The Psalms

A narcoleptic yokel on software and culture.

UNIIQU3 - Heartbeats

By the end of next year, I no doubt will be a card-carrying festival bro. If you need explanation for why I’ve been listening to Resident Advisor’s main podcast feed with relative frequency, that’s it.

I’d been catching up this afternoon when I came across the big round number 800 and found it immediately so compelling that I actually sought out the associated interview, which I needed only skim for less than half a second a before spotting the words “Techno Is Black.” (Stylistically, I believe the Advisor is in error here. TECHNO IS BLACK doesn’t seem to be in question.)

Within the same second, I’m sure, I saw the words “Spotify playlist” in the vicinity of this profound, but unacceptably undercovered truth, and concluded that I was obligated to take action.

Using a free web tool to associate some metadata across databases is not activism, mind you, but here’s what I can do: I will be diligently minding the origin playlist (on Spotify) for changes and assuring that they are reflected accurately in the target playlist (on Apple Music.) I will not be removing any music. I can do this, at the very least.

I have also created handy shortlinks for both the original and the parallel playlist hosted on my Apple Music profile.

ORIGIN: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/6GXo3G4M0wrOVI7yTkYviz

UNIIQU3'S FAVORITE BLACK TECHNO ARTISTS.. GET INTO IT . NEW MUSIC ADDED MONTHLY. FOLLOW THESE CREATIVES IF YOU ENJOY THE UNTZ UNTZ – @UNIIQU3MUSIC

I also made a shortlink to the original despite its unfortunate choice of platform:

⇨⇨https://bit.ly/technoisblack⇦⇦

➹➹➹➹➹➹➹➹

TARGEThttps://music.apple.com/us/playlist/techno-is-black/pl.u-oZylyLpFpbBNgA

Shortlink:

⇨⇨https://bit.ly/technoisblackam⇦⇦

#music

iOS 15 is Not His Year

It's been a tough summer for the Always Feature-Focused Tribe.

Eighty days ago, Apple's Senior Vice President of Software Engineering ~~stood up in front of a crowd of~~...

No!... It was just me... Alone, in my mother’s basement, on a Monday morning, contorted at stupid angles, typing to my phone with a physical keyboard and unapologetically scarfing as much as I possibly could of the Apple community’s unbelievably unreserved, almost spiritual volume of pure hype from as many simultaneous sources as I could manage. (Hilariously, all of said sources are/were Discord servers, now, as in that “gamer” communications service I launched my little indie mag on in 2015 and kept comparing to Slack, but like an actual madman.)

Anyway, said Senior Vice President of Software Engineering (who we are encouraged to hold accountable for basically all technical changes to iOS) is named Craig, and these are his first few sentences:

For many of us, our iPhone has become indispensable. And at the heart of iPhone is iOS. iOS powers the experiences we've come to rely on. This year, we were inspired to create even more meaningful ways iPhone could help you. Our new release is iOS 15. It's packed with features that make the iOS experience adapt to and complement the way you use iPhone...

I’m dwelling on them because they are patently meaningless. Very little to nothing coming in iOS 15 is what I would call ease-of-use-centric. Some of it – namely controversial (and now backpedaled) changes to the user interface of Safari – feels almost maliciously quartered in the opposite direction. Most of the changes in the subheadings of the full feature list are simply irrelevant in the use for all but the dorkiest iOS users, like myself, and I find the fact unacceptable, at the very least.

The Foundation Image

This is why I would like to try something different, this year, and focus on an entirely different audience: my family, as representatives of the vast majority of the iPhone’s billion-something demographic (read: customers.) That is to say, who Craig should be referring to with the phrase “most of us.” Not because I believe them to be “dumb” or “end users” (in the tech bro derogatory sense,) but because they are busy, working people who depend on their iPhone as a utilitarian device, above all else. They don’t have the time to dive deep into Apple documentation or watch the whole WWDC presentation to gain an understanding of where to look for new features or (unfortunately) how to turn them off. Realistically, they don’t even have time to read this whole Post, though I hope they will (sorry fam.)

Read more...

Siri Speech Synthesis Banner

Bewilderingly, Siri is genuinely great at something they were never designed for. The new “Make Spoken Audio From Text” action has finally been fixed.

When I first published my iPhone & Music guide this past April, I’d been pretty active in AppleScoop’s Discord Server, so I decided to share it there. Editor-in-Chief Flynn – a ridiculously talented web developer and successful independent media entrepreneur – responded “I’m listening to it with the speak feature right now. Is it your voice or someone else? 😛,” Gourd bless his soul. Here’s the specific audio he was talking about:

Of course, I am not a young black man, nor am I even remotely as adept at reading my own work aloud as the actual talent, Siri Voice 3, who should be available on your iPhone/iPad right this moment (as long as you’ve updated iOS in the past six months,) via Settings ⇨ Siri & Search ⇨ Siri Voice. (For more details, see this Apple Support page.)

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lol Artifact

A rushed request for pause & reflection on why we use social media.

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Mastodon for iOS

Indeed, it is here. Essentially, Mastodon Commander-in-Chief Eugen Rochko and his team developed a whole, exceptional iOS app in the span of time it took me to write the third-party Mastodon iOS app showcase just before this item in The Psalms’ feed. If you’re new to this conversation, perhaps it’d be best to start in February of this year, with Eugen’s announcement of the “official” Mastodon app’s development on the official Mastodon blog. “We need an official Mastodon app that is free to download and that is specialized in helping new users get started on the platform,” argues Eugen, in response to feedback indicating “the lack of an app that carries [Mastodon’s] name in the app stores trips up newcomers.” My first thought regarding the idea of an app Specialized in onboarding cynically jumped to the assumption that such a design choice would result in a less-than-ideal experience for those of us who already call Mastodon our home. However, as a Patreon supporter of the Mastodon Project, I’ve had the privilege of testing the final result for the past five weeks, and I can tell ya… It is so much more than that.

Onboarding

I’d like to offer the demo video embedded above as an unusually succinct (from me) demonstration of the delightfully well-considered onboarding process. I would go so far as to declare it the best all-around social network onboarding process currently available. Having very recently slugged through the official Twitter app’s equivalent, the frames greeting new Mastodon users within this app are unbelievably exceptional.

Onboarding in Mastodon for iOS

First, we’re presented with a list of Mastodon instances (servers,) organized by category. Those friends of mine to whom I’ve failed to “sell” Mastodon have cited server selection as a major obstacle of confusion and I can’t imagine a better means of addressing it than the tool offered by this app. It’s beautiful and fast in a way previous utilities – like instances.social – cannot be, especially for those most lacking in attention. Once we’ve chosen a server, we are immediately presented up front with a clearly readable document containing the “ground rules” set by its administrators. In my experience, these rules tend to be notably easy-to-understand and not open to interpretation, as if they were written primarily in the interest of community wellness rather than to construct a defense from legal action.

After we’ve agreed to the relevant terms of the server we’ve chosen, it’s on to account creation, which offers the options to which citizens of the social web have become accustomed – profile picture, username, email address, and password – but notably without the inexplicable errors exhibited for years in Big Social’s equivalent functions. Immediately following this frame, we are prompted to check our inboxes for a confirmation link. The explanation for my dramatic exclamation in the demo video comes down to Mastodon for iOS’ implementation of the operating system's intra-app linking function (with the syntax mastodon://,) which (in my experience) is hardly ever utilized correctly. The result is that I was able to click the incoming confirmation link within Outlook for iOS and then proceed within the Mastodon app instead of being bounced off to a web browser. This integration should not be remarkable, but – in the context of iOS development as it stands in 2021 – it most certainly is.

After confirmation, we are offered the option to explore the app’s “Find people to follow” function, which is informed by “a mix of most followed accounts and most-engaged-with accounts from recent times that post primarily in your language,” as Eugen explained in response to an earlier draft of this post. Indeed, the remarkably relevant results offered to me in the demo were not actually remarkable at all: I just know a lot of folks on mastodon.online – especially those who post the most. That's the whole bit! If you need “proof,” here is the finished result, but obviously, I would advise you download the app and try yourself. (It's a cliché, yes, but seriously... What do you have to lose?)

