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WWDC 2021: The 5 best iOS 15 features for business pros

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From enhanced video calling features to a smarter way to save and share meeting notes, Apple announces a series of new iOS 15 features to help professionals get work done.

Image: Apple

On Monday afternoon, Apple kicked off its annual Worldwide Developers Conference. The multi-day event is scheduled to run through June 11. Historically, the event showcases a wide range of product unveilings, operating systems updates and more. During the first day of the event, Apple announced a series of upgrades to iOS 15. Below, we’ve highlighted some of the standout iOS 15 features for business pros.

SEE: The best programming languages to learn–and the worst (TechRepublic Premium)

Apple WWDC 2021: iOS 15 features

Video calling

Over the last year, people have used video conferencing platforms to work and socialize amid COVID-19. During the event keynote, Apple’s Senior VP of Software Engineering Craig Federighi announced a series of FaceTime features including screen sharing capabilities and more. A FaceTime grid view will allow people to view all participants in a single view and a portrait mode to block a speaker’s background similar to Zoom’s blurred background option.

New FaceTime links will help professionals readily share meeting details via messages and email, and sync these events in their calendars. The presentation also detailed spatial audio capabilities to disperse audio and deliver this sound based on a speaker’s position as well as machine learning-enabled voice isolation to block background noise.

Virtual collaboration

Following an office whiteboard session, many professionals snap a photo to save this information for future reference. The Apple keynote showcased new capabilities to enhance the way people traditionally save and share meeting notes. This includes the ability to use the phone’s camera to capture a whiteboard session and copy and share text directly from an image.

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Image: Apple

Work-life balance

In the age of remote work and distance learning, the home has pulled double-duty as a virtual office, learning center and private residence for many people. The Apple keynote also highlighted new capabilities to help people find a healthier work-life balance as the line between the professional and private space blurs. This includes new Do-Not-Disturb features. For example, once a person sets do not disturb, this status will be listed in their messages to inform others, according to Apple.

Other announced capabilities include the ability to set designated notification profiles for personal and work lives so people can choose to be notified by coworkers or friends depending on the time of day. A notification summary feature will also help people schedule delivery of their recent notifications so they can concisely peruse these updates depending on their schedules and preferences.

Keys abound

At WWDC 2020, Apple unveiled a new car key to allow users to unlock their cars using their smartphones. This year, Apple expanded these concepts to a host of environments. The presentation made note of wallet key capabilities that would allow people to gain entry to their homes, apartments, hotel rooms and even function as corporate work badges for the workplace.

SEE: C++ programming language: How it became the foundation for everything, and what’s next (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The daily commute

In recent weeks, a number of companies have started to bring employees back to the traditional office. Apple also announced new capabilities to assist professionals during their daily commutes with features to help mass transit commuters track their connections with augmented reality 3D mapping features available in select cities.

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Apple’s Siri: A cheat sheet

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Siri, Apple’s personal digital assistant, uses machine learning and natural speech to answer questions, return relevant search information, perform actions, and more. Here’s the lowdown on Siri.

Occasionally, seemingly small innovations pack tremendous impact. Certainly, that’s proven true with Apple’s Siri personal digital assistant. The voice-activated concierge so significantly reshapes the way people interact with devices that Alphabet technical adviser Eric Schmidt has stated the feature poses a threat to Google’s underlying search business.

SEE: IT leader’s guide to the future of artificial intelligence (TechRepublic Premium)

Regardless of rhetoric, Siri has its fans, with Apple revealing the the digital assistant fulfills more than 1 billion requests per week. Apple’s HomePod high-fidelity speaker extended the technology’s reach into its customers’ everyday interactions, and new watchOS advancements further expand the virtual assistant’s reach and usefulness.

Apple announced at its 2018 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) that Siri is being updated to include predictive guidance and recommendations. Machine learning advancements, Siri’s voice recognition capability, and the ability to learn from users’ behaviors and routines meld together to make it all possible. macOS, iOS, and watchOS updates usher in a new era in which Siri Shortcuts and improved watchOS integration make it even easier for users to create custom Siri reminders and receive predictive notifications and customized recommendations without having to expend much, if any, additional effort.

Whether you want to shorten the time required to answer a question, schedule a ride, check a flight’s status, take an alternative route home due to traffic congestion, send a note letting others know you’re running behind, or send a text message or obtain navigation information without having to type, Siri offers intelligent assistance that adapts to the individual user’s nuances over time. Available in all of Apple’s operating systems–iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS–users can customize the digital concierge to possess different voices and change the way its services are activated.

Siri was originally introduced as a standalone iOS app by Siri Inc. Apple acquired the company in April 2010. The feature was then integrated within iOS dating to version 5, after which the feature was steadily rolled into Apple’s other platforms, including watchOS, tvOS, and macOS. The platform now supports some 20 languages in dozens of countries.

We’ll update this cheat sheet when new information is available about Siri. This article is also available as a download, Cheat sheet: Apple’s Siri (free PDF).

Executive summary

  • What is Siri? Siri is a digital personal assistant that performs searches and completes actions in response to an end user’s natural voice commands and learns from a user’s behavior and routines to provide predictive recommendations and information.
  • Why does Siri matter? Siri introduces an innovative and revolutionary search and instruction strategy, being adopted by competitors (including Amazon’s Alexa, Google Assistant, and Microsoft’s Cortana), that changes the way users interact with devices and obtain information. By leveraging machine learning and artificial intelligence capabilities, the virtual assistant’s usefulness is enhanced without requiring additional user interaction.
  • Who does Siri affect? Users of any Apple device–whether the equipment is a smartphone, tablet, desktop computer, laptop, Apple TV, iPod touch, watch, or HomePod audio speaker–can access Siri capabilities, which help leverage investments the user has made in digital content and material across all Apple devices and services using an Apple ID.
  • What are the potential privacy and security risks of using Siri? Artificial intelligence, merged with machine learning trends and voice recognition capacities within a virtual assistant, raises multiple significant privacy and security concerns. The virtual assistant collects and leverages intimate knowledge and details of each user’s personal and professional lives. With such treasured information comes great safeguard responsibilities, but Apple claims to be up to the task.
  • How do you get and use Siri? Siri is integrated within iOS, macOS, watchOS, and tvOS. Users can customize settings for the virtual assistant, which is automatically integrated within contemporary Apple devices.

Additional resources:

Image: CNET/Tyler Lizenby

What is Siri?

Siri is a digital personal assistant, integrated within Apple device operating systems, that enables Apple device users to get answers to questions, check the weather, confirm flights, perform searches, answer questions, complete actions, send a message and much more. The time-saving feature uses natural language and doesn’t require learning sophisticated or unfamiliar commands. Also, Siri adapts to a user’s nuances, learns from previous operations, and leverages a device’s existing capabilities to extend usefulness with a minimum of user instruction or interaction.

Siri is not a utility to be used in hectic, noisy environments, or a tool to be leveraged for performing complex commands, such as editing videos or photos. Instead, the digital concierge excels at performing time-saving commands (“Hey Siri, please text my spouse that I am running five minutes behind”), opening a specific file (“Hey Siri, please open the 2018 budget spreadsheet”), accessing specific photos (“Hey Siri, please open the new product shots photo album”), learning whether you need to take an umbrella to your client meeting (“Hey Siri, is it going to rain at 3:00 pm?”), and similar tasks.

Don’t sell Siri’s capabilities short, though–Apple touts Siri’s ability to book rides, make payments, and display specific files, among other actions, too. The more time you spend with Siri, the more you’ll learn how it can be used to perform new and creative tasks.

SEE: All of TechRepublic’s cheat sheets and smart person’s guides

Certainly, Apple will continue investing in the AI assistant. Apple announced at WWDC 2017 that it is using deep learning to improve Siri’s operation. Voice intonation and inflection tweaks help create a more natural sounding voice, while the technology also benefits from on-device learning to enable it to better respond to questions, provide more relevant information, and even recommend suggested articles, text changes, and search strings based on the user’s previous behavior.

siri-shortcuts.jpg

Image: Brandon Vigliarolo/TechRepublic

And at WWDC 2018, Apple announced new watchOS innovations that make Siri even easier to use. Users need only to raise their wrist and start speaking–they don’t have to say “Hey Siri,” to begin issuing commands and questions to the virtual assistant. The watchOS Siri Face will begin supporting interactions with third-party apps, too, and includes such enhancements as estimating commute times and providing contextual updates, such as for sporting events.

Siri sound consistently improves, too.
iOS 13

and
macOS Catalina

introduce neural text to speech, also known as Neural TTS. Whereas Apple previously used short audio clips recorded by acting talent and pieced together to form words, phrases, and sentences, with Neural TTS the resulting speech sounds more like normal human talking with natural emphasis and cadence. The effect is particularly noticeable when Siri speaks longer, more complex statements.

