I don’t usually link to Tim Cook interviews, but this one really jumped out at me. In it, Cook talks about the time leading up to him taking over the company and the early days of the iPhone in a way I found very enjoyable to watch.
Yours truly, over on MacStories:
In every way, the Power Mac G5 was more than the G4 it replaced. It was bigger, more expandable and faster.
Of course, we know the trouble that came with that power — the inability to ever ship a G5-powered notebook. Even with that cloud hanging over it, this tower brought a lot to the table worth talking about.
Recovered from WWDC, Myke previews his summer’s work, Federico shares what he knows about Shortcuts and Stephen gets nerdy about Dark Mode in macOS Mojave.
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On the surface, Shortcuts the app looks like the full-blown Workflow replacement heavy users of the app have been wishfully imagining for the past year. But there is more going on with Shortcuts than the app alone. Shortcuts the feature, in fact, reveals a fascinating twofold strategy: on one hand, Apple hopes to accelerate third-party Siri integrations by leveraging existing APIs as well as enabling the creation of custom SiriKit Intents; on the other, the company is advancing a new vision of automation through the lens of Siri and proactive assistance from which everyone – not just power users – can reap the benefits.
While it’s still too early to comment on the long-term impact of Shortcuts, I can at least attempt to understand the potential of this new technology. In this article, I’ll try to explain the differences between Siri shortcuts and the Shortcuts app, as well as answering some common questions about how much Shortcuts borrows from the original Workflow app. Let’s dig in.
This is all very good news for iOS users. I’m looking forward to talking about it on Connected this afternoon.
The Appearance Manager, introduced with Mac OS 8, modifies the appearance of the original Finder to include options for changing menu fonts, window-shading (collapsable window title bars), and other appearance-centric features. The Appearance Manager is now considered an integral part of the Mac OS, and is installed as part of an “Easy Install” process.
Seemed appropriate after talking about macOS Mojave’s Dark Mode this week.
Today marks the 15th anniversary of Smile, makers of tools like PDFpen and TextExpander.
To mark the occasion, I spoke with co-founder Greg Scown about the company’s history, present and future.
1. Tell me a little bit about how Smile got started.
My co-founder Philip introduced himself to me at Macworld San Francisco 2003, where I was exhibiting PageSender, my faxing software. We hit it off, I had an idea for a product, he had the artistic know how, and together we produced DiscLabel, our disc labeling app. We shipped DiscLabel 1.0 at the last Macworld New York in July 2003. DiscLabel won best of show, which was very exciting. I was Smile Software. Philip was OnMyMac. Together, we became SmileOnMyMac.
2. The Wayback Machine has an early version of the homepage (which looks amazing, by the way), but the page shows just two apps: PageSender and HTMLColorPickerX. Were they the first two products? What ended up happening with those apps?
We retired PageSender in 2010, eight years after it first shipped. Faxing was on the decline. Apple’s laptops hadn’t shipped with internal modems for years. We retired HTMLColorPicker X in March 2005. It became obsolete when OS X added an HTML color picker.
Let’s call these evidence of the “change or die” mantra of software development.
3. Back in 2006, Smile acquired what would become TextExpander. Today, that app is one reason Smile is well known to Mac and iOS users, but how did it come into the fold?
We acquired Textpander from Peter Maurer, now of Many Tricks. Smile shipped TextExpander 1.3 on May 23, 2006, and the post you cite does a good job telling the story. It’s a case of, ‘I really need this app for my life, other people must also’ combined with ‘If I make it, I can ensure it will always work for me.’
As for iOS, at WWDC in 2009, Apple announced support for cut/copy/paste in iOS 3. At our Smile WWDC party, Dave and Roustem from AgileBits, makers of 1Password, told us that if we did not produce TextExpander for iPhone, they would.
