All posts in “Apple”

The 12 best apps of 2017

Just when you thought apps had gotten boring and derivative, developers have leveraged new technologies to breathe new life into mobile experiences. From games we couldn’t put down to powerful camera apps to augmented reality finally taking off, those little squares with the rounded corners on our home screens continued to surprise and delight us.

Whether it was record-breaking downloads or those hidden gems that just made our lives easier, these are the apps we loved most in 2017.

1. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp

Nintendo delighted fans this year with another heavy dose of nostalgia in the form of Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. The long-awaited mobile installment in the Animal Crossing series, the game proved once again Nintendo can still capture our imaginations with old favorites.

iOS

2. Astro 

An email app with a chabot built-in. Astro takes a new approach to helping you stay on top of your inbox. The app has all the organizational features you’d expect from an email client: multiple inboxes, gesture-based controls, message scheduling, and the ability to “snooze” emails for later. What makes Astro stand out, though, is the built-in assistant that learns your habits and can help remind you to stay on top of your messages. Send it a few commands and it can unsubscribe you from annoying newsletters, remind you to get back to people, and manage your VIP list.

iOS, Android

3. Ballz

One of those frustratingly addicting games that you just can’t quite seem to put down, Ballz went viral even beyond Ketchapp’s usually reliable hit-making abilities. The game is simple — use your balls to hit the bricks — and yet it requires just enough strategy that it’s near impossible to put down. No wonder it spent weeks and weeks at the top of the App Store and Google Play, earning a near-perfect 4.5-star rating. 

iOS, Android

4. Clips

Something of a mix between iMovie and Snapchat, Clips is a new kind of video app for Apple. The app, which lets you create movies out of short clips, has a bit of everything: augmented reality effects, stylized filters, AI-powered automated captions, and, yes, lots of emoji. 

iOS

5. Datally

Worrying about how much mobile date you’re using seems like one of those problems we should be able to easily avoid by now, but too often that’s just not the case. And, depending on where you live, cellular data can quickly add up to a costly investment. That’s why Google’s data-saving app Datally is so dang useful. The app not only breaks down exactly how you’re using your data; it helps you prevent apps from accessing it when you don’t want them to. Meaning: No more surprise overages.

Android

6. Google Assistant

Yes, it was still a bit rough around the edges when it first launched, but the standalone Google Assistant app is damn useful, especially if you don’t already have a Pixel phone. Not only can the app help with standard queries you’d typically turn to Google searches for, it can tell you about what’s on your calendar, send messages, and control your music. 

iOS, Android

7. Halide

Most camera apps aren’t worth using simply because it’s just so much easier to stick with iOS’s default camera. Halide is an exception worth making, though. The app gives you full manual control over exposure, focus, ISO, white balance, and shutter speed with easy gesture-based controls that are meant to emulate old-school film cameras. 

iOS

8. HQ

Leave it to the founders of Vine (RIP) to come up with a trivia app that’s so much more than just another quiz game. Combining live video, cash prizes, and a charismatic host, HQ has taken the App Store by storm — inspiring hundreds of thousands of players to tune in and answer trivia questions at the same time each day. Yes, it still has some fail whale-like technical issues, and yes, some onlookers insist it’s all just a fad. But it’s also just incredibly fun — and remains one of the breakout games of the year.

iOS

9. Ikea Place

Augmented reality had a moment in 2017. Apple, Google, Facebook, and Snapchat all launched new platforms showcasing the tech. But even still, so much of AR is just plain gimmicky (looking at you, dancing hotdog). So it was even more surprising that one of the breakout AR apps of the year came not from a tech giant but from Ikea. The furniture company’s AR app, which lets you preview how certain pieces of furniture will look in your home, isn’t just clever — it’s actually useful. 

iOS

10. Super Mario Run

Okay, technically it launched at the end of 2016. But, considering the app helped propel Apple to its single biggest day of App Store sales at the start of the year, and later went on to be one of the most popular apps of the year, it’s safe to say 2017 was the year of Super Mario Run. Not only that, but coming on the heels of Pokémon Go, it further cemented Nintendo’s status as a (finally!) serious player in the mobile space.