At WWDC 2020, Apple announced an improved design for Siri in iOS 14 and iPadOS 14. On both iPhones and iPads, Siri no longer takes over the entire screen when summoned; instead, a small, orb-like icon pops up at the bottom of the screen, allowing you to still see whatever you were working on before initiating Siri. Siri now also launches apps more seamlessly and provides information–like weather–with a banner at the top of the screen, similar to a notification. 

Some additional notable features to Siri include: The ability to send audio messages, dictate on your device, and translate between languages with the new Translate app which allows translation of conversations and can work completely offline. Siri also has a bigger bank of responses to common questions and 20 times more facts available now than it did just three years ago. 

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Why does Siri matter?

Instead of users having to stop what they’re doing, navigate to various menus and applications, access the keyboard, type specific instructions, and browse and occasionally revise results, Siri enables users to deliver simple and natural voice commands to Apple devices. Whether seeking to play a video, open a file, obtain navigational information, view a specific photo album, or perform other tasks, users can quickly perform all these actions using Siri via minimally disruptive voice commands.

Considering users configure Apple devices to join their iCloud and iTunes accounts, the content (spreadsheets, documents, presentations, PDFs, videos, photos, movies, TV shows, music, and other files) available to all their Apple devices becomes accessible to Siri. The result is a much more collaborative, efficient, and productive relationship between an end user, the end user’s digital content (files, photos, videos, music, applications, cloud services, etc.), and devices (Apple TV, iPhone, Mac, automobile entertainment system, watchOS, and iPad) that require often minimal voice interaction to sort, locate, view, and access.

Siri also simplifies the task of leveraging other Apple technologies. For example, an iPhone user on the go can instruct Siri to schedule a 2:00 pm client appointment on Tuesday. When the Apple user returns to the office, powers on his or her Mac, and opens the Apple Calendar, the meeting will already be present on the calendar, assuming the user has configured Apple Calendar properly on all his/her devices. Apple’s quickly closed the gap from being able to enter such information on the go to being able to enter and synchronize such data using simple voice commands. The ramifications are impactful and wide-ranging.

SEE: How we learned to talk to computers, and how they learned to answer back (cover story PDF download (TechRepublic)

At WWDC 2017, Apple announced the release of a new Siri speaker. Called HomePod, the Bluetooth-enabled, self-adjusting high-fidelity device sports six microphones to extend Siri functionality. Apple users can leverage Siri voice interaction technologies (think voice commands), enabling the device to play Apple Music, control smart home accessories, answer general knowledge inquiries, set clocks and timers, obtain news and weather information, and even get traffic reports and translations.

At its annual 2018 WWDC, Apple announced the introduction of Siri Shortcuts. The feature permits any app to receive access to Siri. Users can assign key phrases to specific apps, such as “Siri, I lost my keys,” to enable Siri to work with Tiles to provide the physical location of the missing keys in question. Using Shortcuts users can also create custom reminders and choose from hundreds of preformatted shortcut routines.

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Who does Siri affect?

Users of Apple devices, including iPhones, iPads, Macs, Apple TVs, and Apple Watches, are affected by Siri innovations.

Customers who purchase automobiles equipped with Apple CarPlay also benefit; Siri functionality integrates with the car’s audio system’s capabilities and better links a user’s iPhone with the vehicle to simplify obtaining directions, making calls, listening to books, sending and receiving messages, and listening to music. And, as announced at WWDC 2017 and WWDC 2018, Siri is taking an increasingly prominent role in watchOS 4 and watchOS 5 platforms, respectively.

SEE: Executive’s guide to Apple in the enterprise (free ebook) (TechRepublic)

Everyone from business users seeking to coordinate schedules and maintain pace with the modern workplace to retirees seeking to monitor investments to students working to ensure busy academic and personal lives stay on track will find the virtual assistant, which learns from their behaviors and routines, a welcome addition to their increasingly frenetic responsibilities. As Siri increasingly integrates within Apple users’ lives, with its machine learning and artificial intelligence capacities, the personal assistant could soon prove a necessity.

Developers are also impacted, as software manufacturers benefit when their applications are integrated with Siri. Apple’s SiriKit assists developers with the process. SiriKit consists of two frameworks that developers can leverage to tie their applications and services with Siri.

SEE: WWDC 2019: A guide for business pros (Tech Pro Research)

Apple’s WWDC 2019 conference touted Siri refinements both within iOS 13 and CarPlay. SiriKit makes it easier for developers to integrate Siri functionality within their apps. CarPlay is one example, as Pandora and Waze support Siri beginning with iOS 13.

Siri iOS 13 improvements include Shortcut support. A quick method for automating instructions, such as directions to the next appointment on your calendar, Shortcuts are integrated within iOS 13 to provide more powerful access to all Shortcuts, including those added to Siri.

Those using Siri for navigation will find the AI assist improving over time, as well. With iOS 13, instead of saying take a right in 700 feet, Siri will simply say take the next right. The improvements are more natural, and subsequently, more quickly understood. When traveling to large venues, such as arenas or airports, Siri guides you closer to your actual intended destination within that location.

But even everyday actions benefit from Siri. Whether using podcasts or Maps, Siri better guides users by providing more accurate and contextual suggestions and recommendations. Users can also leverage Siri to perform more common tasks, such as tuning in to a specific radio station.

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What are the potential privacy and security risks of using Siri?

In the wake of Facebook’s massive data leaks, which revealed comprehensive profile and behavior information for identifiable individual users, privacy and security concerns are receiving heightened awareness. In fact, digital privacy and security issues are likely to prove among the most publicized stories of 2018 and the next several years.

At its WWDC 2018 conference, Apple renewed its commitment to privacy and security, but concerns remain. Whenever a technology captures as much intimate, personal, sensitive, and strategic information as with which Siri is entrusted for each user, the value of that information proves significant, tremendously so for a variety of constituents. Thus, the challenge for Apple, which states it’s committed to safeguarding this sensitive data, is to avoid the type of questionable alliances and leaks that continue plaguing Facebook.

SEE: Cybersecurity in an IoT and mobile world (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

If macOS Mojave and iOS 12 are any indication, Apple’s moving in the right direction. macOS Mojave works to curb tracking, known as fingerprinting, which enables websites to track a user’s behavior across multiple websites. FaceTime will soon boast end-to-end encryption. A new Intelligent Tracking prevention feature built into Safari will protect against “like” and “share” links that often track users without the user’s knowledge.

By making it more difficult for third-parties to track user behavior–by resisting the temptation to sell user data to advertisers or for data mining purposes and by presenting roadblocks to the release of complete profile information for a user–third-party app developers, websites, and other partners are going to find it much more difficult to mine Apple user’s information.

At WWDC 2019, Apple doubled-down on privacy. Having stated privacy is a fundamental human right, the company is increasingly positioning its technologies as possessing fundamental design strategies designed to preserve and protect user privacy, whereas such competitors as Google and Facebook are publicly collecting such user data to better target users with ads and promotions.

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What are the competitors to Siri?

Several alternatives, from such heavyweights as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, pose compelling competition to Siri:

Apple has a history of developing loyal relationships with its users. Many Apple professionals are so loyal to the platform that they use Macs in the office, iPads at home, and iPhones everywhere in between. Mating Siri with the digital wearable (Apple Watch) and home speaker (HomePod) further increases the “stickiness” within the relationship that’s so prized by marketers.

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How do you get and use Siri?

Users seeking to leverage Siri’s capabilities need to purchase a contemporary Mac, iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Apple Watch, or Apple TV. Siri settings can be customized using an iPhone’s or iPad’s Settings menu, a Mac’s System Preferences screen, or the Settings menu on an Apple TV.

The default method of accessing Siri on an iPhone or an iPad is to hold down the Home button. To summon Siri on a macOS Sierra-equipped Mac, you can leverage a keyboard shortcut assigned within System Preferences or by clicking the Siri icon on the menu bar (after configuring your Mac’s Siri preferences to enable its appearance). macOS Sierra also places a Siri icon in the Dock for easy access. Using an Apple Watch, you can ask Siri a question by pressing and holding the Digital Crown or by raising the Watch or tapping the screen and saying “Hey Siri,” unless you’re using watchOS 5 or newer, in which case you can just raise your arm and ask Siri your question. In watchOS 5 and newer, users need only to raise their wrist and begin speaking–it’s that easy.

Additional resources:

Editor’s note: This article was updated to reflect news features and related resources. 



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Apple’s ARKit: Cheat sheet

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ARKit is Apple’s augmented reality development framework, and it’s compatible with millions of iOS devices. Here’s what developers and end users should know about ARKit.

Image: Apple, Inc.

ARKit was released with iOS 11 at the Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference in 2017. Augmented reality (AR) is at the forefront of specialized technology being developed by Apple and other high-tech companies, and this new kit helps developers bring AR to iOS devices. The development kit is integrated with the latest hardware to allow for a level of AR integration never seen before on iOS devices.

