is still a little bit away. While the Matter framework in Apple’s upcoming operating systems is fully certified, it will require a developer profile to enable. And though the majority of Apple’s platforms will gain support, macOS is conspicuously absent in the list.

If I had to wager, I would guess that full Matter support might appear as early as a point release to iOS 15, and likely by the time iOS 16 comes out next fall—hopefully on the Mac as well. But keep your eyes peeled for Matter-compatible accessories to start hitting the market as early as later this year.

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at dan@sixcolors.com. His latest novel, The Aleph Extraction, is out now and available in fine book stores everywhere, so be sure to pick up a copy.]


‘Shortcuts for Mac: The Future Is Now’

John Voorhees provides a really good overview of how far Shortcuts has come:

The second thing that struck me about Monday’s announcement is how well Shortcuts has been set up to succeed on the Mac. Although I’ve wanted Shortcuts on the Mac for what feels like forever, I think the wait will be worth it in the end. Had Shortcuts been brought to the Mac too early, it would have been starting from a full stop. By waiting until Mac Catalyst apps matured and iPhone and iPad apps could be run on M1 Macs, Shortcuts will enjoy a long list of third-party apps that support it day one. I migrated my M1 MacBook Air to an M1 iMac that I’m testing, and when I installed macOS Monterey, I already had more than a dozen third-party apps to test with Shortcuts. Add to that the fact that AppKit apps can add Shortcuts support, and it’s clear that Apple is sending the message that Shortcuts is the future of automation for all apps, not just a subset built a certain way.

It’s not just exciting that the Mac will now have access to the same great automation tools that have been growing on iOS. It’s exciting that Apple has a plan for user automation across all its platforms, and is executing it.

—Linked by Jason Snell

Dark Sky iOS app lives another year

If you thought the addition of precipitation alerts and a redesigned Weather app in iOS 15 meant that Dark Sky, which Apple acquired back in 2020, was not long for this world…well, it’s gotten a bit of a reprieve, according to an update on the Dark Sky blog

Update: Support for the Dark Sky API service for existing customers will continue until the end of 2022. The iOS app and Dark Sky website will also be available until the end of 2022.

Dark Sky has been my weather app of choice for several years, and while Apple’s Weather app seems to be improving quite a bit thanks to the addition of the app’s back-end and technology, I’m glad that I don’t have to make any immediate changes.

I guess Apple needs until 2022 to finally port its own Weather app to the iPad.

—Linked by Dan Moren

By Stephen Hackett

WWDC 2021: New App Store Features Coming in iOS, iPadOS 15

When iOS and iPadOS 15 launch later this year, the App Store will have new tools for developers to optimize their product pages to better stand out in the busy marketplace.

The first tool to do this is called the custom product page, which will let developers market their app differently to different sets of users. Each version of the product page can have a different set of videos, screenshots and text, and each one comes with its own unique URL for sharing.

App Store in iOS 15

In App Analytics, developers will be able to see which page performs best, giving them data to better reach potential customers in the store. The backend will provide both retention data and average proceeds each custom product page.

Each app can have up to 35 different custom product pages, so developers will be able to go wild if they are so inclined.1

The other addition to the App Store is product page optimization, which will let developers set up and run automatic A/B testing on their pages to see what works best for them and their app. Each test can have up to three options, and developers can set what percentage of users will see a given option. These tests have to go through App Review.

The iOS App Store is a big place, and it’s hard to stand out. With these new tools, Apple is hoping that developers will be able to manage their product pages more effectively. I don’t think this was at the top of anyone’s App Store wishlist for 2021, but I am very interested to see how developers will use this once it launches.


  1. Nobody tell James Thomson. 

[Stephen Hackett is the author of 512 Pixels and co-founder of Relay FM.]


Our thoughts on Spatial Audio in Apple Music, if we’re excited about Shortcuts on the Mac and our other WWDC favorites, if SharePlay will convince us to use FaceTime, and how we feel about Universal Control for iPad and Mac.


By Jason Snell

WWDC 2021: Who needs keys and a wallet when you have an iPhone?

Last year Apple introduced Car Keys, which allows Apple devices to unlock and start cars that are equipped with the proper technology. While it was clear that the first wave of cars to support this feature would use the same NFC reader technology used by Apple Pay, it was also obvious that Ultra Wideband (UWB) would be the technology that would ultimately be more predominant.