iOS, Android

11. tbh

No matter how many people try and ultimately fail, it seems there will always be an appetite for services that gives us an unfiltered window into what our friends really think about us. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that tbh, an anonymous quiz app for teens, was almost instantly successful. But thanks to an innovative approach that focused on positivity, its developers proved that anonymity can be used as a force for good. It was so successful, in fact, Facebook snapped it up as part of its ongoing bid to win over younger teens.

iOS

12. Yarn

Part of a new breed of reading apps that are reinventing how young people read, Yarn quickly became one of the most popular apps in an emerging category known as “chat fiction.” The apps, which present stories as if they were SMS exchanges, have proved not only to be incredibly sticky, but extremely profitable. Yarn stands out because it mixes photos and videos into its interactive stories, making them all the more compelling.

iOS, Android

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You’ll never get lost in an airport again with Apple Maps’ indoor mapping

Raise your hand if you remember what a joke Apple Maps was when it launched? It was a complete disaster.

These days, Apple Maps isn’t as embarrassing and actually pretty feature-packed. And in some ways it’s ahead of Google Maps (yeah, I can’t believe it either). Case in point: indoor mapping for airports and shopping malls.

Mapping the outside world isn’t easy, but compared to indoor mapping, it’s a piece of cake. 

Whereas you only need to drive a bunch of camera-equipped cars up and down streets to take pictures and pull data from satellite imagery — I’m over-simplifying things here, so please don’t drag me — creating accurate maps for indoor spaces with multiple floors is much more difficult.

It’s why nobody — not even Google, which introduced indoor mapping for retailers, transit hubs, and malls in Google Maps for Android way back in 2011 — has really done it very well yet.

Apple’s first stab at indoor maps is limited to airports and malls, but I think it’s a good first start. I’d rather have it done really well than done in a half-baked way the way Google Maps’ implementation is right now.

JFK International Airport is one of over 30 global airports with indoor maps in Apple Maps.

Image: raymond wong/mashable

Indoor maps for Apple Maps was first announced at WWDC with a gradual rollout for a dozen or so airports in various cities around the world with the launch of iOS 11.

As of Thursday, Apple Maps has detailed indoor maps for 34 U.S. and international airports. Apple’s also added floor plans for malls in nine U.S. cities, but doesn’t list any specific ones. (I guess you’ll have to go to your local mall and find out?) You can find a list of all airports that have Apple Maps indoor mapping on Apple’s website here.

The tech giant invited me to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York to walk through JetBlue’s Terminal 5 of gates, shops, and restaurants to check out indoor mapping for myself. 

I was extremely skeptic at first, but after trying it out, I’m inclined to say they might have just figured out how to make navigating through airports a little less stressful.

Reducing pre-flight stress

I think most people will agree with me when I say airports aren’t exactly places anyone really wants to spend a lot of time in (unless maybe you’re The Points Guy living it up in a first class lounge).

Despite having a zillion signs to guide you, airports are messy and invite stress even if you’re the really chill type. There’s a good chance you’ll walk in the wrong direction from where your gate is. Or you’ll walk down a seemingly-endless terminal looking for dining or a shop, only to discover the options are lame.

Having indoor maps alleviates a lot of pre-flight stress and anxiety.

Whatever the case is, being at an airport sucks. They’re not places I’d choose to explore because I’m not there to have a good time. I’m there to catch a plane to wherever I need to go, and that’s it.

Having indoor maps of airports, however, alleviates a lot of this pre-flight stress and anxiety that I and many people feel after passing through security check.

Instead of wasting time wandering through a terminal looking for, say, a Starbucks at 7:30 a.m., you can literally fire up Apple Maps and look at the floor plan of your terminal and see if there is one inside, what time it’s open, and where it’s located.

Just knowing what’s inside of an airport — like what your dining and shopping options are or where the restrooms are located — relative to where your boarding gate is makes a big difference in informing travelers on how best to use their time.

Very straightforward

Indoor mapping works exactly as you’d expect it to. Opening up Apple Maps when you’re in an airport with indoor mapping reveals a “Look Inside” button listed underneath the terminal name.

Tap it and you’ll be brought to a map of the ground floor. As you zoom in on the map, you’ll see additional location points for things like restrooms, baggage claim areas, staircases, dining and shopping, and boarding gates.