This article is an introduction to ARKit. We’ll update this resource periodically when there’s new information about the AR development framework. It is also available as a download, Cheat sheet: Apple’s ARKit (free PDF).

SEE: Augmented reality: Quick glossary (TechRepublic Premium)

Executive summary

  • What is ARKit? iOS includes a framework in the iOS Software Development Kit (SDK) called ARKit. This framework allows developers to create augmented reality apps and take advantage of the hardware and software capabilities of iOS devices.
  • Why does ARKit matter? Like virtual reality, augmented reality is a hot topic in tech. AR allows app users to place virtual objects in a real world, and then interact with them. AR apps will be especially popular for the gaming, shopping, and industrial sectors.
  • Who does ARKit affect? iOS 11 was the first version of iOS that included ARKit, and it has been included in new iOS versions since, allowing developers to create AR experiences in their apps. This also affects users, because they can download and use ARKit apps on their iOS devices.
  • When is ARKit available? ARKit has been available to developers as part of Xcode 9 since its beta release at WWDC ’17 in June 2017. ARKit apps has been available to consumers on the App Store with the release of iOS 11 on September 19, 2017.

SEE: All of TechRepublic’s cheat sheets and smart person’s guides

What is ARKit?

ARKit is an augmented reality framework included in Xcode that is compatible with iPhones and iPads. ARKit lets developers place digital objects in the real world by blending the camera on the screen with virtual objects, allowing users to interact with these objects in a real space.

It does this by using the camera on iOS devices to create a map of the area, detecting things like tabletops, floors, and the location of the device in the physical space using CoreMotion data. The user doesn’t have to do any calibration–that’s a breakthrough in this space.

ARKit can run on most modern iOS 11 iPhones and iPads, and can utilize Metal’s features like SceneKit integration and integrate with third-party tools such as Unity and Unreal Engine.

ARKit can run on most modern iPhones and iPads, and can utilize Metal’s features like SceneKit integration and integrate with third-party tools such as Unity and Unreal Engine.

For end users, ARKit will enable a new level of real-world integration never before seen on iOS devices. A new generation of apps will be able to be built that can do things like show furniture inside of your house while shopping in an app; show your dream car parked in your garage to see if it will fit; and many other inventive uses of this technology that developers haven’t discovered yet.

Apple created a Swift Playgrounds challenge that uses ARKit. The Swift Playgrounds app can be downloaded for iPad from the App Store. Developers and end users can see how these AR apps are created and used.

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Why does ARKit matter?

AR has been a hotbed technology the past several years, and ARKit affirms this technology is here to stay and will become an ever-growing field for apps in the future. The use of AR in spaces other than gaming will be a game changer.

ARKit apps are currently in their infancy, but there is real potential in the apps that can be created with it. Apple has provided an amazing framework that is leaps and bounds better than what was previously available to create AR apps. Developers no longer have to develop a speciality, but instead can use this framework to create AR features in their apps without any prior experience working with AR.

SEE: Executive’s guide to the business value of VR and AR (free ebook) (TechRepublic)

With the iPhone X, Apple has created a true AR device with a better camera that will provide both facial tracking and better positioning and topology detection.

In the future, we could see apps that are used by industrial workers, medical workers, scientists, and other technical professionals to overlay critical information over a real-world scene.

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Which devices and apps support ARKit?

ARKit-enabled devices are any iPhone or iPad running iOS 11 or later that have the Apple A9, A10, A11, or later processor; these devices are required to run the advanced Metal graphics. At launch, most of the apps that support ARKit are in the games category; as more developers work with AR, we will see an increase in the number of useful apps.

Some of the popular apps that are available at launch with ARKit support include RoomScan Pro, Human Anatomy Atlas 2018, and Night Sky 5, as well as the following.

Games

Tools and other apps

  • Overstock.com (Free): Place life-size 3D furniture models in a room to see how they will look; you can even walk around it to get a sense of scale.
  • Edmunds (Free): Place a life-size 3D model of a car that’s in their library in your driveway or garage to see if the car will fit.
  • MeasureKit (Free): This is an AR utility that lets you measure a room or other object in real life using a virtual tape measure.

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ARKit 2 improvements

ARKit 2 brought a new vivid augmented reality experience to apps that allowed them to interact with the real world in new ways. With ARKit 2, multiplayer AR games were possible, as well as tracking 2D images, and detecting known 3D objects like sculptures, toys, and furniture.

SEE: Virtual and augmented reality policy (TechRepublic Premium)

ARKit 3 improvements

ARKit 3 adds features that take augmented reality even further. You can show AR content in front or behind people using People Occlusion, which can track up to three faces. You can also now support collaborative sessions, enabling completely new AR shared gaming experiences.

Motion capture can be used to understand body position and movement, tracking joints and bones, allowing for new AR experiences involving people instead of just objects.

Other major improvements:

  • Detection capabilities of up to 100 images at a time
  • Estimation of physical size of an image
  • 3D-object detection is more robust and can better recognize objects in complex environments
  • Machine learning is used to detect planes in the environment faster, leading to faster AR environment setup
  • Simultaneous front and back camera use means that you can interact with AR content in new ways with facial recognition
  • Multiple face tracking on iPhone X, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR, and iPad Pro can now track up to three faces at once

ARKit 4 improvements

ARKit 4 was announced at WWDC ’20 and released alongside Xcode 12 and macOS 11 and iOS 14 later in 2020. With the introduction of LiDR on iPhones and iPads in 2020, Apple decided to add functionality to take advantage of these sensors into ARKit 4. Depth information from the LiDR sensor was added into this version of ARKit to improve tracking and object detection. 

In addition, ARKit 4 also added Location Anchors, which is a new feature that uses Apple Maps data to place augmented reality experiences on specific geographical coordinates. 

Reality Composer and RealityKit

These new tools available in ARKit can aid in the creation of AR scenes with little to no traditional AR design experience.

For more information, read about Reality Composer and Reality Kit on the Apple developer website.

Additional resources

When is ARKit available?

ARKit was available beginning in June 2017 to developers in the iOS 11 beta and the Xcode 9 beta. The final version of 1.0 of ARKit was released alongside iOS 11 in September 2017. Developers began making ARKit apps available on the App Store for iOS beginning September 19, 2017. ARKit is bundled with the latest iOS SDKs inside of the latest versions of Xcode.

Version changes

  • June 2017: Apple released the beta of ARKit alongside Xcode 9 and iOS 11 betas.
  • September 2017: Apple announced iPhone X with TrueDepth camera, which enables ARKit to detect position, topology, and the user’s facial expressions.
  • September 2017: Apple released iOS 11 to the public and Xcode 9 to developers with the newly included Face Tracking features in ARKit.
  • November 2017: Apple will release the iPhone X to the public, and developers will be able to take advantage of the facial tracking features in the TrueDepth camera system.
  • June 2018: iOS 12 beta is released to developers at WWDC, bringing a beta version of ARKit 2.
  • September 2018: Apple releases iOS 12 to the public, bringing ARKit 2 to iPhones and iPads, allowing developers to release ARKit 2 apps publicly.
  • June 2019: iOS 13 beta is released to developers at WDWC, bringing a beta version of ARKit 3.
  • September 2019: iOS 13 is released to the public, brining ARKit 3 to the public through new third-party apps and experiences.

  • June 2020: iOS 14 beta is released to developers at WWDC, brining a beta version of ARKit 4, with LiDR improvements for the recently released 2020 iPad Pro with LiDR sensor.

  • September 2020: iOS 14 is released to the public, bringing with it apps able to support ARKit 4 to the App Store. 

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Apple’s Swift programming language: Cheat sheet

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Apple’s Swift has far-reaching effects on all platforms, not just iOS, OS X, watchOS and tvOS. Learn why Swift matters, how to use the programming language and how it differs from Objective-C.

Objective-C has won the hearts of many developers. It started as a programming language that bundled object-oriented programming (OOP) with the likeness of the C programming language. Objective-C called NeXT and Apple home where it was the default programming language for NeXTSTEP, OS X and iOS.

In 2010, Apple started developing Swift, a new programming language that would rival Objective-C in a few areas–specifically, type safety, security, and better on-hardware performance. Swift is more than 2.6x faster than Objective-C and more than 8.4x faster than Python. Swift 1.0 was released in September 2014.

This article is also available as a download, Cheat sheet: Apple’s Swift programming language (free PDF).

SEE: 10 ways to prevent developer burnout (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Executive summary

  • What is Apple’s Swift? Swift is the newest programming language from Apple; it offers better type safety, security and performance. Swift is available for developing iOS, OS X, watchOS and tvOS apps.
  • Why does Apple’s Swift matter? It’s an easy programming language to learn, which is why many students, entry-level developers and long-standing Mac and iOS developers are focusing their development skills on Swift. In addition, Apple open sourced Swift, making it available for developing on other platforms, not just those designed by Apple.
  • Who does Apple’s Swift affect? Apps built with Swift can be run on iOS devices dating back to iOS 7 or later, and OS X devices dating back to OS X 10.9 or later.
  • When is Apple’s Swift available? Swift is readily available in the most recent version of Xcode.
  • How can you get Apple’s Swift? Get the latest version of Swift by downloading Xcode from the Mac App Store or the Apple Developer Center. Once Xcode is installed, Swift and the Objective-C compiler (LLVM) will be installed on your Mac.