Here we are a year later, and Apple will officially support UWB car keys in iOS and watchOS, for all devices equipped with a U1 chip. Because UWB can provide much more precise position data and longer range than NFC, they’ll be able to work while you keep them in your bag or pocket. UWB-equipped cars will even know which device is entering the car through the driver side-door, to unlock personalized settings like seat and mirror positioning, and won’t allow the car to be started unless someone with a valid key is inside the car.

UWB’s enhanced range and location savvy will also allow cars to react when you are getting close, but aren’t yet within unlocking range, to do things like turn on headlights and start climate control. Likewise, cars can set out a “lock zone”, to automatically lock your car when you step a certain distance away.

Though UWB is vital in determining positioning, most data transfer between the car and the iPhone or Apple Watch comes over Bluetooth LE, including initial authentication and exchange of cryptographic keys. Car Key can also use that data connection to provide access to remote keyless entry controls right within the Wallet app.

And since Apple is a part of the Connected Car Consortium industry group, all this work is based on standards that should mean that in a few years, lots of cars will support this technology.

Also forthcoming later this year is support for Home Key, which appears to be very much like Car Key was last year: an NFC-based way for iPhones and Apple Watches to unlock your front door with a tap. I’m looking forward to that, not just because I suspect that many existing smart locks will be upgradeable via a new NFC-savvy module, but because it’s a lot cheaper to buy a new lock than a new car.

What’s not in your Wallet?

Expired passes remain, but are hidden.

Speaking of the iPhone and Apple Watch replacing things that would otherwise live in your pockets, Apple’s rolling out updates to Wallet and Apple Pay this fall.

If you’ve ever laboriously downloaded individual passes for an airplane flight or a concert or sporting event ticket, you’ll be happy to hear that Apple is finally supporting the downloading of multiple passes in a single file. Behind the scenes, it’s literally just a Zip archive full of individual passes. But the net result is, you should eventually be able to click once and get all your tickets.

Wallet in iOS 15 will also hide expired passes. (Relax, people who keep old passes as souvenirs, they’ll still be there, and accessible via a View Expired Passes link at the bottom of the screen. I still have my pass for Game 5 of the 2014 World Series, so I’m one of you.)

Apple Pay updates for this fall include a new Apple Pay interface built in SwiftUI. Apple has added a simplified way to add a payment card right from the Apple Pay sheet, which is pretty important since once someone has decided to pay, the last thing you want to do is make them cancel out of that screen! Payment information has been expanded to include discounts and subtotals, and you will be able to enter coupon codes during the payment process—another way to keep people from exiting the Apple Pay screen when they’ve already decided to pay.


Apple made a lot of WWDC announcements…but first we talk about Nintendo, Playdate, and audio.


The accessibility impact of Apple’s latest announcements

Steven Aquino, writing at Forbes, has an excellent round-up of all the things that Apple announced which have implications for accessibility. In particular, Steven does a good job of looking at features that may not have even been explicitly designed for accessibility, but confer benefits nonetheless:

Thus, digital representations of IDs and keys are not only more modern, they can be infinitely more accessible. TSA checkpoints can be extremely stressful for disabled people as it is—I speak from experience—so having to just wave your phone at the official is much better than hurriedly and clumsily trying to find your ID in your wallet or bag. And the experience is even more accessible if you have an Apple Watch.

—Linked by Dan Moren

By Dan Moren

WWDC 2021: Apple takes the first steps to a password-less future

I bet there’s nothing you like more than dealing with passwords. Coming up with strong passwords, remembering them, saving them to password managers, entering verification codes. Is there anything more fun?

Well, sorry1 as I am to rain on your parade, the writing is on the wall for the good old password, and the first step to its demise is being rolled out in macOS Monterey and iOS 15—though it will probably take at least a couple years before it comes to fruition.

Passkeys to the kingdom

iCloud Passkey
iCloud Passkey has a lot of advantages compared to passwords.

The reason for that is a new standard called WebAuthn. I know, I know: another standard. But WebAuthn is a spec from the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the organization that basically makes the rules for the web; the spec is also part of the FIDO2 framework backed by the eponymous alliance that includes Microsoft, Google, Amazon, MasterCard, Visa, AmEx, and yes, Apple. Both FIDO and WebAuthn have as their goal the elimination of the password, replaced instead with a framework that relies on public key infrastructure (PKI), the same technology behind nearly all modern encryption.