Tapping on the “1” (ground floor) opens up indoor maps for all the different floors available. In the case of Terminal 5, I could bring up floor plans for four levels and one underground floor. 

Areas that have indoor maps are presented in white. Everything else is grayed out so there’s no confusion as to what information you’re looking at.

Your location appears as a blue dot and there’s also a directional arrow that turns as your iOS device moves, just like for outdoor maps.

From there, you can take a look at the airport terminal shops and layout in 2D or swipe down with two fingers for a 3D view.

Apple says it’s working with the owners of supported airports (in my case, the Port Authority) to nail down this feature. I’m told indoor maps in airports and malls are accurate down to three meters, and constantly updated when old vendors close and new ones open up.

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True enough, I walked down through several floors of Terminal 5 and the maps were indeed pretty accurate. The MUJI to Go and Baked by Melissa cupcakes shops were exactly where Apple Maps said they’d be, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover there was an Aunt Butchie’s Bakery Café and not nothing at the very end of one really long hall.

The feature is by no means perfect, though. It doesn’t tell you if there’s moving walkways ahead, where seats/tables are, or where USB charging ports might be. These are minor things that could easily be added in later, but would have been great today. 

I also wish there was a way know see the time to indoor destination. When I’m at the airport and I’m trying to figure out if I should goto that McDonald’s on that’s nowhere near my gate, my decision usually comes down to whether or not I have time to get there and come back. It’s nice knowing where the McDonald’s is located inside of the terminal, but an estimation of how long it’d take to get there and maybe even how long the line would be during certain hours would be extra useful.

For security purposes, indoor maps doesn’t show everything. Things that are irrelevant for travelers, like maintenance closets or staff office rooms aren’t included in the schematics. 

And speaking of security, Apple says it’s not tracking your every movement within an airport or mall, monitoring where you’ve eaten or what stores you’ve stepped foot in, because it respects customer privacy. Unlike Google, Apple’s main business isn’t advertising and it doesn’t need to sell your main data to companies in order to keep the lights on. 

I’m also told that the navigating features are done securely on your device and not associated with your Apple ID in any way. So that’s another plus over any Google Maps tracking. This approach to privacy is no different from iBeacons, the little Bluetooth transmitters that vendors can install to ping your iOS device when it’s within range. They collect no personally identifiable information.

A big step forward for mapping

What Apple’s doing with indoor maps may not seem like a big deal, but it is. It’s constrained to 2D and 3D for now, but just imagine what it could look like if Apple adds augmented reality to it. It could be immersive as what Google’s promising with Tango-based Visual Positioning Service (VPS) mapping system.

Like how Google Maps changed the way we navigate the world, I predict indoor mapping will be just as impactful. 

Google Maps

Google Maps isn't completely devoid of indoor information. Some malls like this one lists some indoor shops, but they aren't as detailed or up-to-date as Apple Maps because the indoor data is provided by the vendors.

Google Maps isn’t completely devoid of indoor information. Some malls like this one lists some indoor shops, but they aren’t as detailed or up-to-date as Apple Maps because the indoor data is provided by the vendors.

Image: screenshot: raymond wong/mashable

Apple Maps

On the other hand, Apple Maps has way more indoor map data for the same mall because the company works directly with the mall's property managers to get this info.

On the other hand, Apple Maps has way more indoor map data for the same mall because the company works directly with the mall’s property managers to get this info.

Image: SCREENSHOT: RAYMOND WONG/MASHABLE

To the people rolling their eyes, look, I know what you’re thinking: “Airports have had indoor maps for years… inside of kiosks”. True as that might be, that’s also an impersonal and antiquated way of providing information.

First, you need to find a kiosk. Then, you need to touch a display — big as it may be — that’s been poked at by who knows how many people with who knows what germs. And after it all, you still need to figure out which direction to go.

I’d much rather have all this information in my phone that’s accessible from anywhere and is smart enough to know where I’m at so that I can feel confident I won’t get lost.

Perhaps, the most ironic thing of all was finding an airport kiosk that was broken and couldn’t display the terminal’s map.

If that’s not enough to sell you on how powerful indoor mapping is, nothing will.