SEE: 31 Mac keyboard shortcuts business users need to know (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

How does Swift differ from Objective-C?

While Apple hasn’t announced plans to sunset the Objective-C language (in fact, Apple is still updating it), Swift is rapidly overtaking Objective-C to become more popular on Apple’s platforms.

Objective-C likely still has a long life, as Apple has yet to update its own Frameworks to be written in Swift. Until Swift 3.0, Apple will not be including the Swift runtime on iOS or OS X, leaving Xcode to package together the runtime into the iOS or OS X app to ensure binary compatibility.

Swift does bring a lot of modern programming niceties to Apple’s platforms. Here’s a look at the main differences between Objective-C and Swift.

Header files

Objective-C was based on C, but added OOP paradigms to the language through object messaging. Because of that, Objective-C made use of header files that publicly declared its functions and definitions.

Swift gets rid of this practice, allowing developers to write a single .swift file that contains typical header information, properties, and all of the class defines into a single file. Say goodbye to header files, and hello to cleaner and leaner code.

SEE: All of TechRepublic’s cheat sheets and smart person’s guides

REPL

Objective-C and Swift are compiled languages, despite Swift having a REPL (Read-Eval-Print Loop) for testing that typically only supports interpreted languages.

The REPL is available in the command line and Xcode. Inside of Xcode, it is known as Playgrounds, allowing developers to write Swift code, and have it evaluated immediately, printing out the results in the sidebar (Figure A). To create a new Swift Playground in Xcode, open Xcode and select File | New | Playground. A new window will appear, and you can enter Swift code to test things.

Figure A

Playgrounds are a place to evaluate and test code without creating an entire iOS or OS X project first.

Image: Cory Bohon/TechRepublic

Type inference

With Objective-C and Swift, object types are strongly typed — meaning, the compiler must know exactly what type of object (string, array, dictionary, custom object, etc.) needs to be stored in memory for a particular variable. With Swift, Apple decided to keep strong types, but allow the compiler to automatically infer the type based on the objects assigned to a variable.

This means you can write code like the following snippet, and Swift will see that myVariable is a String type, because it has a String assigned to it.

let myVariable = "some string here"

Developers can still perform strong typing for clarity by doing this, but it is unnecessary. However, it does add clarity, especially to developers that may be touching the codebase after you’ve worked on it.

let myVariable: String = "some string here"

Available platforms

When Apple announced Swift at WWDC 2014, the company reported that conference attendees were using one of the first publicly released Swift apps: the WWDC app. It was developed partially in Swift, and allowed attendees to view session schedules, maps, and more.

Officially, iOS 7 and higher support Swift; OS X 10.9 (Mavericks) and higher support it as well. All versions of watchOS and tvOS have support for running Swift-built apps.

Additional resources

How can I learn and use Swift?

You’ll need a Mac, and if you will be developing for iOS, watchOS, or tvOS, you’ll need one of those devices as well.

After you download and install Xcode, the Objective-C and Swift compiler (LLVM) is installed on your Mac. At this point, opening Xcode will present options for beginning projects in either Swift or Objective-C.

SEE: Apple offers free Swift, Xcode coding courses for teachers (ZDNet)

The first place to start is with Playgrounds and the Swift REPL, where you can learn by playing with Swift’s features in an environment that won’t mess up any in-flight apps, and without the need to create any full testing iOS or OS X project.

Be sure to take advantage of Apple’s great Swift resources, which include these books about Swift that are available in the Apple Books app: 

What does Swift mean for enterprises and developers?

Swift is an open source language that is being adopted at a very rapid pace. It allows developers to prototype and write iOS, OS X, and other Apple platform apps faster and with fewer bugs and crashes than ever before.

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This is significant for enterprises, especially businesses that have made investments in Apple’s platforms, and investments in developing their own B2B/enterprise apps, because keeping those apps up to date has never been easier.

In addition, Swift being open sourced means that the language will be expanded to other platforms, beyond just what Apple has created. We are already seeing Swift being ported to Linux and other platforms.

One potential area where Swift will flourish is web apps. Swift being ported to Linux means that Swift apps can now run on low-cost, low-maintenance Linux servers that are already the cornerstone of existing web APIs and services. There are already frameworks for Swift that make it so Linux-based server apps can be built inside of Xcode, allowing businesses to utilize existing Swift developers to build the APIs and services that iOS and OS X apps often consume.

Additional resources

What’s new in Swift 2.0?

Apple released Swift 2.0 at WWDC ’15, and it added many features and refinements. These are some of the new features in Swift 2.0.

  • Swift is open source with a new Linux port available.
  • A new error handling model using try, throw, and catch keywords.
  • It targets older versions of iOS and OS X. It’s also safer, with the #available block that lets you wrap lines of code that will be executed on systems where the framework is available.
  • SDKs are now Swift-ier, thanks to Apple adding generics and nullability to existing Objective-C frameworks to make them interface better with Swift code.

What’s new in Swift 3.0?

Apple released Swift 3.0 at WWDC ‘ 16; it was the first major release of Swift since Apple open sourced the language in December 2015. The new features in Swift 3.0 include:

  • Refinements to the core language and standard library to rid the language of NS prefixes and other Objective-C holdovers.
  • Major additions to the Linux port of Swift.
  • The addition of the Swift Package Manager to make it easier to manage dependencies.

What’s new in Swift 4.0?

Like with other Swift releases, 4.0 was announced at WWDC ’17 and released in beta form to developers alongside Xcode 9. This release of Swift added quite a few refinements and features to the programming language, including:

  • New Codeable protocol that allows for easy serialization of data wrapped in structs.
  • String literals can now break into multiple lines using the new “”” declaration (three sets of quote marks) to open and close the multiline string.
  • Strings received a major overhaul, making them collections of characters.

What’s new in Swift 5.0?

Swift 5.0 ushered in more improvements for the most popular language for iOS and Mac development by adding many standard library additions like performance improvements and more.

The biggest feature of Swift 5.0 was the declaration of ABI Stability and Binary Compatibility; both of these mean that the Swift standard libraries are incorporated in the releases of macOS, iOS, tvOS, and watchOS going forward. Those libraries no longer need to be included in each app’s binary, and the app package can be much smaller.

What’s new in Swift 5.3?

Swift 5.3 was released with Xcode 12 on September 16, 2020. This release of Swift primarily focused on refinements to the language itself and expanding the Swift ecosystem. 

The Swift group at Apple took the opportunity to optimize runtime performance by reducing the codesize for Swift apps (especially for SwiftUI apps), improving the memory optimizations, and reducing the heap memory utilization. 

On the developer side of things, Apple focused on making errors more precise and more actionable with tips in the compiler suggestions, code completion was improved more than 5x, and there’s now better runtime error messages, making it easier to figure out issues when you encounter them during debugging.

Apple also expanded its platform support. Swift is now supported on Ubuntu, CentOS 8, Amazon Linux Z, Windows (with Swift 5.3 only), and AWS Lambda runtime environment.

In addition, Apple took into account many Swift Evolution suggestions from the community. 

What’s new in Swift 5.4?

Swift 5.4 was released on April 26, 2021 to all users of Xcode 12.5. Many niceties were added in Swift 5.4, including compiler improvements, improved code completion when typing expressions and huge improvements for incremental compiles. 

On the coding side, there are many additions from the Swift Evolution community, including: 

  • Improved Implicit Member Syntax (SE-0287).

  • Multiple variadic parameters in function calls (SE-0284).

  • Result builders (SE-0289).

  • Local functions support overloading (SE-10069).

In addition, Swift 5.4 introduces the ability to name a variable the same as a function, and property wrappers are now supported for local variables. 

Swift Package Manager improvements can also be found in Swift 5.4 and Xcode 12.5, including the ability to declare packages executable targets (SE-0294).

What is Swift Playgrounds for iPad?

At WWDC ’16, Apple announced the addition of Swift Playgrounds, an app that lets developers and beginning coders program using the Swift language on the iPad in a Playground environment that was pioneered on the Mac with Xcode 6.

At WWDC ’17, Apple announced two new versions of Swift Playgrounds. Swift Playgrounds 1.5 is available immediately and provides the ability to interface with Bluetooth-connected devices like drones, Sphero, and LEGO toys to bring real-world programming for students and developers.

Also announced at WWDC ’17 was Swift Playgrounds 2.0. This new version was made available as a beta to developers at the conference and features integrated API documentation tools, Swift 4.0 and Swift 3.2 support, support for the iOS 11 SDK, and support for using Camera and Augmented Reality APIs.