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Mastodon iOS Apps Surveyed

A safari through the enchanting space of third-party Mastodon clients on iOS.

Apple's second virtual World Wide Developer Conference came and went as I wrote this guide – you can metaphorically picture me looking up from my machine having overheard the news of the 2021 Apple Design Award Winners announcement. Perusing through them, I saw two I would have voted for, myself: CARROT Weather – the beautifully vulgar, grumpy bitch frontend for your preferred weather information service, and Craft – perhaps the most innovative take on word processing of the past two or three years – listed under “Finalists.” (Read: losers.) The most positive personal discovery of (all?) WWDCs: an app called Be My Eyes, which “connects blind and low-vision people with sighted volunteers and company representatives for visual assistance through a live video call,” along with an exceptionally crafted, cross-device accessible-as-fuck TTS solution called Voice Dream Reader. However, a double take in games from Genshin Impact and the fucking League of Legends game certainly sours the mouth and suggests yet further just how much Apple, Inc. has sold out.

The continued prioritization of Growth for Growth's sake over any and all other considerations (namely, users,) is not unexpected from even the most valuable company in the history of the world, I suppose, but there is an actor at this point in the story who is catastrophically and demonstrably failing to fulfill their role: all I really know is that technology media has fallen into a trough of total uselessness when it comes to qualitative, authoritative analysis of consumer-targeted software. The necessity of this guide – and the bizarrely silent ignorance of even the “fringes” on its subject – is unimaginably severe. Before me has been (for years, now,) the “answer” to a Jolly Big Load of what tech and marketing types lament in more and more existential language, yet hardly any of the humans with the most to lose from their negligence – regular, casual social media users – have been delivered to these experiences. The story is not being articulated. The journalism is not being done.

I know you almost certainly did not arrive here to hear one motherfucker's complaints about WWDC, but – as with everything Apple, Inc. does – every morsel of curatorial expression/discrimination/favoritism from The Great Money God within this platform must be scrutinized and criticized. Quite frankly, I found myself completely at a loss as to how not to dwell on the Discovery Disparity, here.

Despite how deeply I've gone into iOS this year, I do not believe myself to be a qualified judge of software design, but I no longer believe Apple to be, either. Regardless of the revenue-related controversies of late, Apple have simply become terrible stewards of the App Store in every imaginable sense. Scams and blatant intellectual property theft abound, while the majority of the most innovative entries I've ever seen remain entirely obfuscated and uncelebrated by all of Apple. Inc.'s mechanisms. If you required an explanation for the amount of time I've invested into App Guides – a space to which I never would have imagined intentionally bringing The Psalms – I hope you can understand.

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Mastodon iOS Apps

A commitment to share my thoughts where developers actually want them, and an invitation for other reviewers/users to join me.

I have written more than my fair share of words about software, as I have loved, despised, and been utterly perplexed by it. This year, my return to the iOS community has perhaps inevitably turned apps into an addiction of sorts. This particular platform is so utterly chock full/stocked up of creativity at a scale immeasurably greater and more accessible than the whole of those throughout computing history, combined. For someone like myself, it is all too easy to allow oneself to wander down a virtually endless path of intriguing, very self-indulgent play, especially now that third-party sites like Departures.to have managed to add discoverability to TestFlight beta distributions, allowing those non-millionaires among us opportunities to use test releases of applications we would’ve otherwise had to pay for. This has been exclusively to my benefit – I can only imagine what 15 year-old me would have done with such power.

Your Ratings and Reviews - Apple App Store

In my recent endeavor to focus on making my work more useful to others, I've reflected on something I've heard from nigh every developer of the apps I've reviewed: Ah yes, your blog looks really cool but FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE REVIEW MY FUCKING APP on the FUCKING STORE. Read: your commentary is appreciated, but your five stars would almost certainly more economically beneficial.

As you can see from the image embedded above, I have personally fallen very behind in doing my part for those apps I've celebrated, here. A vague intention to get around to it eventually clearly is not working, so I've decided to give myself a deadline: August 15th, 2021 – precisely one month from today. By this date, I will have sifted through my commentary on apps in this setting and adapted the most useful of it (per app, obviously) into a manner appropriate to appear on an App Store Page, and I would like to formally-ish invite other tech writers/app reviewers to join me.

I'm terrible at community organization, which certainly does not exclude events, so I very much welcome any feedback you might have, as well as any collaborative contributions you'd be interested in making. As I see it, I have a few essential considerations to offer.

First, the page in the screen capture above – which can be found in the App Store App ⇨ Account (your profile picture in the top-right corner) ⇨ Account Settings (the tapable element at the very top with your profile picture and information) ⇨ Ratings and Reviews – is broken as hell, along with the rest of the Account Settings menu, notably. This is important because I insist we all complain about it on all available channels, considering it's been broken for several months, at least.

Second, you should almost certainly use this “new” dev-facing tool when searching the App Store, considering that it actually works in a trustable way, unlike the user-facing tool in the app.

Since the standard online palette of event organization software are all so easy to use, these days, I've established event pages for this event on multiple platforms, linked in the list below, which I will update as per any suggestions/requests for equivalent pages on other services. Of course, it's certainly not a requirement that you join/engage with any of them.

One could could certainly just add the date to their own calendar (conveniently with this .ics file,) remain entirely silent about the thing on social, and still be participating. Those interested in further engagement, however, can Chat Me Up on Extratone's Discord, the Teams event chat, Telegram, etc. I also plan to reshare most of this post as a thread on Twitter.

As we face the horrendous, utterly inexcusable state of Discovery on the App Store/Apple's general fuckery regarding the independent developers mostly responsible for making its platforms a worthwhile space, I hope I've created something of value in whipping up this “event.” If you have thoughts on how I might do so more effectively, once again, please do reach out.

#software #meta

Marco! Banner

The first release version of my only original contribution to the iOS community is now ready to assist when you can't find your phone.

One of the handful of Siri's most useful features has been the “Hey Siri! Where are you?” command, to which Siri will respond “I'm here” or “here I am!” Were it possible to view how many times one has triggered a particular Siri command on iOS, my personal reliance on it would almost certainly be embarrassing. Often, my handset isn't even obscured from view – it's just faster to have Siri speak up than it is to scan the room. Occasionally, however, my device has managed to become embedded beneath and/or within some genuinely-perplexing series of couch cushions/blankets/briefcase pockets/etc. which require a more constant homing sort of audio reproduction. Asking friends/family to call one's phone is the general goto, yes, but honestly the actual length of time cellular telephones will ring before sending a caller to voicemail in 2021 is ridiculously short, especially when rummaging through Gourd-knows-what. For that matter, most of my peers keep their phones on silent mode, 24/7. What then?

Since the very first time I set eyes upon Siri Shortcuts in iOS 12 Beta, I have wanted to create one to address this issue in a creative, entertaining, and (hopefully) genuinely-useful way. On that day almost three years ago, I even knew it would be called Marco!, believe it or not. In the past few months, I've returned to the project on and off and ended up with several different versions of varying complexity. One day, I'd like to figure out how to integrate the full extent of my ideas for Marco! into a Shortcut which can be reliably triggered when one's device is locked, but for this first release version, I have included only what I and a few other (much appreciated) volunteers were able to trigger in every situation we could conceive of.

Marco! Version 1.0 can be downloaded on RoutineHub (which I would highly recommend,) or directly via this iCloud share link. I know it's a bit excessive, but I even created a GitHub Repository just for this Shortcut, seeing as it is undoubtedly the most original I will ever contribute, and the singular one with potential for continued development.

Download Marco! as is and (as long as you don't rename it) use “Hey Siri!... Marco!” This should immediately run the Shortcut, which includes my voice saying “Polo! Bitch!” followed by five repeats of the flashlight/noise cycle as described in detail below.