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The HyperCharger PRO can handle three devices at once

It has two built-in chargers, plus an additional USB port.
It has two built-in chargers, plus an additional USB port.

Image: LinearFlux

These days, you wouldn’t want to be caught dead on a long flight without a portable charger — yet, you still likely forget to purchase and pack one, time after time. And there you are, once again stuck on a plane with no Netflix, a dead phone, and a snoring old man leaning on your shoulder. For the love of it all, buy a portable battery pack.

The Graphene Series HyperCharger PRO is a welcome solution, with two built-in charging cables and an additional USB port. With a whopping 8,000mAh capacity (in layman’s terms: a lot of battery power), Graphene enables you to charge three devices simultaneously. Or you can opt to charge your phone over and over again. Either way, you won’t have to worry about awkwardly situating yourself near an airport outlet anytime soon. 

The HyperCharger PRO also comes equipped with the anti-gravity NanoStik PRO pad, which allows you to attach the battery pack to your smartphone without any kind of adhesives for a low key charging solution. Whether you’re trekking around the world or just trying to make sure you have enough juice left to call a cab at the end of the night, the Graphene 8K HyperCharger PRO is a respectable choice in backup.

Mashable readers can buy one now for $39.99, which is an impressive discount of 50% off $79.99 for a limited time.

Caught between Mac and Windows? This crossover program could help.

Operate Windows on a Mac, without a Windows license.
Operate Windows on a Mac, without a Windows license.

Image: Pexels

As Mick Jagger once moaned into a microphone, you can’t always get what you want — and computers are no exception.

Windows-powered computers are still some of the most popular models money can buy. But with their razor-sharp aesthetics and user-friendly edge, Apple’s slew of MacBooks are climbing their way to the top.

Switching from Windows to Mac may be a logical decision, but there’s just one problem: You bought a bunch of Windows-only programs. So what are you supposed to do, start from scratch?  And waste plenty of resources and money? Um, no thank you. Fortunately, a program called CrossOver 17 offers a way for you to run all your favorite apps and games on your new computer.

Once you download CrossOver 17 onto your Mac, you can install and run Windows programs without buying a Windows license, rebooting your computer, or investing in some virtual machine. Simply drag and drop your favorite programs onto your Mac dock and you’re all set.

If you’re looking to kick it old school with a Linux computer, which has been around since the ’90s, CrossOver 17 has a Windows to Linux version, too.

CrossOver 17 usually costs $40, which is a steal when you think about how much money you’re saving on new software. But for the next few days, you can buy it for $19 — that’s more than 50% off. Whether you’re getting a new computer for the holidays or looking for the perfect gift for your tech-obsessed kid, it’s a no-brainer. 

Amazon to sell Apple TV, Google Chromecast after two-year ban

Amazon will soon sell Apple TV devices.
Amazon will soon sell Apple TV devices.

Image: karissa bell/mashable

Congrats, Apple and Google. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is ready to play nice, in a way. 

Amazon will begin selling Apple TV and Google Chromecast devices after a two-year ban on the e-commerce giant, CNET reported Thursday. Those products compete with Amazon’s own streaming services via Fire TV devices.

“I can confirm that we are assorting Apple TV and Chromecast,” an Amazon spokesperson told Mashable in an emailed statement previously shared with CNET. 

The Apple and Google devices aren’t currently available on Amazon, but CNET spotted product listing pages for three versions of the Apple TV and two Chromecast options. 

The move could be an olive branch from Amazon to the tech giants as they fight over content offerings on their competitive devices. 

It’s been a long and complicated war. Amazon had removed Apple TV and Google Chromecast from the site in late 2015. At the time, the company argued that its customers “would be confused and frustrated” if they purchases devices that did not offer a way to stream content from Amazon Prime Video, The Verge noted

In September, Google removed YouTube off Amazon’s Echo Show devices and later did the same for Fire TV. 

Meanwhile, Amazon has still not made its Prime Video app Google Cast-compatible so it would be available on Google Chromecast. It did, however, recently release the app on Apple TV

Beyond these fights, tech giants now have another battle to juggle together. Also on Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted to kill net neutrality. That means internet providers can now charge companies and consumers for faster internet access.

So, good luck everyone. 

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