Apple’s native implementation of this system is called Passkeys in iCloud Keychain, and a technology preview is included in both iOS 15 and macOS Monterey. Disabled by default, it’s intended for testing, not production, but it’s clearly a case of Apple skating to where the puck is heading.

Using Passkeys in iCloud Keychain is pretty simple: when you create an account in an app or on a website, you’ll make your username, and the system will pop up a sheet that asks you to confirm you’re creating an account. Hit Continue, it’s confirmed with Face ID, Touch ID, or your passcode, and that’s it. The passkey for the service is stored in your keychain—strong, unique, and with no need for you to remember it.

iCloud Passkey registration
Setting up an account with iCloud Passkey is simple.

Later, when you open an app or visit a site and have to log in to your account, you’ll tap a sign in button, and the system will ask if you want to login with your passkey (or another compatible security method—more on which in a bit). Tap Continue, authenticate with your biometrics or passcode, and done.

At first blush, this might seem pretty similar to the way that iCloud Keychain already works, generating strong passwords and remembering them so you don’t have to. But there’s one key advantage: because of the use of the asymmetric public key infrastructure, apps and services don’t have to store a copy of your password. Instead, they get a copy of your public key—and because that information really is designed to be public, it doesn’t need to be secured. That’s great for users because it means that they don’t have to worry about their secret information being stolen, and it’s great for companies because it means that they won’t be targeted to steal people’s passwords. It’d be like trying to steal the text of the King James Bible.

It’s hard to overstate just how significant this change is. While we’re still a few years away from this transition, the fact that Apple has implemented it in its new operating systems is important. Given the company’s huge installed base, it exerts major influence on the tech industry and the adoption of new technology.2

There are still some implementation questions to address: for example, I’m not sure how this works in cases where, say, you want to log in to your account on someone else’s device or in a scenario where you have no devices at all with you. Currently, it’s possible to fall back to other authentication methods, including passwords, but it does eliminate one of the major advantages of Passkeys.

That said, not adopting a system with such potentially momentous security improvements across the spectrum because of edge cases would be a cases of shooting yourself in the foot to spite your face.

A better password today

So, if it’s going to be a while before passwords meet their bitter end, what are we supposed to do in the meantime?

iOS 15's built-in code generator
macOS Monterey and iOS 15 can now generate two factor codes for your accounts.

Well, we’re not being hung out to dry. Apple’s made some quality-of-life improvements to the existing password infrastructure. Best of all, iCloud Keychain now includes a generator for Time-based One-Time Passwords (TOTP), those verification codes that you may have previously generated with an app like Google Authenticator or Authy.

And, like one-time passwords sent to you by SMS, macOS and iOS can now automatically fill in those verification codes for you when you log into an account, eliminating the dance of opening a separate app or retrieving a separate device.

Setting up TOTP is easier too: when you create a new account or upgrade an account that offers these codes as a security option, developers can now simply allow users to click a link or tap a button to configure it. Previously, that workflow often required scanning a QR code with a separate device.

QR code setup
Safari can detect a QR code used for authentication and offer to set up the account for you.

Even cooler, if developers set up their system correctly, Safari can automatically detect QR codes and offer to set up the code generation option for users. Mind officially blown.

All of this is intended to encourage developers to move away from sending verification codes via SMS, a practice that is much less secure than password generators, which do all their work locally on your device and thus can’t be intercepted.

The future soon

There are some other password improvements in macOS Monterey and iOS 15 as well. For example, Apple’s systems have expanded their support for hardware security keys, offering an API that all macOS and iOS apps can use.

Between this and the verification code framework, Apple users are poised to see even better and easier to use security in the immediate future. And with Passkeys in iCloud Keychain, the future for secure and easy authentication has never looked more promising. If this is the death knell for password, I’m the one enthusiastically ringing the bell.


  1. Not sorry. 
  2. Apple Pay’s a great example of this. Contactless payments existed prior to it, and were even common outside the U.S., but the U.S. market didn’t really take off until Apple made its move. 

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at dan@sixcolors.com. His latest novel, The Aleph Extraction, is out now and available in fine book stores everywhere, so be sure to pick up a copy.]