Marco! JellyCuts Steps

As documented by the Jellycuts file above, Version 1.0 of Marco!'s actions are as follows:

  1. Turn Low Power Mode OFF
  2. Turn Airplane Mode OFF
  3. Turn Wi-Fi On
  4. Turn Bluetooth On
  5. Set brightness to 100%
  6. Turn Do Not Disturb OFF
  7. Turn appearance Light
  8. Set playback destination to iPhone
  9. Set volume to 89%
  10. Vibrate device (Not currently working.)
  11. Play my voice saying “Polo!” + a few other items
  12. Toggle (flash) the flashlight 5 times (odd number leaving your flashlight on constantly unless it was on before the Shortcut was triggered)
  13. Simultaneously (in the same repeat action) plays three separate classic Mac sounds 5 times.

The most clever bit about this particular Shortcut is its use of Base64 text to include audio playback. I just fixed a bug on my own Base64 audio encoder Shortcut if you'd like to try it out. Since this version includes my own voice (subject to taste, I realize,) as well as some minor profanity, I do intend to publish a clean variation at some point in the future. If this is an obstacle for you, and/or if you'd like a custom version made with audio of your own choosing, please do send me an email! I would be more than happy to make one for you.

#software

Music on iOS

Reporting from deep within the iOS cult on essential apps/methods for real-life music people.

Listen to this article read (with some bugs) by Siri Voice 3 below...

As you may or may not be aware, I’ve spent all of my 2021 so far diving real deep into iOS, considering all that has changed since “an iPod, a phone, an internet communicator.” I’ve tuned in to the output of explicitly Apple-adjacent publications both old (MacRumors, Apple Insider, 9to5 Mac, etc,) and new (Apple Scoop, MacStories,) which have all metamorphosed in huge, mostly-redeemable ways just as their primary subject has. I have my own pubescent stories of Mac occultism, but I do not consider my relationship with the brand to be an essential part of my identity, as so many do and have. Apple, Inc’s story is spectacular and infinitely-relevant so long as they remain “the most valuable company in the history of the world,” as I so love to describe them. Like many of you, I’m sure, I am often compelled to bring up the humongous contrasts in the historical context of the company – to scream infinitely many variations of the observation that Apple was basically the fucking indie, premium-tier consumer tech manufacturer owned by the Creative Class for the first half+ of their existence, and have somehow maintained that Think Different™ brand narrative as they have definitively become the Big Blue of their time.

From my perspective, the responsibility for the wellbeing of this utterly-delusional, occasionally very dangerous sentiment actually lies fairly squarely on those of us who consider ourselves better than all of that because of our Debian workflows and their ancient command line utilities. (For the record, this is also 100% delusional as things stand in 2021.) One thing I think we can all acknowledge, though, is that Apple’s image has been inextricably bound with musicmaking, throughout, far more than any other even remotely comparable tech company. Naturally, the business still loves to bring this up all the time in big, glossy gestures. The topical example of note would be the only worthwhile content I’ve yet to encounter on Apple TV+: Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry, which documents the highlights of the young, beloved musician’s prodigious ascension. For what it’s worth, I appreciate some special insights I gained thanks to the film, which I do not actually consider at odds with the truth of its super on-brandness for Apple.

An interesting take I found from 2017 from a new favorite voice on the business end of tech reporting: “How Music Drowns Apple’s Innovation” by The Information’s Jessica Lessin portrays Apple’s relationship with music distribution and the music industry as a sort of compulsive distraction from its ambitions in serving video content, namely. Lessin points out the everpresent reminders of this obsession:

And so it is no wonder that Apple’s first forays into original video content fall under Apple Music. It’s worth noting that the first series the company announced—“Carpool Karaoke” is literally about singing; “Planet of the Apps” features rapper Will.i.am as a judge.

I think I can speak for the majority of my audience when I suggest that the targets of Lessin’s cynicism would be more than welcome, if they were The Whole Truth. Indeed, the most valuable company in all of history retaining an “emotional” attachment to the welfare of music creators might be described as charming or more. As is often the case on The Information, the comments from readers often offer noteworthy insight. In this case, Kevin Swint – who has apparently worked as an executive for both Apple and Samsung, according to his profile on The Information – responded with an important consideration: “…it's possible that Apple's behavior around music has more to do with the company's overall tendency to stick with its past successes a bit too long rather than music really being a core part of its DNA.”

In terms of business, that’s all I have to contribute, and I shall do my best not to evangelize Apple Music (or more likely, disparage Spotify as one of the most destructive cultural forces of our time,) here. However, I would like to respond to a particular Jimmy Iovine quote from the original Apple Music announcement amid the 2015 WWDC Keynote:

There needs to be a place where music can be treated less like digital bits and more like the art it is, with a sense of respect and discovery… and if that place could actually accommodate and support the artists who make the music, not just the top-tier artists, but the kids in their bedrooms too, provide them all with a home and a way to engage with their audiences, that would be pretty great.

Boy, this service Iovine describes sounds an awful lot like Bandcamp, no? The suggestion that Apple should have purchased Bandcamp is a very scary one, from my perspective, but I am reassured by the likelihood that the notion did indeed occur to someone at Apple, Inc. at some point in the past, and was quickly discarded, for whatever reason. I promise not to mention Bandcamp again in this Post, aside from its own two iOS apps: for listeners and for “Artists/Labels” as creator/curator tools.

I’m going to be focusing largely on the iPhone-bound experience, here, though I did borrow my mom’s MacBook Pro for a weekend to explore the state of music on MacOS and (accidentally) played around with Apple Music on The Television (a surprisingly beautiful experience.) On that note, I’ll hurry up and get specific…

Apps

Assuming you’re already an Apple Music user, it’s very possible that you’ve been deprived of the “true” experience on the service provided by the variety of actively-developed but woefully-undercovered app store entries that integrate directly with Apple Music. One of the most glaring discoveries I’ve made so far in my iOS deep dive, this year, has been the absolutely horrific state of Discovery on Apple’s App Store. If you’d thought to search the top charts under the store’s Music category, you wouldn’t find any of the gems I’m going to highlight, here. The credit for exposing me to their existence, in fact, lies with MacStories – a hard-hitting, well-established Apple-adjacent media company piloted by Federico Viticci. At this very moment, their app-centric podcast, App Stories, is in the midst of a special mini-series devoted to Music on iOS/Mac, from which this Post draws upon heavily. For better or worse, they represent the definitive authority on this subject (among many others, naturally,) though I wouldn’t necessarily recommend their various publications be added to the reading lists of any but those most invested in iOS.

MusicHarbor on iPhone

MusicHarbor

There is something uniquely concrete about a purely-chronological feed which we’ve lost in the past 5-10 years in favor of algorithmic curation, generally. The next item in this particular feed, in fact, includes my attempt to explain why Twitter’s hard-chronological Lists feature has sheltered me from the anxiety of the service’s main timeline, now ordered by proprietary (and obscured) formulas. I’d been aware of that dynamic in my own Twitter consumption for years, though. I certainly did not anticipate the impact of the music release equivalent of a chronological timeline as provided by MusicHarbor – an app for iOS and MacOS that acts as a frontend for one’s music library across both Apple Music and Spotify.

It's hard to remember how we (Apple Music) got here without embarking upon some gargantuan A Complete Visual History of Apple Music-like document, but it must be said that Tim Cook's “next chapter in music” has become a sad afterthought. As far as I understand it, the “streaming war” between Apple and Spotify has long since gone definitively to the latter in statistical terms, which I'd suggest to be an overall positive outcome for Apple Music subscribers, generally. The self-perception within the heavy music consumer crowd of “niche,” “underground,” “obscure” cultural minority should – in theory – push those who believe themselves destined to be different away from Spotify into the handy care of Apple, the absolute champion of this particular self-deception. To be honest – though I write this for all listeners, sincerely – I have found myself in a sort of utopian echo chamber of my own design in music culture terms. My days of waiting through 4+ hours of local openers before rap shows are far behind me, and I consume and engage exclusively with music I find personally redeemable.