It wasn’t entirely clear whether or not they were joking, so we built TextExpander for iPhone, which debuted on August 26, 2009. Initially, it could only expand snippets in the Notes section of the TextExpander app. The real game-changer on iOS was when Apple introduced custom keyboards in iOS 8. Now, we’re able to make basic TextExpander expansion available in any app.
4. PDFpen is another well-known app that y’all build. How did it come about?
If the era of fax and PageSender is over, what’s next? We figured PDFs sent via email would replace faxing. Looking at the PDF editor options showed a huge gap between Apple’s Preview, which was read-only at that time, and Adobe Acrobat, which was far too much for an everyday user. We figured we could fit somewhere between ‘free and very limited’ and ‘crazy expensive and can do everything, only a bit of which you need.’
With PDFpen we started by helping users add text and images to PDFs, such that they could sign and return forms and contracts. Then, we built out the feature set, always focused on making it easy for everyday users to view and edit PDFs.
That brings us to this year, when we launched PDFpen 10. Version 10 can do way more than 1.0, but still focuses on making it easy to do the basics.
5. Speaking of PDFpen, there’s another 2006 blog post that caught my eye. In November of that year, Philip wrote about getting the app into Apple retail stores. How was that process? Was it a successful venture?
The retail boxes were not a great financial success. We were relatively late to a declining game. They did serve as good advertising, sitting prominently on the shelves in the Apple Stores. They also helped me convince my grandfather that what I was doing was real.1 I think prior to the retail boxes, he was a bit dubious, not really ‘getting’ the whole Internet thing and downloadable software.
6. What was the idea behind changing the name of the company from SmileOnMyMac to Smile back in 2010?
We had started shipping TextExpander on iOS, and we were planning PDFpen for iOS, so we weren’t Mac-only anymore. We decided it would make more sense to be Smile than to be SmileOnMyMac. This has proved handy now that we also ship TextExpander for Windows. Plus, with the way TextExpander works now, we can expand to even more platforms. It’s good to have the company name match both our reality and aspirations.
7. Fifteen years is a long time, but it is still firmly in the Mac OS X era. How has the Mac and the ecosystem around it changed since then?
macOS has become quite mature and reliable. It wasn’t that long ago that it took a few minutes to restart a Mac, and one needed to do that regularly. I haven’t restarted my Mac in over 19 days, and that doesn’t surprise me. I haven’t needed disk recovery tools in years. (Touches wood.)
There’s the whole “cloud”-ification of everything. Back in the day, you had one computer. I think you can look to Apple’s introduction of the iPhone as the milestone that opened people’s eyes to the possibilities of being multi-device people in a multi-device world. Once you have two devices, you’ll want your stuff on both, and a whole online/sync/SaaS/cloud world has grown into that space now. It’s been exciting to see the Mac become the platform of choice for web app / SaaS development.
8. When Smile started, the iOS App Store was still years in the future, but today, you make apps for both the Mac and iOS devices. How has the addition of the iPhone and iPad changed the company and its products?
They’ve certainly meant more for us to do. It’s not enough to have a macOS app, and certainly not if it ought to have an iOS companion. We’re fortunate to have been grounded in the macOS business, as the iOS business seems much more difficult. We have immense respect for the Omni Group and how they manage to do both platforms extremely well.
Likewise, we understand that not everyone’s experiences with the iOS App Store has been positive. It’s a tough place to make one’s sole business, but it’s an important platform for our customers.
9. Recently, TextExpander evolved from a Mac and iOS app to an entire service, complete with cloud syncing, a Windows version and a paid subscription. What went into wanting to make that change? How has it worked out?
Since around the release of TextExpander 3, sharing had been prominent on the long-term roadmap. After all, we’ve become a multi-device world. We believed that TextExpander had the potential to grow well beyond a single user utility. Teams using TextExpander, similar to our team and how we use TextExpander, were asking for easier ways to collaborate in TextExpander. It took us a while to get there, from TextExpander 3 to TextExpander 6 to be exact.