By Jason Snell

WWDC 2021: For SF Symbols, Cyan is the new Teal

Know Your Colors

I’ve sort of fallen in love with SF Symbols, Apple’s library of thousands of iconographic representations that’s intended to let app developers build interfaces without custom art while standardizing the look of Apple’s platforms. Recently the SwiftBar utility added SF Symbols support, and I got to modify all my menu-bar status scripts to display little symbols from the SF Symbols library. It’s delightful.

Since it’s WWDC time, it’s an opportunity to get an update on the state of SF Symbols. While a lot of Apple’s stuff is released on an annual cycle in the fall, Apple keeps introducing and updating SF Symbols throughout the year during various OS releases. Overall, according to Apple, there are more than 600 new symbols being added this year, including more images for Apple products, video game controllers, health related symbols, and a bunch of interface and window management icons that go way beyond the three icons used in iPadOS 15 for multitasking.

Coming with the fall releases, however, are two huge additions to the ways SF Symbols can be displayed in apps. In addition to the existing Multicolor and Monochrome modes, symbols can be displayed in Hierarchical or Palette modes.

Hierarchical icons contain varying opacities.

Hierarchical-formatted symbols are displayed in a single color, but parts of the symbol have varying opacity. This can be especially useful in a group of icons that share characteristics, in order to point out what’s different—imagine a series of text-entry icons that all display multiple lines of text, but different symbols to represent just how clicking on the icon might modify that text. With Hierarchical symbols, the text could be displayed with a reduced opacity, while the important symbols would display at full opacity. That will have the effect of making the important part of the symbol pop, while retaining a consistent color scheme.

Hierarchical symbols can have three different levels of opacity. Apple suggests that shapes that don’t touch be assigned primary and secondary levels, and that shapes that touch or are inside of other objects be assigned a tertiary level, which is 25 percent opacity.

Icon sets in various two-color palette styles.

The Palette mode uses multiple colors, but follows the same primary-secondary-tertiary concept as Hierarchical mode. Essentially, Palette mode varies colors rather than opacity. Developers can assign the same color palette to a group of symbols to have them be harmonious, while still fitting in with their apps’ color schemes.

Given Apple’s focus on bringing its platforms together, it’s not surprising that Apple is also working to add consistency in color palettes across all platforms. Brown, a color that was previously available only on the Mac1, is now available across platforms. Apple has also redefined a few colors in order to make them consistent across platforms. Indigo and purple are now more consistent, and teal has been entirely redefined. Fortunately, if you were really attached to the old shade of teal, it’s still available—it’s just been renamed “cyan.”

Finally, among the other new features that SF Symbols will gain this year are a few clever bits of localization: Symbols that include text have been localized for more languages, so for example a page icon with a letter “A” on it in English might appear with appropriate script in Korean. Also, some icons have been optimized for right-to-left scripts — for example, the battery icon would have its bump on the other side in right-to-left languages.

Along with updating symbols, Apple has also updated its SF Symbols app to version 3, with support for custom icons, copying images right out of the app, previews of all the new icon coloring modes, and more.


  1. A statement that made me snort when I wrote it, but you know what I mean. It wasn’t available for SF Symbols on iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. 

By Dan Moren

WWDC 2021: iPhone and iPad support for Web Extensions could drive new interest

Web extensions got a big overhaul for the Mac last year, and though the uptake has not exactly been gangbusters, the potential for a bigger impact landed this year when Apple announced that they would be available on iPhone and iPad as well.

Why is that a big deal? Simple: Apple’s mobile devices are brand new territory for extension developers, and they’re a big wide open field. We’re talking about tens of millions of potential users who have simply not had access to this type of software on these devices.

One of the big advantages of web extensions is that they’re compatible across platforms. You can now, in theory, develop an extension for Google Chrome on Windows and convert it to one that can be used on the iPhone.

Apple’s trying to make this easy: they’ve updated their web extension converter, introduced last year to help developers port their existing extensions to the Mac, so that it automatically generates an iOS version as well. (You can also use it to update your existing Mac extension with iOS support.)

There are, of course, some limitations in designing an extension to work on Apple’s mobile devices. In particular, concerns about resources: many extensions use persistent background pages that keep scripts running whenever an extension is installed and activated, but those pages can chew up as much memory and power as an extra open tab. Instead, iOS/iPadOS extensions require non-persistent background pages that only get loaded when something triggers them.