Swift Playgrounds 3.0 was released in May 2019, and was a significant update to the Swift Playgrounds app that has received stability updates and improvements–version 3.3.1 is now available. Version 3.0 is significant because it added the ability to import your own Swift files into a playground, and share Swift files amongst your playgrounds. It also includes coding error suggestions, dark mode support, additional tools for educators to build out their own Swift playground books, and Swift version updates so the latest Swift code can be built inside of the Swift Playgrounds app. 

Swift Playgrounds is a free app that can be downloaded for iPad from the App Store.

Additional resources

What is SwiftUI?

At WWDC in June 2019, Apple released SwiftUI, which is a new way to create UIs for Swift apps. This set of tools and APIs allow developers to write declarative Swift syntax to define and present a user interface, getting many new features that come with
iOS 13

for free, including:

  • Dynamic Type
  • Dark Mode
  • Localizations for common items
  • iOS accessibility features

SwiftUI allows you to state what the interface should do, and iOS takes control in presenting that interface to your users. You can create a list of items, and then describe the alignment, font, and color for each item all in code without having to utilize Interface Builder.

Using the new Design Tools in Xcode 11, you can see what the code is presenting to the user. The live preview window will automatically sync with the code in the side-by-side editor to preview as you type.

SwiftUI is native on all Apple platforms running iOS 13, including iPhone, Mac, iPad, Apple Watch, and Apple TV. Best of all, a UI that you create for one device will automatically be translated (or can be translated with little work) to all platforms.

SwiftUI is also the way you can easily port your iOS apps to Mac by adding the Mac as a deployment option in your iOS project settings. This new framework will ultimately lead to mere accessible, more maintainable, more portable apps for Apple’s platforms.

For more information on implementing SwiftUI in your applications, check out the following WWDC 2019 session videos:

At WWDC 2020, Apple unveiled a new version of SwiftUI that added even more features for building entire iOS, macOS, tvOS, and watchOS apps using SwiftUI. They also took a leap forward for SwiftUI, making it the default way to build widgets for iOS 14. New features like outlines, grids, and toolbars make SwiftUI even more powerful and capable than before. 

Beyond the 2019 session videos above, which are still relevant, Apple also released new session videos at WWDC 2020 that explains all of the new SwiftUI features:

What is Swift Package Manager?

In recent years, the Swift Package Manager has gained popularity amongst iOS and macOS developers as other open source package managers have waned in the community. The Swift Package Manager (often abbreviated as SPM) adds in Swift 3.0 and Xcode 8 the ability to bundle together a dependent Swift project or source files into a module that can easily be added and versioned by Git, then downloaded, built and embedded into an iOS, macOS, watchOS or tvOS project by Xcode.

This package manager is built into Xcode and adds an easy way to separate out reusable code that can be shared between multiple projects or multiple owners (in the case of open source or cross-company sharing of projects). 

Building a module with SPM is easy and can be done with a few lines of code and git repository. Learn about creating and using a Swift Package in Xcode here, or learn more about how the system works on the Swift.org blog.

Swift’s version history

  • Mid 2010: Development begins
  • July 17, 2010: First Swift commit to the Swift GitHub repository
  • June 2, 2014: Apple announces Swift at WWDC 2014, giving developers a pre-release version of Swift and Xcode 6.
  • September 15, 2014: Apple releases Swift 1.0 with the Gold Master of Xcode 6.
  • October 15, 2014: Swift 1.1 is released with Xcode 6.1.
  • April 8, 2015: Swift 1.2 is released with Xcode 6.3
  • June 8, 2015: Apple announces Swift 2.0 at WWDC 2015, giving developers a pre-release version of Swift 2 and Xcode 7.
  • September 15, 2015: Apple releases Swift 2.0 with the Xcode 7 Gold Master build.
  • October 20, 2015: Apple releases Swift 2.1 with the release of Xcode 7.1.
  • December 3, 2015: Apple announces the Swift 3.0 roadmap on GitHub.
  • March 21, 2016: Apple releases Swift 2.2 with the release of Xcode 7.3.
  • September 13, 2016: Apple releases Swift 3.0 with the release of Xcode 8.
  • March 27, 2017: Apple releases Swift 3.1.
  • June 5, 2017: Apple announces Swift 4.0 at WWDC ’17.
  • March 29, 2018: Apple releases Swift 4.
  • September 17, 2018: Apple releases Swift 4.2.
  • March 25, 2019: Apple releases Swift 5.0.
  • September 20, 2019: Apple releases Swift 5.1 with Xcode 11.
  • March 24, 2020: Apple releases Swift 5.2.
  • June 2020: Apple announces Swift 5.3 at WWDC ’20.
  • September 16, 2020: Apple releases Swift 5.3 with Xcode 12.
  • November 13, 2020: Apple releases Swift 5.3.1 with Xcode 12.1.

  • December 15, 2020: Apple releases Swift 5.3.2 with Xcode 12.2.

  • January 25, 2021: Apple releases Swift 5.3.3 with Xcode 12.3.

  • April 26, 2021: Apple releases Swift 5.4 with Xcode 12.5.

  • May 25, 2021: Swift 5.4.1 released. 

Additional resources

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect the latest release of Swift.



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The Apple Developer Program: What professionals need to know

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If you want to develop software for macOS, iOS, tvOS or watchOS, read this overview about Apple’s Developer Program.

Image: Apple

Anyone who has considered developing software for an Apple platform has likely visited the Apple developer website, which is filled to the brim with documentation, tutorials, tips and everything an aspiring iOS, macOS, watchOS or tvOS developer needs.

The sheer volume of content available on the Apple developer website can make using it tricky. When you add to that a somewhat fuzzy boundary between the developer website and the actual Apple Developer Program, things can get even more confusing. (Note: This article on what professionals need to know about the Apple Developer Program is also available as a free PDF download.)

There’s a big difference between using the developer website to learn the basics of building software for Apple devices and being a member of the Apple Developer Program. This guide will clear up the distinctions.

SEE: Getting started with iOS development (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

What is the Apple Developer Program?

The Apple Developer Program is, in Apple’s words, the “code to customer” pipeline. Membership in the Apple Developer Program gives developers everything they need to build, test and deploy apps for its OSs.

There is a lot that comes with Apple Developer Program membership, including:

  • access to beta builds of iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS and tvOS;
  • the ability to publicly beta test apps using TestFlight;
  • access to Apple’s myriad app extensions like CloudKit, Game Center, Apple Pay, Maps and more;
  • code-level support that gives developers access to an Apple developer who can help troubleshoot and streamline code;
  • the ability to publish apps on the Apple App Store;
  • developer signing for macOS app releases outside the App Store;
  • ad hoc app distribution (to 100 of each device type per year); and
  • access to Apple Store Connect’s App Analytics program and other App Store management features.

Along with these benefits, which come with any standard membership in the Apple Developer Program, Apple also offers two other programs that fall under the Developer Program umbrella: The Enterprise Program and the MFi Program.

The Enterprise Program offers benefits like those included in the standard Developer Program, and it adds the ability for enterprise customers to develop in-house proprietary apps for deployment on employee devices.

The MFi, or Made For iPod, iPhone, and iPad, Program is for companies that want to build Apple-certified hardware accessories. Apple considers any third-party device that connects electronically to an Apple device to fall under the MFi program; this doesn’t include devices that use the headphone jack or standard Bluetooth profiles and non-electronic devices.

Note: Manufacturing a device that falls under the MFi program doesn’t require companies to enroll; however, products that aren’t MFi certified cannot claim to be Apple certified, nor will they be given access to technical specifications necessary for building a fully-compatible peripheral device.

Do Apple software developers have to join the Developer Program?

Strictly speaking, developers who want to build macOS, iOS, tvOS or watchOS apps don’t have to become a member of the Apple Developer Program. Not opting for a membership, though, comes with a lot of restrictions.

The Apple Developer Program benefits listed above are all off-limits to devs who aren’t members. Most critically, it means there’s no way for non-members to distribute or monetize their apps on the App Store.

According to an Apple Developer Program representative, non-members who sign up for access to the Apple developer website get access to Xcode, Apple’s development platform that’s also available in the macOS App Store, and not much else–even apps built by a non-member are restricted to devices tied to that particular developer’s Apple ID.

SEE: Hiring kit: iOS developer (TechRepublic Premium)

If you’re new to Apple development, or just interested in learning how to develop for Apple devices, there’s no real need to join the Developer Program. You can still build apps for all of Apple’s operating systems and install them on your personal devices, but that’s it—no extensions, no support, no beta OS builds and no App Store.

Enterprise customers who want to roll out in-house apps to their employees’ Apple devices are stuck as well—there’s nothing you can do without buying an Enterprise membership.

How much does the Apple Developer Program cost?

This is the unfortunate part: joining the Apple Developer Program isn’t cheap.

An individual membership will cost you $99 USD per year, which is a steep price to pay if you aren’t sure you’ll be able to recoup that investment, which would largely come in the form of app purchases. Developers keep 70% of sales proceeds unless enrolled in the App Store Small Business Program, which allows them to keep 85%. 

Enterprise Program membership is billed per organization and costs $299 USD per year.

SEE: Apple starts Entrepreneur Camp to help female app developers (CNET)

The Apple MFi Program has no fee to join, but there are two costs associated with membership; a company wanting to join has to pay for a third-party identity verification and pay royalties to Apple once approved, and neither cost is mentioned in Apple’s MFi FAQ documentation. Royalty fees in particular are covered by an NDA, making finding actual pricing difficult.

According to an Apple Insider article from 2014 (which is the newest pricing source available), MFi royalties run $4 USD per connector (e.g., a lightning port) on a device. It is unknown if this information is still correct. I contacted Apple and received this response:

All publicly-available information about the MFi Program is available on our FAQ page: http://mfi.apple.com/faqs. Unfortunately, we are not able to provide further details about the MFi Program beyond those provided in the FAQ.

How do I join the Apple Developer Program?

Developers who want to pay the $99 USD fee for Developer Program membership can begin the process here.

Enterprise customers interested in deploying in-house apps can begin the Enterprise Program signup process here.

Hardware manufacturers can begin the MFi registration process here.

Those who want to simply experiment with building software for Apple devices can sign up for access to the Apple developer website for free, which grants access to Xcode.

The Apple Developer Program is open for developers around the world.

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Apple iCloud: A cheat sheet

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Apple’s iCloud is a cloud file storage and services platform that provides users with secure ways to store and share files, find lost equipment and synchronize information across multiple devices.

Image: Apple Inc.

iCloud is Apple’s cloud file storage and services platform. The service permits users to leverage secure and highly reliable cloud computing features and capabilities to store and share a wide variety of files, locate lost equipment, and synchronize information across multiple devices.

SEE: Apple’s WWDC 2021 is June 7-11: How to watch and what developers can expect (TechRepublic)

Apple’s iCloud includes multiple features and components. The features included with iCloud are iCloud Drive, iCloud Storage Plans (additional file storage), iCloud Photo Library (cloud-based photo storage), Family Sharing (account and resource sharing), Safari and iCloud Keychain services and more.

We’ll periodically update this resource guide when new information is available about iCloud. This article is also available as a download, Cheat sheet: Apple iCloud.

SEE: Cloud Computing Policy (TechRepublic Premium)

The iCloud basics

  • What is iCloud? The cloud service permits users to store and share files across multiple devices and platforms, including with other authorized users. Using iCloud, users can also locate lost equipment, share web surfing status with other devices, share passwords across multiple authorized devices and synchronize common personal information management components such as mail, Calendar, and Contacts. Users can leverage iCloud to back up iPhones, iPads and iPod touches.
  • Why does iCloud matter? Cloud services play an increasingly important role fulfilling file sharing, collaboration and application needs. Apple’s iCloud service adds more features, including the ability to locate misplaced devices, calendar and contact synchronization, and cloud-based backup.
  • Who does iCloud affect? Apple customers benefit most from iCloud. Mac, iPhone, iPad and iPod users can all leverage the cloud platform to add functionality and serviceability to such Apple devices. While iCloud components, including bookmark synchronization, web-based file access, creation, editing and sharing, and limited application access are all available to Windows users, Apple users—for whom iCloud integration is baked into devices’ operating systems—receive additional functionality.
  • When was iCloud released? Apple iCloud entered service October 12, 2011 after being announced at the 2011 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference on June 6, 2011. The predecessor service MobileMe launched Jan. 5, 2000, and was re-launched as part of Apple’s .Mac effort on July 17, 2002. MobileMe was discontinued June 30, 2012.
  • How can I get iCloud? An iCloud setup assistant is built into iPhones, iPads, iPod touches, and Macs. Apple offers directions for setting iCloud up on iOS devices, Macs and Windows machines. Apple includes 5GB of free storage with each iCloud account. In the U.S., 50GB additional storage costs 99 cents per month; 200GB costs $2.99 a month; and 2TB costs $9.99 a month. File storage capacity and pricing options vary by country.

SEE: All of TechRepublic’s cheat sheets and smart person’s guides

What is iCloud?

Apple’s iCloud service permits users to store, back up, access, view, edit and share a variety of files and information, including documents, spreadsheets, presentations, photos, videos, music, email, bookmarks and more across multiple devices and platforms, including with other authorized users. The devices across which iCloud users can share files include Macs, iPhones, iPads, iPod touches, and Windows PCs and tablets.

icloudsyspref.jpg

iCloud System Preferences enable customizing the cloud-computing operation.

Using iCloud, users can also locate lost equipment or locate friends. The Find iPhone feature—renamed Find My with macOS Catalina—permits iCloud users to track iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and Macs. Users can sign into iCloud or use the Find My app to determine the location of a missing device for which the feature was previously enabled. The Find Friends app, which permits locating friends and family members, was also folded into the Find My app in 2019.

If a device is lost, iCloud users can remotely send the device a command placing it in Lost Mode, which helps protect the device’s data against unauthorized use and encourages whoever retrieves the device to call the owner. iCloud users can also implement a remote erase operation, if necessary to remove personal data from a lost device.

iCloud permits sharing web surfing status with other authorized devices. As a result, users can pick up (such as using a Mac) where they left off reading on a mobile device (such as an iPhone) or vice versa.

The platform enables sharing Keychain information—application and website passwords—across multiple authorized devices. The feature helps eliminate the need for a third-party password management program and makes it easier for Apple users to navigate websites and programs without having to commit multiple passwords for numerous sites to memory.

iCloud enables synchronizing email, Calendar, Contacts, Reminders, and Notes. When a compatible Mac or iOS device is configured to share corresponding data using iCloud, the cloud service automatically synchronizes the information across all the authorized devices. Then, contacts can be created on a Mac, viewed on an iPhone and edited on an iPad, for example.

SEE: More Apple-related news and tips (TechRepublic on Flipboard)

Beginning with macOS Catalina, Apple users can share iCloud Drive folders using a private link. Authorized users can subsequently access the corresponding files, make edits, add new files and review updated versions.

Users choosing to back up iPhones, iPads and iPods can leverage iCloud for these devices’ backups. In addition to backing up all photos and videos using iCloud, regardless of which device the image was initially captured on, iCloud permits users to back up iPhone, iPad and iPod touch configurations and data, which simplifies the process of configuring a new device, when the devices are connected to power and Wi-Fi. Users can choose to restore the entire old backup when deploying the new device. Alternatively, users can deploy a new device and then selectively recover files stored within iCloud Drive or components backed up to iCloud.

Competing cloud storage products include Backblaze, Box, Dropbox and Google Drive. Microsoft’s cloud version, which is intended primarily for Windows PCs but also works for Mac and iOS users, is OneDrive.

Additional resources:

Why does iCloud matter?

Cloud computing has significantly disrupted corporate and personal technology strategies.

Cloud file storage and synchronization services offer secure and reliable alternatives to backing up information, enabling personal information management (such as email operation and calendar sharing) synchronization, and sharing and distributing files with authorized users.

SEE: More cloud computing tips and news (TechRepublic on Flipboard)

Apple iCloud supports Power checklist: Managing and troubleshooting cloud storage (TechRepublic Premium)

Cloud subscriptions simplify license management for numerous applications, from creative suite tools to common office productivity applications. Cloud services also permit organizations to more easily receive updates, install application patches and deploy upgraded software editions.

Apple iCloud extends cloud advantages by enabling users to track, retrieve, better secure, and erase data and information on lost equipment. iCloud synchronizes email, appointments, contacts, notes and reminders across a user’s devices, thereby simplifying the daily task of accessing, editing and synchronizing critical and commonly used data. It’s impractical to manually attempt to back up, synchronize, track and otherwise manage so many devices and datasets.

icloudweb.jpg

The iCloud web-based interface provides web access to iCloud-synchronized Mail, Notes, Reminders, Contacts, Calendar and more. Windows users can also access Pages documents, Keynote presentations and Numbers spreadsheets stored within iCloud, as well as track lost equipment.

Additional resources:

Who does iCloud affect?

Apple users benefit most from iCloud features and services; iCloud integration is natively baked into iPod touch, iPhone, iPad and Mac devices’ operating systems. The result is seamless configuration, the ability to customize and set various iCloud options differently on a variety of independent devices and reliable operation.

icloud-iclouddrive-pr-print.jpg

iCloud Drive enables sharing a variety of files across various devices, including Macs, iPhones and iPads.

Image: Apple Inc.

Apple provides PC users with an iCloud application that permits sharing files using iCloud Drive, sharing and backing up photos and videos, synchronizing Mail, Contacts, Calendars, Tasks and Bookmarks, and a cross-platform web-based iCloud interface for sharing files and tracking lost equipment. However, Windows phones and mobile tablets don’t natively back up applications, settings, program configurations and other information the way iOS devices do with iCloud, and Windows devices cannot be restored using iCloud the way in which Apple devices are restored.

SEE: Power checklist: Managing and troubleshooting cloud storage (TechRepublic Premium)

Family Sharing permits sharing iCloud services with up to five family members. Using Family Sharing, authorized family members can share everything from music, books and apps to iCloud storage, as well as help family members find lost devices, monitor their screen time and more.

At Apple’s WWDC 2019 conference, the company announced Apple HomeKit Secure Video, which leverages iCloud storage. Unlike other video surveillance providers’ technologies, Apple’s HomeKit solution doesn’t send potentially sensitive user surveillance video to the cloud to be analyzed and potentially misused. Instead, Apple HomeKit Secure Video analyzes video in the user’s home, such as on an iPad or Apple TV, and then the video is encrypted and securely sent to iCloud, where users can store 10 days of free video clips without the space counting toward the user’s storage limit. Not even Apple can see the secure, encrypted footage within a user’s iCloud account.

SEE: WWDC 2020: The biggest takeaways (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

icloud-pr-print.jpg

iCloud provides Apple users with the ability to back up photos and videos and share the files across Macs, iPads, and iPhones.

Image: Apple Inc.

Additional resources:

When was iCloud released?

Apple announced iCloud at the 2011 WWDC on June 6, 2011. iCloud entered service on Oct. 12, 2011.

The predecessor service MobileMe originally launched Jan. 5, 2000. MobileMe was re-launched as part of Apple’s .Mac branding effort on July 17, 2002. Apple discontinued MobileMe operation June 30, 2012.

How can I get iCloud?

Apple includes an iCloud setup assistant within its iPhones, iPads, iPod touches and Macs. The assistant simplifies deploying a new device or a reimaged system (such as occurs when replacing a failed hard drive).

Apple also publishes and maintains directions for setting iCloud up on iOS devices, Macs and Windows machines.

5GB of free storage are included, by default, with each iCloud account; additional storage is available.In the U.S., 50GB additional storage costs 99 cents per month; 200GB costs $2.99 a month; and 2TB costs $9.99 a month. File storage capacity and pricing options vary by country.

Also see

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect the latest information.



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How to permanently save voicemails in iOS and Android

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Some voicemails need to be saved for legal, business, personal or other reasons. Find out how to do so on iOS and Android devices to safeguard these messages.

Image: David Espejo/Shutterstock

Whether for business or sentimental reasons, some voicemails were meant to be kept long-term or indefinitely. I saved the goodbye voicemail from my favorite boss at my last company as well as a greeting from my now-19 year old son back when he was in preschool. Saving voicemails safeguards against equipment loss or failure as well as freeing up space and capacity on a device. there may also be legal or liability issues afoot that require such measures.

SEE: Electronic communication policy  (TechRepublic Premium)

This article focuses on the built-in voicemail apps inherent within iOS and Android, but there are also free apps available (with paid versions that add advanced features) which can help manage and save your voicemails such as Instavoice for Android, Instavoice for iOS, Hullomail for Android and Hullomail for iOS.

How to save voicemails on iOS

  1. Go to Phone, then tap Voicemail.
  2. Open the voicemail you want to save.
  3. Tap the Share button in the upper right of the screen.

Since options can vary depending on what apps are installed, you will see the following options (Figure A):

Figure A

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You can use Message and Mail to send the voicemail as either a text message or email, respectively, but a better option would be to swipe until you see the Notes or Voice Memo icons (Figure B).

Figure B

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It’s advisable to use Voice Memo since it makes the most sense but either one will save the voicemail so it will be backed up to your iTunes library the next time you sync it (ensure syncing is turned by going to Settings, accessing Music and confirming that “Sync Library” is enabled).

You could also use Save to Files, which would give you the option to save the file to your iCloud iDrive (Figure C).

Figure C

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How to save voicemails on Android

Since Android is a vast ecosystem, exact steps may vary, but the process of saving the voicemail file will be similar to these.

Access your voicemail screen (Figure D).

Figure D

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Open the voicemail and tap on the three vertical dots icon in the upper right (Figure E).

Figure E

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Click Save (Figure F).

Figure F

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You will see a prompt similar to the one above including the local file path where the voicemail will be saved.

This will save the file to your phone, but to really safeguard the voicemail, I would recommend using the phone interface to copy the file to an SD card or a cloud storage service like Dropbox or Google Drive. 

SEE: Samsung Galaxy S21 Series: A cheat sheet (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

On the phone you can access the file location (in my case My Files, Internal Storage, then VisualVoiceMail) to find the voicemail (Figure G):

Figure G

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Press an hold your finger on the object to select it (Figure H):

Figure H

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Tap Share in the bottom toolbar (Figure I).

Figure I

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A list of apps to share the file to will appear. Choose the cloud storage app that works best for you then follow prompts to add the voicemail file.

I prefer to plug my phone into my PC and browse to the location in Windows Explorer (Figure J):

Figure J

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I can then cut and paste the .AMR file into my Dropbox folder so it will be backed up and remain available in the event my phone or PC has a hardware failure.

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macOS Terminal commands every Mac user should know

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These are the basic macOS Terminal commands to know for updating a Mac, forcing an unresponsive Mac to shut down, finding the differences between files easily and much more.

Under the hood, macOS X has a Unix shell that lets you runs powerful command-line utilities. This makes it easier for IT teams to manage devices running macOS because personnel can log in via SSH and run commands remotely to do things like install software or update Macs.

Learn basic command-line tips that every Mac user and large businesses relying on and managing Macs should know. To use these command-line tips, I utilize the Terminal application that ships with every copy of macOS–there’s nothing extra to install or download. Find this application by opening the Finder and navigating to Applications | Utilities. You’ll type the commands into the Terminal and then press return to execute them.

SEE: How to migrate to a new iPad, iPhone, or Mac (TechRepublic Premium)

How to update your Mac with the softwareupdate Terminal command

If you want to update your Mac remotely via SSH, or you don’t want to go through the steps to open System Preferences and perform the updates, your Mac can also be updated directly through the Terminal.

To do this, I’ll utilize a command called softwareupdate. This command, when passed two options, both downloads and installs the updates. Open Terminal and type the following command to check for, download, and install any available updates for your system:

softwareupdate -i -a

When you run this command, the utility will open, check for updates in the same manner as System Preferences, and then download and install them if any updates are found (Figure A). If a restart is required after installation, you’ll be alerted that the restart is required to complete the install.

Figure A

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How to copy output of a command with the pbcopy Terminal command

As a developer, I often open a file only to copy the contents of it and then close the file. With the Terminal, you can easily copy the contents of a file (or the output of any command) by piping the output of the command to pbcopy.

In this example below, I’ll pipe the output to the clipboard of a file using the cat command on a file on the Desktop:

cat ~/Desktop/myfile.txt | pbcopy

When you run this command, it will cat (echo the output of) the file called “myfile.txt” on the Desktop. This output will be piped into the pbcopy utility, which will replace the contents of the clipboard with the contents of that file–all without ever having to open the file, select all and copy.

Note that because you’re piping the output directly to the clipboard, you will not see the text echoed into the Terminal window–it will be written to the clipboard instead, and you can paste it into any macOS app.

How to view system utilization with the top Terminal command

On the Mac, there’s a handy utility called Activity Monitor that lets you inspect all sorts of system features and utilization across the CPU, memory, disk and more. However, if you want to instantly inspect the top items on your Mac running and some simpler stats about your system utilization, you can run the top command by typing this into the Terminal:

top

You’ll see the stats of your system updated in the Terminal window, including the memory, CPU and disk utilization. You’ll also see a running list of the top apps using the CPU and their state, ports used, memory per app and more (Figure B).

Figure B

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The top command shows a live view in the Terminal with the list of apps with the most CPU utilization. The top command also displays memory, CPU and disk stats at a glance.

To close this view, either close the Terminal window or go back to the command line prompt by pressing Control + C to quit the top command.

How to caffeinate your Mac to keep it from turning off

When you have a long process running on your Mac (such as an export, automation or other service) that cannot be interrupted by your computer going to sleep, you can take advantage of a little known Terminal command called caffeinate:

caffeinate -u -t 3600

When this command is run, it lets you specify a length of time in seconds that you want to prevent your computer from going to sleep. The command will then start counting down the time and prevent your Mac from sleeping during that time.

You can also just run caffeinate, and it will keep your Mac from sleeping for as long as the command is running.

You can exit either caffeinate command early by pressing Command + C (or closing the Terminal window) and allowing your Mac to go to sleep per the system settings again.

How to clear the DNS cache

Have you ever been in a situation where a website updated or changed servers, but your Mac was still navigating you to the old site? This is often related to the DNS cache on your computer being out of date and not updated with the new domain resolution. Fortunately, you can easily resolve this by flushing the DNS cache on your Mac and allowing it to look up domains on the remote DNS service instead.

To do this, find your version of macOS below and run the command for your version.

macOS 10.12 (Sierra) and later

sudo killall -HUP mDNSResponder;sudo killall mDNSResponderHelper;sudo dscacheutil -flushcache

mac OS X 10.11 (El Capitan)

sudo killall -HUP mDNSResponder

These commands use the sudo keyword, which means that you will need to enter your macOS user account password before the command can execute. Type in your password when prompted and then press return. When run, these commands will flush the DNS cache on your Mac and will begin repopulating it on all subsequent domain lookups.

How to use the opendiff Terminal command to find differences between files

Have you ever wanted to find the differences between two files but resorted to downloading an app, or maybe just opened the two files side by side and eying the changes? There’s a better way to compare two files of the same type, and it’s built into every Mac–it’s the opendiff command. Simply type the following commands, putting the locations of the two files after each other, separated by a space:

opendiff ~/Desktop/text1.txt ~/Desktop/text2.txt

In the example above, we’re diffing two text files located on the desktop, one named “text1.txt” and the other named “text2.txt.” When you run this command, your Mac will launch the FileMerge app (Figure C) with the two files opened side by side, and the differences between the two files will be highlighted. This is great for reviewing documents like contracts and other text documents.

Figure C

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The opendiff command line utility launches the File Merge app with the two files that you specify and lets you easily compare the differences.

How to find out how long your Mac has been turned on

It’s a good idea to reboot your Mac from time to time. Because the system is so stable, we often forget how long the computer has been booted. You can figure out how long your Mac has been running nonstop with the uptime command in the Terminal by typing the following command:

uptime

This simple command will allow you to get the number of days, hours and seconds since the last time your Mac rebooted. This is great for determining if you need to restart your Mac.

How to force macOS to shut down

You might run into an issue occasionally where you cannot shut down your Mac; for instance, maybe an application or a background process has hung and will no longer successfully quit and is causing the shutdown to stall through the normal means of shutting down your Mac.

There is another option, and it involves the Terminal. Simply open the Terminal and type:

shutdown -r now

When you enter this command into the Terminal and press return, your computer will go down for a shutdown immediately. If you’re still unable to get it to reboot after entering this command, add “sudo” in front, which will require your administrator password but guarantee to shut down your Mac every time.

How to use the Terminal command qlmanage to get a QuickLook preview

The macOS QuickLook feature provides an easy way to view images, PDFs and other documents in place in the Finder without the need to open the document’s app by pressing Space when a file is selected in the Finder.

This same QuickLook preview is also available through the Terminal on any supported file by typing this command:

qlmanage -p ~/Desktop/text.txt

This example command above opens the QuickLook window with the file passed into the command. This is great for when you’re using the command line to manage files.

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What to do if you find a lost AirTag

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If you find an Apple AirTag that belongs to someone else, learn how to help reunite the lost items with their owner using an iOS or Android device–or, how to prevent the device from tracking you.

Image: Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple’s AirTag is an easy to use device to track items through the Find My app on your iPhone, iPad, Mac or iCloud account using the iOS network of devices. This little device is handy to place in a bag or with expensive items that you’d like to keep track of as you go throughout your day; it’s especially useful if you lose the item, as any iOS device that goes past the AirTag can anonymously report the location of the lost AirTag to Apple, which will then be reported to you inside the Find My app. 

AirTag provides a unique way to track items, and it also has robust safety features to keep the AirTag from being used to track people rather than personal items. Because AirTag is a service, Apple can update the features and abilities remotely. 

If you own an AirTag, you probably already know about its capabilities, but do you know what to do if you find an AirTag that doesn’t belong to you? This tutorial details how you can help reunite lost items with their owner when you find an AirTag and how to disable suspicious AirTag devices if you believe that someone is using an AirTag to track your location without your permission.

SEE: How to migrate to a new iPad, iPhone, or Mac (TechRepublic Premium)

How to find details about a lost AirTag

To help AirTag owners know about their lost devices, you will need to have location services enabled on your iOS device and connected to either the cellular network or Wi-Fi. If you’re within nearby range of an AirTag, the location of that AirTag will be reported back to Apple anonymously and then to the owner of that AirTag. This all happens in the background, and there’s no way to ensure that an AirTag owner is notified that their tag is found.

Apple doesn’t allow someone who finds an AirTag to see a person’s contact details, but you can get the person’s name, the serial number and the last four digits of a phone number or an email address (if provided). This can help you in ensuring that the item is properly returned to the respective owner by asking the person to provide the last four of their phone number, for instance.

Because the AirTag uses NFC, it’s easy to get to this webpage detailing information about the AirTag on either an iOS device with NFC capabilities (iPhone 6 or newer) or an Android device with an NFC reader. 

If you’re on an iOS or Android device that’s equipped with NFC functionality, perform these steps:

  1. Tap and hold the top of your iPhone or Android device to the white side of the AirTag.
  2. Tap the notification that appears on iOS (no notification will appear on Android). This will open an Apple-owned website that details things like the serial number, the contact information, or a message from the owner if the AirTag has been marked as lost (Figure A). This lets you contact the owner and help reunite the lost item.

Figure A

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This Apple “Found” website exists to display information (if entered by the owner of the AirTag) about the owner so they can be reunited with their lost items.

Cory Bohon / TechRepublic.com

If this doesn’t work, you can alternatively do the following on iOS devices:

  1. Open the Find My app on your device.
  2. Tap Items and then tap Identify Found Item (Figure B).
  3. Hold your device near the AirTag you wish to identify. A notification should pop up to open the webpage that details information about that AirTag.

Figure B

airtag-figure-b.jpg

If you’re unable to tap the top of the AirTag with the NFC touchpoint on your iOS or Android device, then use the Find My app to discover nearby AirTags.

Cory Bohon / TechRepublic.com

How to disable a suspicious AirTag and prevent it from tracking you

Apple designed AirTag with privacy in mind. If you find an AirTag that was suspiciously placed (i.e., it looks as though someone is attempting to track you or your property), you can easily disable the AirTag.

It an AirTag is found moving with you that isn’t your AirTag, your iPhone will receive an AirTag Found Moving With You message on your Lock Screen–tapping this message will allow you to play a sound on the AirTag in question. If the AirTag is on an item you’re borrowing, you can pause this safety alert for up to one day at a time. If the AirTag is on an item that belongs to a Family Sharing group you’re a part of, you may be able to turn off this safety alert indefinitely.

If the AirTag is suspicious and you feel you’re in danger by the AirTag being with you and reporting your location to an unknown owner, Apple has a way to easily disable the AirTag indefinitely. Follow these steps:

  1. Locate the AirTag you wish to disable.
  2. Push down and twist counterclockwise on the back of the AirTag.
  3. Take the cover off and remove the battery.

After you do this, even if you replace the battery, the AirTag will no longer allow the user to track it; however, if the owner of the AirTag placed it in Lost Mode, the AirTag can only ever be re-registered with Find My by the original owner because once an AirTag is placed into Lost Mode, it is locked using Activation Lock similar to iOS.

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Apple’s WWDC 2021 is June 7-11: How to watch and what developers can expect

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Apple’s annual developer conference will be virtual this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Find out how you can watch WWDC21 live, and what Apple is expected to announce.

Image: Apple, Inc.

Apple will hold this year’s all-online Worldwide Developers Conference from June 7-11. According to a press release from Apple, “WWDC21 will offer unique insight into the future of iOS, iPadOS, macOS, watchOS and tvOS” and is “an opportunity for developers to learn about the new technologies, tools and frameworks they rely on to build innovative and platform-differentiating apps and games.”

SEE: 10 macOS tune-up tricks for your Mac (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

What announcements to expect during WWDC21

At WWDC21, Apple is expected to preview iOS 15, iPadOS 15, tvOS 15, watchOS 8 and macOS 12 during the conference, according to sister site ZDNet. While it is unknown what changes the announced updates will bring, Apple usually introduces new features, performance improvements and bug fixes. 

ZDNet also reported that there haven’t been many leaks or rumors about what to expect during WWDC 2021, but there is talk that the iPad will get a home screen redesign “that will allow users to place widgets anywhere on the screen as you can on an iPhone right now,” wrote Jason Cipriani. It is also expected that Apple will upgrade the iPad’s software, after the release of the M1-powered iPad Pro. 

SEE: Apple’s WWDC 2021: The top 3 announcements business users want to hear (TechRepublic)

How to watch WWDC21

Apple’s WWDC is free to watch and will start with a keynote address, likely given by CEO Tim Cook, at 10 a.m. PT on June 7. To tune in, you can go to Apple’s site to stream the sessions throughout the week. 

Be sure to check TechRepublic for more WWDC21 coverage.

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