So we launched what we saw as a cool shiny new thing people would love. And what we found was change is hard. We fumbled a bit on our pricing at launch. We hadn’t anticipated the number of folks who didn’t want TextExpander to be more than a single user utility, or the vehemence with which they would express that to us.
In fact, some of the users who left us have told us they have come back, which validates that we do offer something special in TextExpander and that they do want it. Just, change is hard. And maybe triple think how you present change to your customers.
Fast forward to today. We serve single users, small teams, medium teams, even large organizations. We help users and teams understand how and where they’re saving time with TextExpander. At Smile, we use TextExpander to improve our support, to systematize monthly tasks, and to avoid costly mistakes. Our customers are doing things with TextExpander we had only dreamed of. We feel like we’re just getting started.
10. What can Smile customers expect for the next 15 years?
Flying cars. Isn’t that the standard answer for what one can expect a decade or more in the future? Seriously, though, I think we could have predicted 15 years ago that fax software would diminish in importance, but it’s much more difficult to determine exactly where the next 15 years will take us. I believe Smile customers can expect a company that cares deeply about them, provides excellent service and support, and builds great products they use each and every day. The specifics we’ll have to leave to the crystal ball.
- Editor’s Note: I fully understand this struggle. ↩
The most obvious change to macOS coming later this year is in the inclusion of Dark Mode.
When Apple redesigned macOS back in 2014 with Yosemite, it included a less ambitious version of the feature. Here’s a bit from my review:
To say that Yosemite comes with a “Dark Theme” is vastly over-stating the “Dark menu bar and Dock” option found in the “General” preference pane:
As shown above, OS X’s new dark mode only affects the menu bar, Command+Tab UI, drop-down menus, the Dock and Spotlight. Everything else — from Finder windows to built-in apps — remain their normal, bright selves, no matter what System Preferences says.
With macOS Mojave, Apple has gone much further with Dark Mode, as you can see:
Why Dark Mode?
In its “Introducing Dark Mode” session at WWDC, Apple gave three broad guidelines for Dark Mode:
- Dark interfaces are cool.
- Dark interfaces are not just inverted.
- Dark Mode is content-focused.
The first point is hard to argue with, so I will let it stand.
The second point is interesting. If you have never inverted the macOS UI, take a trip into the Appearances System Preferences pane and flip it on. In short, everything is strictly inverted, and things get weird. Here’s a shot of it in High Sierra:
Clearly that’s no way to build any sort of Dark Mode for millions of people to use every day.
The last point, “Dark Mode is content-focused” should sound familiar to anyone who was around during the iOS 7 transition, or who was paying attention when OS X Yosemite was introduced. Apple’s modern design language, the company is fond of saying, is made to get out of the way, allowing users’ content to shine through.
Apple has returned to that well with Dark Mode, and I think it works.
Your eye is naturally drawn to the thumbnails in Finder, and Preview’s window chrome doesn’t compete with the open document.
There’s a reason that pro apps like Final Cut Pro and Logic come with dark modes; now everyone can enjoy the UI fading into the background.
(Don’t miss the dark new Trash Can!)
Under the Covers
To achieve this Apple has introduced an entire new Appearance to macOS. “Light Mode,” which we’ve all been using since 2001 is known as
NSAppearance. In a no-nonsense fashion, the new Dark Mode is dubbed
As we’ve seen, this is far from a mere inversion of the default Appearance. Apple has gone through and fine-tuned the smallest details to make this work.
For example, the window shadows are different between the Light and Dark Appearance. In Dark Mode, they are a little crisper and slightly more opaque, complete with an inner stroke around the edges of windows to help them appear more defined.
Another example of this is Desktop Tinting, a technique Aqua uses to alter the grays used in Dark Mode to be more harmonious with the current Desktop picture.
In this over-the-top example, you can see that the color temperature of the two windows is tweaked by the wallpaper beneath them:
It’s subtle, but I think it is nice. Desktop Tinting is automatically applied to
NSWindow and related classes
Note that this is not the same as Vibrancy, which allows a lot more of the background color through the material used in places like Finder’s sidebar, Spotlight, Notification Center and more:
There were a few that jumped out at me, however.