Extensions on iOS
Designing an extension for iOS dos require specific considerations, such as different screen sizes.

But that does mean that developers who count on the existence of a background page to keep track of information will instead need to rely on other solutions, such as the browser storage API. There are a few other cases where certain APIs aren’t available, including ones that just behave differently on iOS/iPadOS from elsewhere (the Window API, for example, or mouse events like clicking). There are, as well, design considerations that must be taken into account when porting an extension to mobile devices—especially the iPhone, with its screen configuration. However, in one piece of good news, it does sound as though extensions will be allowed to offer keyboard shortcuts on mobile devices.

Unsurprisingly, privacy is a big focus of the way Apple deals with extensions. Extensions will have to request permission from the user before they’re activated on iOS, though Apple has some suggestions to ease this workflow, including limiting an extension to viewing the current active tab, where permission is implicitly granted by user action.

New Tab Page
Safari 15 allows extensions to take over the new tab page on both the Mac and mobile devices.

Beyond the addition to Apple’s mobile devices, Safari 15 also brings one other new major type of extension: the new tab override. This lets extensions create custom pages that appear when you open a new tab in Safari, letting users have even more control than Safari’s own Start Page. And those are available on both the Mac and iOS/iPadOS.

The barrier to entry still remains that creating an extension for Apple’s devices means you need to have a Mac that runs Xcode, which isn’t feasible for some developers. Moreover, extensions for iOS are, like the Mac, tied to apps, which means dealing with the App Store. For those developers used to the freedom of the web, that may be a hard sell, even considering the opportunities.

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at dan@sixcolors.com. His latest novel, The Aleph Extraction, is out now and available in fine book stores everywhere, so be sure to pick up a copy.]


By Stephen Hackett

WWDC 2021: macOS Monterey further blurs lines between Mac, Catalyst, and iPad apps

How one can define what a “Mac app” is has gotten more complicated as time has gone on. In the early days of Mac OS X, developers could choose between Cocoa, Carbon and even Java. As the latter two faded, we saw the rise of wrappers around web apps that via technologies like Electron.

But Apple has made the water murky as well, thanks to Mac Catalyst and more recently, the ability of M1 Macs to run iPhone and iPad apps natively.

Photos and Messages on macOS Monterey
One of those applications is built with Mac Catalyst.

Mac Catalyst

To recap, Catalyst allows a developer to take an iPad app and tweak it to run on both Apple silicon and Intel Macs. These apps can pick up a lot of native Mac UI and UX features along the way. Messages, for example, is a Catalyst app as of macOS Big Sur. Apple has done a lot of clever things to give developers incentives to use Catalyst. If an iPad app supports multitasking, for example, the Mac version gets multi-window support out of the box.

This year at WWDC, Mac Catalyst didn’t get the massive improvements it did last year, but Apple still took some time to go over how it can be used to make a great Mac app.

Apple has continued to improve the things Xcode does automatically when the “Mac” button is checked and a developer builds an app. Beyond that, though, developers need to fine-tune the Mac experience.

At first, all Mac Catalyst apps felt a little weird, as they were all displayed at a reduced scale of 77%, owing to the differences between iPad and Mac display. That’s has since been changed—now apps can be set to run in the “Mac idiom” at 100% scale. These apps also utilize native AppKit controls, making them look and feel like more traditional apps.

Apple encourages developers to think about the various display sizes that a Mac Catalyst app may encounter—it’s a far cry from what’s found on iOS and iPadOS. Not only are there a bunch of non-Retina MacBook Airs and iMacs still running around, but there’s probably a daredevil out there somewhere who’s running apps in full screen on a Pro Display XDR at 6K resolution.

Likewise, Macs are hooked up to a wide range of input devices, none of which is a touchscreen. Apps can’t assume that everyone has a trackpad, either. Any navigation that requires gestures will need to be re-thought for the macOS environment.

In many ways, creating a good Mac Catalyst app is just like writing a good AppKit app. Apple’s tools are good, but making something truly great requires time and care. Even if Catalyst ends up being a transitionary technology in the long haul, it’s an important step, and one that seems to be going well. It’s getting harder and harder to tell what apps are using Catalyst, and that’s a good thing.

iOS and iPadOS apps on M1 Macs

There are over one million iOS and iPad apps already on the Mac App Store for users of new M1 Macs. While developers of many, many major apps have opted out of this program, Apple is working in macOS Monterey to improve the experience for users and hopefully make developers more willing to look at Apple silicon Macs as a reasonable target for their mobile development.

To be frank, these apps still stick out on macOS Big Sur. They work well enough, but they look and feel a bit foreign, even when compared to apps built with Mac Catalyst. But for developers who don’t go through that work, it’s a painless way to have their applications in front of Mac users.

In macOS Monterey, Apple is working to conform these apps to feel more at home on the Mac. In addition to mapping iOS functionality to things like the menu bar and Mac input devices that started in Big Sur, these applications on Monterey can now support Shortcuts for Mac, Apple Pay, full-screen video with HDR and new gesture support when a trackpad is present.

On the App Store side, developers can also now confirm that their app has been tested to work well on macOS, and they can set a minimum OS that they support, or let Apple automatically set that on the app’s needs.

Additionally, Apple is tweaking the Mac App Store to make these titles easier to find. No longer will users have to switch to the “iPhone and iPad Apps” tab to discover these apps; they will appear in-line with traditional Mac titles in the Store, blurring the line between Mac-first and Mac-second apps even more.

[Stephen Hackett is the author of 512 Pixels and co-founder of Relay FM.]


By Jason Snell for Macworld

Are FaceTime’s new features too late?

Last year, in the grips of a sudden and shocking global pandemic, Apple continued rolling. New product announcements kept dropping. A new set of operating-system releases were announced, went into beta, and shipped. The transition to Apple silicon started.

Everyone at Apple deserves a lot of credit for keeping the machine chugging along during 2020, but the company was helped out by the its policy of working well in advance, laying the groundwork for products and features over a long stretch of time.

Unfortunately, that approach also has a downside: it reduces the company’s nimbleness. Last spring it was clear that masks were going to be a major feature of public life for a while, but there was no way the next iPhone could be adapted to add Touch ID to its home button in time. Apple did manage to invent a mask workaround for Apple Watch users—but even that quick fix didn’t arrive on iPhones until an iOS update in May 2021.

Apple takes its time, for better or for worse. This week at its Worldwide Developer Conference, Apple finally unveiled a bunch of features that appear to be based on hard lessons learned during the last year-plus of pandemic life. It’s great to see Apple reacting to changes in the world, but given that nothing showed off this week will ship until this fall, is the timing all wrong?

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


By Jason Snell

WWDC 2021: More cowbell

I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more machine-learning based audio analysis.

The bulk of Tuesday’s WWDC session, “Discover built-in sound classification in SoundAnalysis,” is going to appeal to developers who want to write code into their audio apps. But I found it strangely fascinating just as an example of what Apple’s machine-learning-based models are capable of.

Presenter Jon Huang of Apple’s audio team demonstrates a built-in audio recognition model that allows his Mac to dynamically recognize different sounds as they occur around it: talking, music, elements of the music like vocals and guitars, Huang snapping along to the music, pouring tea, stirring the glass, and more. (The Mac is literally annotating every sound that’s happening in the room—it’s a very cool demo, and I was immediately struck by the potential accessibility power of this technology.)

Following up Huang’s demo is a pretty nice one by audio software engineer Kevin Durand: he uses Shortcuts on a Mac running macOS Monterey to process a folder full of movies, looking for any that contain the sound of a cowbell—and then clipping out that movie and saving it to a new location. It’s a great demo of the utility of Shortcuts and of the speed of Macs running Apple silicon, and sure enough, in moments Durand’s shortcut has found one video—of Huang roller-skating backward while striking a cowbell.

Shortcuts doesn’t have audio classification built into it (yet?), but Durand has built a simple app using Apple’s new SoundAnalysis APIs that identifies whether a particular sound is found inside a particular file. It’s a good way to demonstrate these APIs to developers, but I think it’s also a good example of what Shortcuts enables on the Mac—Durand’s app doesn’t really even need an interface to be useful, because it’s lending all its power to Shortcuts, where users can add it in to whatever workflows they want to build.

But in the meantime, maybe Apple should try to build actions like Durand’s right into Shortcuts. These SoundAnalysis APIs are really impressive, and Shortcuts provides a way to put that kind of power into the hands of users without anyone standing in the middle.



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