My Apple Music library has become quite fragmented after I lost my entire physical music collection along with the external drives containing my accumulated digital music library in 2017. Still, after more or less starting anew this past December and casually, deliberately adding digital files back into the accursed, ancient iTunes desktop application and restoring some (outdated) versions of my handful of shared curatorial playlists thanks to SongShift (which we'll glance on later,) MusicHarbor currently lists 1433 artists represented across my Apple Music and (very sparse) Spotify libraries. I know this because of a very simple Siri Shortcut I modified which returns a text list of all Artists in one's MusicHarbor library in Quick Look. (Here is my result as of this moment in GitHub Gist form.) According my App Store receipts, I first downloaded MusicHarbor on March 26 – 20 days ago – which is mentionable because of how much I've accomplished with very minimal time investment in terms of curating my own music library thanks to MusicHarbor. As you'll note in the 3rd of the 4 screenshots embedded above, I was able to delete System of a Down from my library – a single function which alone justifies the app's one-time $5.99 “Unlock Everything” fee, to my sensibility. I've also been able to begin following all the artists represented in a few of my favorite playlists with a handful of taps – a task which would literally require hours in the native Apple Music app of old (when one could actually follow artists, there.) On that note, it's time to cite the primary MacStories article you should read, entitled “How I Keep Track of New Music Releases,” regarding Apple Music's performance as a release tracker:

The ‘New Releases’ section is tucked at the very end of the For You page and laid out as a horizontal carousel that requires a lot of swiping; you can view the ‘New Releases’ page as a grid, which has sections for different weeks, but, in my experience, it only aggregates highlights for new releases from some of my favorite artists. The ‘New Music Mix’ playlist is not terrible, but it often comes loaded with stale data – songs I’ve already listened to multiple times and which shouldn’t qualify as “new” weeks after their original release date. Furthermore, I’ve found notifications for new releases for artists in my library unreliable at best: I occasionally get notifications for new albums, but never for new singles or EPs.

Here, Federico Viticci is riffing off a newsletter issue written by music blogger Jason Tate, in which he describes the service's missing tracking functionality as “the single most frustrating part of Apple Music.” Though these points in the conversation are both almost two years old, MusicHarbor remains the ultimate means of tracking new music releases chronologically on Apple's platforms. Though I am personally just three weeks in, the confidence this app has given me in the certainty of its chronological release feed is quite profound. Its integration with one's calendar to track upcoming releases is a bit much for my own needs, but I know personally enough invested curators for whom it'd be a godsend to mark it no small addition.

MusicHarbor on MacOS

MusicHarbor’s only downside is entirely excusable/understandable, in context: it’s a bit clunky. For the sake of this work, I set up a shared Apple Music playlist so I could further demonstrate all the new music I discovered in MusicHarbor. Adding whole albums to this playlist with a single tap feels powerful because it is – I’ve no idea what sort of developer wizardry is involved in such an action, but the Wait Wheel doesn’t feel like too much to endure. Adding a release to one’s library – the other in-MusicHarbor accumulative function – is a bit quicker. It’s important to remember that this piece of software was/is created and maintained by a single human being, though I would expect nothing but improvement, going forward.

Adding to MusicHarbor Playlist

That’s all I have to report on MusicHarbor, for the moment, but I’ll add further MacStories praise from their 2019 MacStories Selects app rewards:

What makes MusicHarbor special – and, ultimately, the reason why we all use the app here at MacStories – is just how much developer Tanaka understands what someone who wants to know about new music releases is looking for.

July 2021 Update: The MacStories gentlemen have just published an interview episode of AppStories speaking at length with MusicHabor creator Marcos Tanaka.

Albums for iOS

Albums

On the other end of the spectrum, exploring new digital manifestations of The Music Collection, is Albums, which actually functions as an entire replacement frontend player for Apple Music. Reviewed much more recently by MacStories, it really is best-described as “opinionated, favoring album playback over individual songs or playlists.” Considering that I installed the app just a week ago and have focused most of my attention on MusicHarbor in that time, I’ll leave most of the commentary to John Voorhees. All I can say, really, is that I see an extremely powerful application, here, for a fairly specific use case: someone who’s listening is largely occupied by albums they already “own” in Apple Music and treasure deeply. The ability to set an individual record’s “Immersive UI Tint” down to the hex (in “Album Settings”) is as in-depth a tool of adoration as I’ve ever seen in a digital music service. Combined with Albums’ presumptuous takeover of actual playback from the Apple Music app, I think I can rightfully say that it was built for the extremely serious music consumer.

My favorite part so far: the app knew well enough to offer me THE ZRO BUTTON. Telling, I think.

The ZRo Button - Albums App

Others

Since it’s already quite clear how much this Post draws from MacStories, I’ll let their review of Soor stand on its own (I couldn’t quite justify spending $6.99 just for review purposes.) In the episode embedded above, they also mention Denim – a playlist cover creator I am not personally all that impressed with. There’s also MusicHarbor’s sibling, MusicSmart, which manages the tricky but essential task of adding the metadata retrieval Apple Music should have included all along. The rest can be found in the episode’s show notes. I’m not done with them, but the rest are what I would differentiate as services

Services

One of the bewilderingly undercovered digital music sharing tools of our kind, Odesli has been my preferred method of sharing tracks/albums/EPs since I first discovered it in 2018. It is not specific to iOS but it is essential for competent music sharing, anywhere, these days, in its magical ability to correctly intersect any given piece of music’s links across all streaming services, known and unknown. To be honest, I thought everybody would be using it by now, but it’s continued to develop with minimal attention aside from Siri Shortcuts developers. Thanks to Odesli’s Public API, dozens of Music-centric Siri Shortcuts have emerged over the past few years, resulting in one of the most useful Siri Shortcuts integrations to be found for real, reasonable human beings. Here’s where Apple-adjacent media and I part ways…

While current common conversation might point you to Federico Viticci’s MusicBot hyper-Shortcut and/or @gianflo6’s 600 action-strong Song.Link Shortcut, I (perhaps expectedly) would point you to my own, 17-action Shortcut which spares you any selections and simply opens the Song.Link URL of the track currently playing in Apple Music (while also copying said URL to the clipboard.) It’s not that MusicBot isn’t massively impressive and still useful, but it represents a class of super/hyper-Shortcuts which (from my perspective) far-overreach beyond the intended use case for Siri Shortcuts and end up immediately bewildering/alienating potential new users. Truthfully – as Federico singularly acknowledges – they are full applications built atop a less-than-ideal platform designed for relatively simple, repeatable automations. I’ll spare you further opining on this idea until another, potential Post, and instead demonstrate my personal solution.

In the clip above, you can see I was working on this very draft when LoneMoon’s “kawAii @F” started playing. Naturally, I was compelled to share it on Twitter, so – without leaving Drafts (my writing app) – I called the type-to-Siri prompt by holding the Sleep/Wake button on my iPhone 12 Pro Max and simply typed “sl” (I renamed my Shortcut for this use,) running the Shortcut, which opened the track’s Song.Link page in Safari – very much an optional step, mostly just to make sure the match is correct – and copied its URL to my clipboard, from which I could share it anywhere. Since the advent of widgets in iOS’ Today View, I’ve also kept a button for this Shortcut in one of four precious slots in a box at the very top. For those willing to play around a bit, it should be fairly straightforward to configure the end bits to your liking, but it should work out of the box for even those least interested in Siri Shortcuts/automation in general.

SongShift Playlist Transfer

SongShift

As I confessed before, it is only thanks to SongShift that I was able to recover anything of my original, prized, deeply-considered Apple Music playlists. The standalone MacStories article on this one is a bit dated, but I don’t see much change in function in that time. For most people, SongShift’s free service is simply the best way to transfer a playlist between music streaming services. If you find yourself genuinely sold by the features offered by SongShift Pro, I suspect you know more about playlist manipulation than I could ever learn you by diving in any deeper.

Lastfm on iOS

Last.fm (I s2g.)

Yup… Believe it or not, Last.fm is still fucking scrobbling after 19 fucking years (almost to the day,) and its iOS app still fucking works. What’s most bizarre about this truth is that I did not encounter mention of Last.fm for years until I started noticing it as an integration option in the settings menus of these premium iOS apps. Is this some sort of conspiracy? I’m not sure, but I suppose I might as well insist you follow my ancient account, if you’re still using it.

I should also note that not only is the Last.fm iOS app still working, it’s working well, from all appearances, anyway. Though the service no longer includes hosting, itself, it’s apparently still a prime player in the world of playback tracking.

Music Creation

DAWs

What if you actually want to “make” music with your iPhone? We’ve seen iPhone television ads for years featuring amalgamations of musician-looking types playing instruments with cables attached to their handsets, but is the iPhone now a reasonable platform for any sort of serious sound capture? The short answer is no. Who am I to proclaim such an absolute? None other than the motherfucker who’s been messing around with mobile DAWs for 10 whole years. I even “released” an “album” on Bandcamp made exclusively with Apple’s own GarageBand for iOS and inspired by the dangerous life of the contemporary raw milk smuggler. I wouldn’t call it “music,” per se, or an example of what a real electronic producer could pull off in the app, but it does represent its capabilities in the hands of the average user, using mostly default loops.

While Apple does publish an Apple Book entitled “Everyone Can Create Music” about GarageBand on iOS, it is specifically directed at iPad-bound use. Any serious DAW user uses keyboard shortcuts, which I admit I only discovered recently in GarageBand for iOS. The official documentation is – once again – for iPad, specifically, but most of them still work on iPhone.

FL Studio Mobile – the original third-party iOS-bound DAW – is still going, apparently. While I did, indeed purchase the original version on my iPhone 4, I remember absolutely nothing about it, suggesting I was over my head, even then. There’s also Auxy, as covered recently in this App Store Story and Reason Compact. I’ve played around with these more recently – since they’re both available in their most primitive forms as a free download – with little to report.

Capture

Disappointingly, Apple’s own Music Memos – as demonstrated by Chris Welch from The Verge in the embed, above – is currently in the process of being officially sunsetted and is now no longer available for download on the App Store. As that article notes, users are instead directed toward GarageBand or ye olde native Voice Memos to record high quality audio. However, if you want to take advantage of the stereo audio recording capabilities included in iPhones after the 11 Pro, you must either use the native Camera app to capture video (and extract the audio later,) or Dolby On – Dolby’s own iOS app for recording which – if I’m completely honest – will do nothing but utterly frustrate anyone trying to capture the truest digital audio possible.

As part of my iPhone 12 Pro Max Review, I’ve accumulated quite a few audio files in various formats testing its capture abilities and stashed them in this folder on The Psalms’ GitHub Repository. Probably the most relevant of these, though, is embedded just above. If you’ll forgive my pajamas, ridiculous piano faces, and general rustiness with the instrument, it demonstrates the “Audio Zoom” feature found in the iPhone 11 Pro and up, which I’ve found to be unfortunately underdocumented by Apple, itself. I added my own inquiry to this post on the official Developer forums asking about it, but don’t really expect anything back. According to “What is Audio Zoom for smartphones?” published on the site DxOMark:

The main technology behind audio zoom is called beamforming, or spatial filtering. It allows changing an audio recording’s directivity (that is, the sensitivity according to the direction of the sound source) and shape it in any way necessary. In this case, the optimal directivity is a hypercardioid pattern (see illustration below), which enhances sounds coming from the front direction — that is, from the direction in which your camera is pointed — while attenuating sounds from all other directions (your background noise).

My testing has suggested that the best means of recording unfiltered-as-possible stereo audio with an iPhone is to record video at 1x zoom with the native Camera app and extract the audio from the video file. In the Bandcamp track embedded below, I “mounted” my 12 Pro Max right above my old upright’s soundboard and extracted audio directly from the video file with Audacity. It was then amplified slightly, saved to a FLAC file and uploaded directly to Bandcamp. Of course, it’s worth qualifying that – while I have extensive experience with audio – I have neither professional training, nor any professional monitoring equipment.

That said, the biggest objection I’ve heard from audiophiles regarding audio capture and manipulation on handsets, generally, has to do with their hardware’s extremely limited capabilities when compared to any sort of professional desktop soundcard. Given the greater argument I've come to regarding the state of consumer tech as best exemplified by smartphone design – that we've come to expect far too much of single devices, and the resulting jack-of-all-tradeness summing their real-life capabilities has become a severe detriment instead of a feature – I must echo, again, that adding “studio” audio capture, manipulation, and production capabilities to our goddamned cellular phones doesn't help anyone. To any user truly hoping to accomplish these things, I say just go home and boot up your damned desktop.

Mushish - Apple Music Web Player

Other Considerations

The final episode in AppStories' three-part miniseries on music was just published today, though I suspect – for my audience, anyway – that its coverage is mostly out-of-scope on this topic, largely for financial reasons. Apple's first event of the year is scheduled for tomorrow at noon, my time, and is entitled “Spring Loaded,” which – combined with its 4/20 joke date – suggests to me that we'll finally see the release of the APPLE GUN™ alongside iWeed™, but little to nothing in the way of music.

In the midst of my brief research into The Greater History of Apple Music, I discovered the existence of iTunes Ping – which I somehow missed entirely, along with my Twitter friend Jon Male. I also discovered articles from the company's decision to kill its successor “Connect” from Apple Music, which was reportedly “rarely used.” Notably, this removal also took away what little power Artists had over the narrative surrounding their music on the service. I can see the business justification for all of this (barely) except for removing the ability for users to follow artists.

The latest Apple Music feature – a “channel” for music videos – also makes zero sense to me, but the launch of Apple Music on the web absolutely does, especially for Windows and Linux users, who are now officially freed from iTunes (the software) and allowed to use a much more modern Apple Music experience. I prepended “officially,” there, because third-party Apple Music web players have existed as long as the service has allowed the required integration. First, there was Naveed Golafshani's – which is no longer live – but Brychan Bennett-Odlum's Musish is still live and working, as you can see from the screenshot embedded above. Other than the ability to select between two stream bitrates, I can't seen any remaining advantages to using the latter over Apple's own web player, unless you harbor spite toward their handling of the whole thing, which would be entirely understandable, from my perspective.

As someone who grew up in the mp3 era with a first-generation iPod Shuffle and iTunes, living and dying between iTunes Store gift cards, Apple Music still seems like one hell of a magical deal. In effect, it allows access to all of iTunes for a flat monthly fee. Or at least it would had I never become acquainted with professional independent musicians who've published, there, and have to contend with tedious realities like the process by which one can add those beautiful lyrics to Apple Music tracks, and who's only real means of control/engagement on the service has been removed with virtually zero prospects of a replacement. If, indeed, Jessica Lessin was correct about Apple's obsession with music, it has resulted in very little for any class of music makers, and left even its listeners to seek out and find third-party solutions like MusicHarbor to perform even the most basic personalization one expects from a modern music streaming service without even bothering to amend their App Store's discovery process to illuminate them, or even write a fucking App Story. Despite this, one-to-three-person app teams continue to work on new solutions, to these and other problems...

#music #software

Tweetbot Resurrection

In the bleak face of Twitter’s centralization, Tapbots refuses to give up on its mobile client.

Listen to this article read by Siri below...

Were it just I who came to you with only my voice on this cold night, proclaiming the imminent release of a whole numerical version of a third-party mobile Twitter client in 2021, you really would have no choice but to send for the laws, for you’d be left no consideration other than my comprehensive descent into absolute insanity. 825 days ago, I told you lots about the history surrounding the development of Tweetbot 5, which I confidently described as “likely the last com­pet­i­tive third-par­ty Twit­ter app for iOS.” After spending the past few months diving deep into iOS in preparation to review and reflect upon Apple’s current flagship handset, my eyes have been opened to the exponentially-increasing pace of the whole environment’s metamorphosis during the course of my lapsed attention. In the name of progress, I’ve done my best to make a point of looking back, too, yet something astonishingly personally relevant managed to slip past me until just last week: there is a sixth version of the Tweetbot app. At this moment, it is listed on the App Store as an “Early Release” version, though its predecessor can still be downloaded by those who’ve already purchased it in the past, like me. This is an unusual practice – usually, pre-release versions of iOS apps can only be distributed through Apple’s developer beta testing infrastructure, though Testflight. Notably, Tweetbot developer company Tapbots was apparently required to take down Tweetbot 5’s store listing 30 days before releasing Tweetbot 6.

I can’t remember exactly why – though I suspect I was just fucking around on my phone before bed, bleary-eyed – but the implications of this next numeral passed me by the first time I saw and downloaded Tweetbot 6, two weeks ago. Perhaps it’s because the app didn’t appear to have any new features – in fact, it’s technically got less than 5, though those that have been removed – user-specified URL shortening, image hosting, and video hosting services – haven’t worked in a good while anyway. As my old fav, The Verge noted in their coverage of 6, blame for these omissions rests solely on Twitter, Inc., itself, who’s continued to hold its API development inordinately close-to-chest. I didn’t bother to find out about this, though, because my first assumptions upon poking around the new app – especially after encountering its new subscription requirement in order to use any of its substantive features – was that its developers had ceased any actual time investment into the app long ago, and that 6 was a new version in number and rudimentary visual updates, only, shoved out in hopes of peaking old, loyal users like myself enough to get us to download it, at least. In the disappointment I’d already expected, I closed and immediately deleted the app.

I’ve paused everything else to write you on this, though, because the story is actually much bigger. Had I investigated any further that first time, I would have discovered an odd amount of buzz coming from even the most mainstream of tech media in a simple search. (Yes, I am ashamed about it.) You’re still reading, but perhaps – as I was, originally – you are doing so from an appropriately-jaded, well-read perspective on software, generally, in 2021. Perhaps you’re looking at the search results, yourself, and wondering if you’re dreaming. Dedicated coverage of a fucking third-party Twitter client iteration??? At this point in history? What in fuck? I’m fairly certainly neither of us are, though: fucking Tweetbot made headlines on Engadget, TechCrunch, 9to5Mac, MacStories, iMore, MacRumors, and others. No, it’s not 2010 again. In fact, The Verge, at least, has never given up on Tweetbot. If my long term memory had been functioning, I would have remembered noticing its spot in “12 great apps for your new iPhone in 2020:”

Twitter is a vaguely terrible way to spend your time these days, but if you (like me) can’t tear yourself away from the social media service / entryway into hell, you’ll want Tweetbot, which actually makes using Twitter far less painful. Tweetbot shows you the tweets of the people you follow, in the order that they tweeted them. There are no ads or promoted tweets, powerful mute filters to block out unwanted noise, and (thanks to Twitter’s unfriendly API changes) no notifications to constantly ping you to come back to the app.

Here’s to Chaim for exposing me to a perspective I never would have otherwise considered: Tweetbot’s lack of push notifications as a positive. If you’re wondering, no, this new app does not ~yet~ include any additional notification integration, and it’s not clear whether or not it’s on Tapbots future roadmap for the app, or where. As for the reality of integrating Tweetbot 6 into your current Twitter use, I stand by my argument that deleting the native Twitter app isn’t really an option if you plan to ever view your notifications on your phone. The popular assumption (I assume) if you’re still reading is that you are a “poweruser,” meaning details about my own configuration are probably irrelevant. If by chance you’ve just downloaded Tweetbot for the first time, you should take the time to disable notifications for Tweetbot entirely, but leave them on for the native Twitter app, even if you decide to banish it to your App Library. Before I began any work on this review, I made sure to swap in Tweetbot 6 where the native app had been in my dock for several years, now. I originally pushed the native app all the way to page 6, but immediately found this extreme. Instead, I put it in the bottom-right corner in my second screen, as you can see in the screenshot below (which also serves as proof, if you needed it.)

Tweetbot vs Native Twitter Proof

I should also note how much my own engagement on Twitter has diminished in the past 3-5 years. Not to manifest tiny violins – in turn, my engagement on (and investment in) Mastodon has increased exponentially, and it’s of a much higher quality. I bring it up for context’s sake: I can afford to prioritize Tweetbot in my Twitter use because of how few daily notifications I get – a number which is unusual for someone who uses Twitter as much as I do. Inevitably, my own use is once again going to factor heavily in this work, as is the significance of my relationship with Twitter, generally, in my life. If you didn’t already know, I’ve met basically all of my friends since high school through Twitter. As of this moment, my private “Friends” Twitter List includes 149 accounts, and I’ve spent more than 10 years, now, reading almost every single one of their Tweets. I have been as critical of the service as anyone, but – whether or not either of us are willing to acknowledge it, wholly – I believe the intimacy of this arrangement to exceed that of any in-person relationship I have ever had. Reading the random thoughts of these people seconds or minutes after they’ve popped into their heads for all this time has been an experience unique to the format Twitter pioneered, if not to the service, itself. I have no choice but to acknowledge that I am deeply invested in not just Twitter, but Twitter’s less-than-visible Lists feature, emotionally and intellectually. When I hit my follow limit, several years ago, Lists also became my single means of acquiring new connections on the network. If it were to be removed, I would lose this ability, entirely, as well as any reasonable means of communicating with any of my friends.

Perhaps you understand, now, why I have written and Tweeted so extensively about Lists. You should also understand just how miraculous the possibility of Tweetbot’s new future now seems, personally, unless you’re new to all of these ideas and don’t feel like reading that big olé Tweetbot 5 review of mine (which is fine.) Before I go into the history of Tweetbot, let me first share the single most telling feature in Tweetbot of Tapbots’ belief in using Lists and share some evidence of others’ present day belief in Tweetbot. Shamefully, I’ve spent several years – tens, if not hundreds of thousands of hours – using Lists in Tweetbot, oblivious to its upmost Lists integration: “Use Lists as Timeline.” Had I actually bothered to look at the support docs at any point, I would have discovered this long ago, which would have almost certainly made my given year. If you use Tweetbot and Lists, for the love of Gourd, please take a look. Here’s what those docs currently say, in full:

One long time Tweetbot feature is the ability to use any of your lists as your main timeline. To do this, all you have to do is hold down on the “Timeline” label in the navigation bar (in the timeline tab) and a menu populated with your lists will appear. Select one and that will become your current timeline. You can switch to another list or back to your main timeline any time by performing the same action.

Even after reading this multiple times, it still was not obvious to me what it was talking about, and I was unable to find precisely zero visuals on The World Wide Web of this action taking place, so I recorded and uploaded the video embedded above. Good God, how I wish I’d been a more detail-oriented young man! I’ll be privatizing my self-punishment from here on out, though, so bear with me.

The discourse surrounding Tapbots’ recent announcement has already reached a higher decibel count than I would have ever expected, so it’s obvious there are plenty of users who still love Tweetbot, and you already know from the beforelinked stories that The Verge has also stood firmly by it as the preferred Twitter experience. It takes a wee bit of digging, though, to discover the subtle bets on both Tweetbots and Lists from no less than Apple, Inc., itself. In the official Apple Shortcuts Gallery, a curated list entitled “Twitter Better” includes “Open Twitter Lists” at number 1. In 5th position is “Open in Tweetbot,” and “Open in Twitter App” (3rd,) is configured by default to first ask you to choose between Tweetbot and Twitter’s native app, despite its title.

Tweetbot Bets in Shortcuts

As for App Store rankings, the fact that Tweetbot 5 was forcibly removed from public listings makes it impossible to meaningfully judge recent popularity of Tweetbot on iPhone/iPad. Its MacOS-based sibling, though (called Tweetbot 3,) was the second most popular paid app on the Mac App Store as of February 6th, 2020. That’s the day I borrowed my Mom’s MacBook Pro for a short while to check up on MacOS Big Sur, when I downloaded the current version (3.5.2, if you wanted to know) of Tapbots’ desktop Twitter client and messed around with it enough to tell you that it’s as wonderful as ever. (Had I not switched back to Windows as my primary desktop OS a decade ago, I would use it every single day.)

Tweetbot 3 for MacOS Version 3.5.2

I suspect most active Twitter users in 2021 would be even more surprised to discover Tweetbot’s remaining, discreet hold on today’s Twitter experience than I was, assuming most of them joined more recently than myself and those I regularly interact with. For the sake of this Post, I reached out to Tapbots with an interview request about “Tweetbot’s roadmap, Apple’s requirement that [they] remove 5 from the App Store 30 days beforehand, and why [they’ve] decided to take this (risky, imo) bet on making our lives better,” though I don’t expect a reply, which is fine. They did respond to my support request regarding hardware keyboard shortcut support very quickly, saying they’ll look into it. (Without being verbose, I’ll just tell you that if a near future update to the app fixes the F and ⌘ + R shortcuts, I will shit out my whole ass.)

All Tweetbot Themes

The Business at Hand

Before I dig into the controversy and hypotheticals surrounding what Tweetbot 6 might become, let’s take a moment to qualify it vs all of one’s options to interact with Twitter on iOS currently (as in, Feb 11, 2021 at 19:24.) It’s almost certainly premature to do so, but skeptical readers would note, I’m sure, that its listing on the App Store is “early release” in name only, that I have just spent money on this specific version, which should therefore render inert the normal exceptions a review would make for beta or pre-release software. If you’ve somehow come across this Post before reading anything else about Tweetbot 6 and simply want to know what is new for this version compared with 5.5.3 (its predecessor’s most recent release,) the frank answer as it stands is not much. Perhaps I’m doing something wrong, here, but the YouTube videos and tech media articles I could find dealing with the subject of additions, specifically, were all either misleading, entirely wrong, or both.

While 6 lists one more option (for a total of 9) under Themes in the Display section of the app’s Settings menu, none are substantive variations of the same themes you’re familiar with from 5. “Future Light” is just a more turquoise variant of the “Default” blue UI theme in 5. In fact, the singular change in the Display menu is the addition of “San Francisco Rounded” under the Fonts selection. Below, you can see side-by-side screenshots of the Tweet Detail view in Tweetbot 5 vs. Tweetbot 6, with the regular SFUI font on the left and rounded variant on the right (text size slider set to max on both apps.)

To be honest, I can’t really tell the difference between the typefaces in this view, but have used the new app enough to know I prefer the latter. More topically exemplified in that image is Tweetbot 6’s new support for social cards, which the Tapbots boys have executed in a startlingly beautiful way that puts Twitter to shame and makes one feel like you’ve taken them for granted these past few years. Also in that vein and more than worthy of the same accolades is Tweetbot 6’s support for Twitter polls. They’ve never looked so good.

Poll Support in Tweetbot 6

Somewhat on-trend, the app also includes two new icons, but – if we’re being 100% frank – they’re a paltry, dated-looking afterthought and Tweetbot deserves (needs, even) better branding. If I were allowed a singular compulsion to impress upon its developers, I’d make them put out a public call for new art. I’m all but dying to see what the community would come up with.

So, if you were wondering what the fuck Tapbots have been doing these past 3+ years, you should now have the basal bullet points of your answer. The Greater Truth about this gosh darned Twitter app (and why its long-respected developers are now asking you for a whole dollar a month,) though, requires a broader look.

Slow & Steady

For as long as I can remember, both the MacOS and iOS versions of Tweetbot have always possessed a more-or-less undefinable (perhaps Apple Development- specific) quality that’s noticeably set them apart from their direct competitors. I didn’t fully understand why they “feel” so much more “right” until I started making my way through this list of all the interviews/podcast appearances by Tapbots’ iOS code wizard, Paul Haddad, who comments in variations the same argument for a very deliberate developmental pace. The first time, with a MacWorld journalist on some steps outside WWDC 2013, I assumed he was just tossing some self-deprecation around to casualize the interview:

Frankly, we’re slow at doing stuff.

Yes, you are, Tapbot… From a returning user’s perspective, it’s hard to understand what in Gourd’s name they’ve been doing. I listened and read through every Tapbots interview I could find – all but one with Paul, who has through the years continued to come across as a sensitive, well-read, even wise professional developer with a healthy, professional outlook on the work of his little (relatively) weathered company and its place within the warp speed nightmare that is the mobile software industry. I suppose I was expecting to find an explanation for what I saw initially as a minimal regard for Tweetbot’s history, in contrast to 6’s announcement. I wouldn’t find it, though, because in truth, I was sure I already knew it: Twitter made it clear over a decade ago – just after they’d purchased Tweetie and slapped their own name on it – that they had no intention of competing in the client space, so third-party developers were no longer welcome.

Developers have told us that they’d like more guidance from us about the best opportunities to build on Twitter. More specifically, developers ask us if they should build client apps that mimic or reproduce the mainstream Twitter consumer client experience. The answer is no.

As we point out above, we need to move to a less fragmented world, where every user can experience Twitter in a consistent way.

I’ve spent enough time in The App Space (read: Phone Dude Hell) to expect a lot of melodrama, largely without judgement, considering how generally awful the big vendors have made the whole situation. The business legality of the story was spiked into the mainstream conversation last year by controversy encouraged by Basecamp following some pretty toxic, retaliatory correspondence from Apple regarding their plan to subsidize their new email service, HEY. Frankly, I’ve found such stories – about clashes between big software companies over mediocre, uninspiring, and sometimes just downright bad software – ridiculously exhausting and less and less interesting, lately, as I’ve realized that the most innovative, quality work I have experienced has basically all come from the tiniest teams. The most groundbreaking projects and products I’ve bothered to show and tell, here – Unichar, Zalgo Generator, Bear, Toot!, Mastonaut, Mast, etc. – were all built by individual developers except for Shiny Frog’s Bear. (Their team currently numbers 16, by my count.) Each one of those hyperlinks eventually leads to a form of my same rant: why the fuck won’t tech media talk about genuine innovation anymore.

As I read and listened through Tweetbot’s history for this work, it occurred to me that I might be neglecting to acknowledge an age old divide in development philosophy across platforms. In the singular instance both Tweetbot devs appeared together in a podcast interview – a Founder’s Talk episode from 10 whole years ago – Paul Haddad addressed the when is it gonna be done question in a comprehensive and particularly illuminating way:

I personally hate that question because, you know… it just will get done when it gets done… We’re definitely slow. We go over every screen, every detail over and over again until we get it right. That takes time, which is why we don’t talk about upcoming projects.

Every screen, every detail, over and over again. This sort of deliberateness (which I have personally been working on appreciating, as of late) is actually – as I have come to realize – Tweetbot’s defining feature, especially going forward. Out of all the third-party Twitter clients to come and go, Tweetbot has been overwhelmingly singled out as the favorite because of how aligned it is with the traditional priorities of the Apple space: thoughtful, deeply-considered robustness. Pardon the cliché, but it is the only one that has always felt native – as if it could have been published by Apple, itself.

Everything Happens So Much

The iOS Poweruser Community has been “allowed” to drift away from these principles since iOS 12, especially, and its Pandora’s box-like integration of Siri Shortcuts (Workflow, by another name.) You may or may not be aware of the jailbreaking community’s continued efforts – I was certainly surprised to discover that the r/Jailbreak subreddit has nearly 600,000 subscribers, which outnumbers all but the eldest subreddits in the Apple sphere, including r/iOS, r/iOSBeta, and r/Shortcuts (one of the primary hubs for the Siri Shortcut tinkering community) by a huge margin. Since iOS 14’s addition of sanctioned custom widgets, Twitter and Reddit have been host to a fairly-steady stream of personalized iOS “themes” representing varying degrees of tedium/obsession/madness. One “fringe”-ish avenue I’ve explored quite thoroughly is the adjacent community of public beta tests via Testflight, which allows willing App Scrubs like myself to download beta/pre-release versions of iOS apps. As of this moment, no less than 25 of the 227 apps installed on my iPhone 12 Pro Max are Testflight beta versions (both numbers far higher than normal because of my in-progress review.)

Third-Party Twitter Client Telegram Poll

Essentially, it’s now easier than ever to run incredibly janky software on your iPhone or iPad, remaining well clear of a warranty violation, yet the apps that stick out most boldly in the mind (at least for myself) are unfailingly apart from any sort of experimentation. Bear, for instance – the writing app I evangelize to every iOS user and have continued to describe as “the most beautiful piece of software I have ever seen” – just allowed registered beta testers access to its in-progress “Editor 2.0” on iOS, which Shiny Frog describes as still in its “alpha” stage, yet even I have as yet been unable to trip it up whatsoever. This is the league Tweetbot pioneered, in many ways. For the record, both Tweetbot 6 and Tweetbot 5 have been demonstrably more reliable for me in the past few months than Twitter’s native app, which has been crashing multiple times per day on my devices for quite a while during regular use. I’m accustomed to crashes, so I can’t say with 100% confidence that Tweetbot has never crashed, but it certainly hasn’t since I first downloaded 6 and began this review, despite my deliberate attempts to probe its every possible function.

Not only is Tweetbot 6 reliable as hell – it’s also stupid frugal. Currently, its App Store installation weighs in at 10.9 MB, while Twitter’s app is more than ten times heavier, at 116 MB. I realize Sizes On Disk are further from your mind than they’ve ever been in this age of outright computing gluttony and you probably couldn’t care less about my personal encounter with bandwidth famine in late 2018. In fact, I find it particularly telling that Tapbots has continued to prioritize such efficiency in their development despite operating under less financial, technical, and social pressure than ever to do so.

Various - Tweetbot 6

Future of The Bot

Let’s say you’ve somehow made it this far without either satisfactorily resolving your confusion about Tapbots’ decision to implement subscriptions, why they’ve decided to continue investing their time in third-party Twitter clients, whatsoever, and/or some other App Quandary, and you’re still expecting David Blue of all people to articulate some pivotal element of this story that’ll put your intellect at ease. Perhaps you’re still looking for a comprehensive picture of what using Tweetbot as one’s main Twitter client looks like in 2021. Let’s change it up a bit, toss in some fucking bullet points, and list a few fundamental truths:

  1. If you intend to view your Twitter notifications on iOS at any point, completely deleting the native Twitter app is not an option. (Notably, it doesn’t look like this is going to change anytime soon, if ever.)
  2. “Shopping around” for a third-party Twitter client leads the at all attentive user back to Tweetbot, exclusively. With the potential exception of Fenix, all other Twitter apps on the App Store are fucking bunk and will cost you as much or more as Tweetbot 6’s new subscription.
  3. If you use Twitter Lists regularly, you’d be an idiot not to start your Tweetbot subscription right this fucking minute.
  4. All of these will probably remain true for the foreseeable future, unless I’ve totally misunderstood Twitter’s stated intentions for its API 2.0.

In the ~month since the Tweetbot 6 story first broke (a nice birthday present!,) no less than three newish Twitter features have made the news. Last week, it (apparently) committed to the worst possible user-side content monetization model concept out of the dozens that have dipped in and out of rumor for virtually the service’s entire history: “Super Follows” are slated to shade our collective experience with putrid freemium concerns. “Communities” sound in concept like a worthwhile and genuinely value-adding feature addition for actual Twitter users, but any substantial expectations of the company feel far too risky to invest in. All the while, Twitter Spaces – the audio-only Clubhouse-ish mutilation of Periscope’s corpse – has been silently bestowed upon a secret set of @s at an achingly slow pace. I don’t know about you, but I still haven’t even fully digested fucking Fleets, yet.

What does Tweetbot 6 really offer you, Twitter user, in 2021? Freedom from all of that bullshit.

It’s just occurred to me how much more anxious the movements of Twitter, Inc. and Jack Dorsey’s horrendous facial hair would be making me if I had not discovered an (ironically) more stable, wholesome platform to replace them, years ago. No, I will not discuss Mastodon beyond this remark, but readers invested enough to get to this point who haven’t heard of the federated, open source social network by that name would do well to consult this handy hyperlink. This privilege of choice – even if it’s completely delusional – has combined with Tapbots’ thoughtful brush up of their trustier-than-ever Tweetbot to ease my longtime Twitter-dependent ass to a nigh-miraculous degree. However, stepping back from it all, I realized Tweetbot’s new life bets even heavier on that single, defining feature which the company hardly mentions, and could conceivably restrict – maliciously or not – or remove entirely without real consequences to their business or public standing via tech media outcry. What if Twitter killed Lists? We’d all be fucked.

Upon this realization, I shot out of bed very late in a recent evening and went straight to fucking Trello, of all places, to sift through Twitter’s public development roadmap for any official word on their fate. I really did panic for a beat upon first reading the words “Replacement for Lists functionality” before realizing the actual intention of the card’s expression in the context’s syntax, which is probably about as positive as it could possibly be: a public suggestion that Lists will continue to be supported through 2.0, at least. The card sits in the “Nesting” column (which I assume to be the lowest priority group, chronologically,) right between identical cards for Bookmarks and Direct Messages.

The Grandma's House Method

Writing about Tweetbot 6 has been an illuminating personal experience, if you haven’t yet caught on. The timing of its release has proved awfully convenient, just predating the aforementioned catastrophe of disjointed features that has descended harder than ever before on Twitter’s own app, leaving it an absolute mess. When I initiated the symbolic swap maneuver documented at the very beginning of this review, I assumed I was going to find Tweetbot awkward to use as my primary in the present day, but have found the opposite to be true. The social network Tweetbot draws from is barely recognizable as the same property it drew upon originally, when its Lists-loving configuration was simply one of a dozen different interpretations of how one should interact with Twitter (by far the sharpest, I think we’d agree.) Tweetbots, in contrast, is virtually identical in principle, though the unwavering bearing of its development has resulted in the true definition of refinement. The result is the most beautiful way to use Twitter in 2021, no competition, and is also crucially the singular means of interacting with it on one’s “own terms” – as long as yours align with The Lists Method, that is – in an environment that feels predictable and fundamentally at your control.

As much as I have praised the Mastodon app Toot! as the most innovative social app available – and will continue to do so until I encounter something more original and ingenious – it’s perhaps the singular remaining cleverly playful Tweetbots feature which first opened my perspective to appreciate little Easter egg-like tricks. Indeed – even after all we’ve been through together these past ten years – you can still cycle through all of Tweetbot’s visual themes by two-finger swiping vertically in 6. Quick Account Switching is the other less-than-obvious swipe function of note, which I’ll rely on an embed stolen from Tapbots themselves to demonstrate:

I don’t think it should ever feel natural to speak sentimentally about mobile apps, but Tweetbot is a worthy exception. If you glance over the respective comments sections of the articles and YouTube videos I’ve hyperlinked, you’ll pick up on this phenomena of legacy Twitter users chucking back some tragically nostalgic sentiments in response to the reminder surfaced by the Tweetbot 6 news of just how long we’ve been doing this. From my perspective, the other majority sentiment found there catalyzes the bizarre chronobending at play even further. I can’t believe how many folks continue to be flabbergasted by the idea of paying for software in 2021, but I’ve been literally begging Twitter to charge me a monthly fee in exchange for some greater curative capabilities for as long as I can remember. The whole of my gospel, again, is that Tweetbot 6 has personally made using Twitter a little bit better than bearable, so I have no other reasonable choice available: I’m paying the fuck up.

See this post's corresponding GitHub Issue for related media, aggregated links, and other minutia.

#software

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