The biggest is that not all apps should always follow the Appearance that has been set by the user. As before, Apple believes that media-focused tools should be dark at all times. I don’t foresee something like Final Cut Pro X gaining a light theme anytime soon.
Apple has also given developers the ability to use the Light Appearance in sections of their applications. One example is Mail, which can use the Light Appearance for messages, but the Dark Appearance for its window chrome, matching the system:
This lets text and attachments be viewed more easily for some users. I think it’s a nice nod to accessibility for text-heavy apps, and I hope third-party developers take advantage of this ability.
A Note on Accents
macOS Mojave also introduces the concept of Accents.
This has led to some changes in the General preferences pane:
The old “Blue” and “Graphite” Appearances are gone, replaced by the Light and Dark Appearances. Of course, that means the “Use dark menu bar and Dock” checkbox is also a thing of the past.1
The eight Accent colors are really an expansion of the old version of Appearances; these options change the look of things like drop-down menus, checkboxes and more. They are available in both the Light and Dark Appearances, and can really change the feel of macOS:
The Highlight color is unchanged from previous versions of macOS; it is used for text selection as always.
The Special Case of Graphite
Out of the eight Accents, only the last one, Graphite, triggers the gray window controls. The other seven retain the red, yellow and green “stoplight” look from the previous Blue Appearance.
This Accent is also supposed to disable Desktop Tinting, but that doesn’t seem to be working in the first developer beta of Mojave.
As a long-time Graphite user, I am conflicted. I really like how the Dark Appearance looks with several of the Accents, but I’ve never been a fan of the red, yellow and green look for the window controls. I think I’m going to have to get used to them.
macOS Mojave retains High Sierra’s various Accessibility display settings.
On any Apple device where it is an option, I enable Reduced Transparency mode. I think Apple’s Vibrant materials look great in screenshots, but in practice, I find them distracting. In Mojave, clicking “Reduce transparency” in the Accessibility preference pane disables Vibrancy as before, and lessens the impact of Desktop Tinting, but doesn’t banish it altogether. Like High Sierra, it also makes the Dock and Menu Bar much more opaque:
The “Increase contrast” option is also present when running the Dark Appearance. Like before, it outlines windows, controls and more:
The Dark Appearance, of course, will not make everything dark on the system. Some apps won’t make the change, and much of the web — this website included — looks shockingly bright in the context of macOS Mojave:
At the end of the day, Dark Mode isn’t a brave new era for macOS, but it is a welcome addition to the system. It’s an option that I’m already enjoying on my test system, and I think I’ll move to it full-time this fall when macOS Mojave ships. It’s clear that Apple has put a lot of thought into the feature, and I think most Mac developers will be onboard with what it means for their applications.
- “Automatically hide and show the menu bar” is still a thing, but I don’t think I have ever used it. A Mac without a menu bar is a weird place for me to be. ↩
Mark Sullivan at FastCompany is reporting on a change that I definitely think is coming to the Watch at some point:
Apple will stick with the Watch’s current button configuration, with a button and a digital crown situated on one side of the device, but neither will physically click as before. Rather than reacting to the user’s touch by physically moving back and forth, the new buttons will vibrate slightly under the fingertip, using the haptic effect Apple calls the Taptic Engine. (The digital crown will still physically rotate to navigate through content.)
Makes a ton of sense to me, assuming it all works well when wet.
It really seems that Apple is cleaning house in some corners of macOS. Something big is coming this way, it feels like.
Our live WWDC show was last night and it was a ton of fun:
In this very special live episode, Stephen is joined by Jason Snell and Serenity Caldwell to talk about macOS Mojave and Screen Time before going over the Happy-o-meter results and talking about Shortcuts with Myke and Federico.
My thanks to the sponsors that made it possible: