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Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-15 13:06, modified at 13:07
So, the iMac Pro is shipping. After many years’ worth of fretting and worrying, Apple once again has a pro-level desktop that boasts the modern technology. And all is right with the world.
But is it? There’s no disputing that the iMac Pro is a capable machine: with up to 18 cores, a maximum of 128GB of RAM, and a hefty video card, the benchmarks indicate that this is a machine that can take everything you throw at it.
And yet it’s not Apple’s whole “pro” story. In an interview with select outlets back in April of this year, Apple executive Phil Schiller had multiple shoes to drop, including this morsel:
With regards to the Mac Pro, we are in the process of what we call ‘completely rethinking the Mac Pro.’ We’re working on it. We have a team working hard on it right now, and we want to architect it so that we can keep it fresh with regular improvements, and we’re committed to making it our highest-end, high throughput desktop system, designed for our demanding pro customers.
In other words, pro Mac users have a lot to look forward to in 2018 and beyond.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-15 00:39, modified at 00:45
The iMac Pro is here. Well, for some values of “here”—Apple’s taking orders and has shown it off in some press briefings and seeded it to some key people for testimonials. I ordered one this morning and Apple claims it will be here around the end of the year. Some configurations will roll out next year. But even if it isn’t widely available, it’s fair to say that the starting gun has been fired.
It’s a big milestone. This is almost four years to the week that Apple last released a professional desktop Mac, with the release of the redesigned, cylindrical Mac Pro. Since then there’s been… nothing, other than the grousing of high-end Mac users concerned about the lack of updates.
If Apple hadn’t announced it was bringing back the Mac Pro earlier this year, this would be a bigger deal; all the weight of expectations of Apple’s high-end user base would be crashing down on the iMac Pro. Instead, the iMac Pro is just the first shoe to drop in a revitalization of Apple’s pro Mac desktop line.
That’s good, because the iMac Pro doesn’t have a lot of features that many people will still wish for in a Mac Pro, mostly regarding upgradability. It was good to hear from the source that even though the iMac Pro doesn’t have a door for RAM upgrades, anyone who is authorized to service the iMac Pro can also install new RAM—so if you decide in four years that you need more RAM, you’ll be able to get someone to upgrade your Mac for you.
But that’s about it. If you want to expand graphic power down the road, your only hope is for an external GPU attached via Thunderbolt 3—which is a thing that you can do now, so that’s cool. Likewise, internal storage appears largely non-upgradeable. On a Mac Pro, these would be severe pain points, and since we know nothing about the new Mac Pro, we don’t know if they will be. But on an iMac they’re a lot less severe—especially when there’s a Mac Pro shimmering on the horizon, its exact specs lost in the haze of heat from its ventilation fans.
I’m still using the original 5K iMac, which I bought in 2014. It’s been a fantastic companion the past three years. But Apple has not been resting on the 5K iMac’s laurels—it’s been upgraded twice, in 2015 and earlier this year. The display’s been improved, SSD throughput has been increased, and of course Thunderbolt 3/USB-C has been added to the port mix. If I chose to get the successor to my three-year-old 5K iMac, the price tag would be around $3000.
It would be a nice boost, to be sure. The iMac Pro goes farther, though, and thanks to my mid-career transition into a writer who also produces podcasts, I actually find that I have a professional need for incredibly fast processors with a whole lot of cores and fast storage to save large media files quickly. Spend a morning removing the background noise from multiple three-hour-long audio tracks and you’ll find yourself wanting more processor cores and faster SSD throughput in a heartbeat. Encode some high-def video for YouTube and you’ll be begging.
But let me be clear: Most people shouldn’t buy an iMac Pro. It is the very definition of overkill unless you have a specific need for high-end, high-performance hardware. Even if you fancy yourself a power user, it’s unlikely you’d be better off with an iMac Pro than a regular 5K iMac unless you have a very specific task that requires as much processor power as possible (spread across multiple processor cores) or as much graphics horsepower as possible.
Basically, you know if you need an iMac Pro. If you don’t know, you probably don’t.1
As so often happens with products like this, it will take a while—at least a year, and probably longer—for us to determine if this is a transitional product or just a strange outlier. (The MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is in this same category.) For example, the iMac Pro comes with an integrated, Apple-designed T2 processor.
The rumors called it an A10, and for all we know it’s the same or similar to the processor that drives the iPhone 7. Regardless, though, it’s an Apple-designed ARM processor that’s integrated even deeper into the iMac Pro than the T1 was into the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. As Rene Ritchie reports at iMore, it’s acting as the system management controller, SSD controller, audio controller, the FaceTime camera controller, and of course, it’s handling all the security and encryption.
This is a great example of Apple taking its expertise, acquired over years of developing iPhone hardware, and applying it to portions of the Mac experience that previously were handled by separate components or subsystems. I’d imagine that over the next few months we’ll discover a few surprises about just how the iMac Pro is not like other Macs because of the presence of the T2 processor.
The real question is, what next? Will T2-style processors crop up in every other Mac in the line, or will some version of it roll out to every other Mac? I’d assume that’s Apple’s intention right now—but we’ll have to see how it’s able to manage that roll-out, and if any unexpected complications crop up.
The other issue, of course, is about the overall pace of Mac updates. If I could bottle the complaints of the Mac market for the last few years and distill one single complaint about Mac hardware, it would be that Mac models don’t get updated often enough to take advantage of the newest processors and graphics cards.
With the updates to the MacBook Pro earlier this year, Apple has taken strides in showing that it’s going to be more diligent about updates. But a single update here or there isn’t going to do it—Apple will need to continue rolling out updates on a regular basis across all its product lines. That includes a new iMac Pro model in a year or so, and an update to the Mac Pro a year or so after it ships, continued MacBook Pro updates, and, yes, a resolution to the fate of the Mac mini.
But those are all questions for another day. This is a day that’s been four years in the making—and there’s the promise of another day just like it next year when the Mac Pro arrives.
I ordered the base model. 💸 ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-14 20:56, modified at 20:57
This week on Download: A former Facebook executive bemoans the world he helped create, and Patreon goes back on its controversial change in how it collects money. In lighter news, Stephen is looking at a 21st-century Clapper and Jason is ordering an iMac Pro. With Alex Cox and Megan Morrone.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-14 15:51
iMac Promas is here! With no Lex, John and Dan are on their own this week, so they not only discuss Apple’s new professional-level beast, but also Jony Ive’s “return” to design head honcho status (replete with bad Jony Ive impressions), Phil Schiller’s recent interviews, the future of Apple’s operating systems, and the addition of app preorders.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-13 23:42, modified at 23:43
You can quickly create a muffle from the contents of a tweet (people, hashtags, or web addresses) by tapping the ellipsis icon in a tweet, then choosing Muffle. But if you want to filter particular words or go a little bit more, you’ll need to access the the full-on interface.
On iOS, all filters live behind the Muffles tab in the sidebar. On macOS, it’s the Muffles tab in the Preferences window. (These locations are also where you can upgrade a Muffle—it collapses a tweet so you can’t see its contents, but you can see why it was filtered out—into a full-on Mute, which entirely removes it from view.)
As helpfully explained by The Iconfactory, Twitterrific supports more than just filtering on arbitrary text strings: you can use regular expressions to create powerful sets of filters, or to pile a whole bunch of rules together in a single place.
For example, I want to mute everything about the new Star Wars movie until I’ve seen it, so I created a muffle rule:
Last Jedi Spoilers :: (The Last Jedi)|#starwars|#thelastjedi|Jedi|TLJ|porg
This rule, titled “Last Jedi Spoilers”, blocks all instances of the phrase “The Last Jedi”, related hashtags and acronyms, and more. It’s not necessarily going to stop everything from getting through, but if I see some string I hadn’t anticipated, I can add it to the list.
This is the part of the story where I mention that even though I don’t use it, there’s a Twitter app called Tweetbot that’s very popular and it has these filters too, so if you use Tweetbot and aren’t taking advantage of them, you should give it a go.
Whenever I feel like there’s too much noise in my Twitter feed, I redouble my efforts to seek out strings and hashtags and sites I don’t want to see and get them out. It makes my feed a more pleasant place to be. And, yes, it lets me avoid film spoilers from time to time.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-13 22:25, modified at 22:36
My ebook, Photos: A Take Control Crash Course, has just been updated for High Sierra and iOS 11.
If you bought the previous version of this book, the update is free. (I imagine I’ll do a more substantial update to the book next year.) It includes information about the new People interface, the revised sidebar, new editing tools, and more.
If you haven’t bought the book and use Photos on macOS and iOS, you may learn about some of the unexpected features of the apps. And people who are considering a dive into Photos and iCloud Photo Library may find it the perfect guide to getting up and running.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-13 21:18
Ars Technica has dug out of its archives a 2008 piece about the FCC’s Carterfone decision from 1968, and it’s a fascinating read:
Within a few years of the FCC’s Carterfone decision, America had become a motley world of funny receivers, slick switch boxes, and rickety answering machines. More importantly, consumers quickly embraced the “modulate/demodulate” device, otherwise known as the telephone modem. A 1999 FCC policy paper noted the significance and justly gave the agency credit for the proliferation of this application. “The Carterfone decision enabled consumers to purchase modems from countless sources,” the agency concluded. “Without easy and inexpensive consumer access to modems, the Internet would not have become the global medium that it is today.”
The posting of this piece comes on the eve of the FCC’s net neutrality decision, and Ars is pretty clear that’s why it’s being dusted off.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-13 18:24
This week, on the tech podcast that is right at least twice a day, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Shelly Brisbin and Michael Cowling to discuss our wireless charging experiences, what companies or technologies Apple should invest in, whether the desktop computer has gotten a reprieve, and where in education we’d like to see AR make inroads.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-13 17:05, modified at 17:06
Apple’s sure-sellers for the holiday season have been on store shelves for a while now, but for fans of high-powered Macs, Christmas comes early this week with the release of the iMac Pro on Thursday. It’s undoubtedly going to take the crown as the most powerful Mac ever made—and will undoubtedly hold onto that distinction until a new Mac Pro arrives on the scene.
There’s a lot to be said for the iMac Pro. It’s the first Mac with workstation-level processors with a plethora of processor cores (8 and up!) since the Mac Pro in 2013. The Radeon Pro Vega is the most powerful graphic processor ever in a Mac.
If you’re someone who uses a 5K iMac to get work done today, should you consider buying the iMac Pro or not? Here’s a list of reasons why you should—and also a few reasons you might want to keep that credit card in your pocket.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-12 17:13, modified at 19:49
Apple updated its iMac Pro page today to announce that the iMac Pro will be available on December 14, just two days from now.
This is undoubtedly the most powerful Mac ever made. I’m excited to hear even more about how it handles high-end workflows—not just 8K video and scientific applications, but software development and anything else that tends to push Macs to their limits.
Update: Hey, Cabel Sasser’s a developer!
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-12 14:17, modified at 14:51
John Voorhees at MacStories notes that Apple is now letting any developer put their app up for pre-order. The feature was first available for Super Mario Run last year.
Apple’s page on the subject says that the feature’s available for macOS and tvOS apps as well.
There are a lot of benefits of this, not least of which is the ability to generate buzz for an app before it’s out—after all, books, movies, and other media have all used pre-orders to great effect. But one big advantage, to my mind, is discoverability. There’s always a bit of a wait for the App Store’s search indexes to update when an app is released and, certainly as a tech writer, that can be a pain when you’re trying to find and download an app to test out. In theory, you should get your pre-ordered apps downloaded to your devices as soon as they’re available.
Of course, the fun part for developers are analytics. Apple notes:
You can track the performance of your app pre-orders in Sales and Trends, where you’ll find the number of ordered, canceled, and net pre-orders.
I’m sure nobody will find themselves refreshing that obsessively.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-11 21:20
This week on Upgrade: What do Amazon’s battles with Google and Apple say about the strategies of the tech giants? Also, Jony Ive returns to the White Room, and a meeting with the hosts of Jason and Myke’s favorite podcasts brings some perspective regarding the connection between podcasters and their listeners.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-11 17:15, modified at 17:18
Wix is by far the most technologically advanced cloud based web development platform in the world. You can use Wix to create virtually whatever you want—whether you’re a beginner, a business owner, an advanced designer, or a professional web designer.
With the easy drag-and-drop Wix Editor, you can create your own stunning website from scratch, or choose from hundreds of beautiful designer-made templates and then personalize it to make it fit your needs exactly. Wix’s revolutionary video player enables you to display, share and even sell your content. In seconds, you can create your own channels, uploading native files or syncing with YouTube, Facebook and Vimeo.
Whether you’re building a site for e-commerce, an event, a restaurant, or even a hotel or music festival, Wix offers professional solutions for your needs. And Wix takes care of all the heavy lifting, like reliable hosting to keep your website safe and secure, custom domains and mailboxes, email marketing and more.
For designers, communication with colleagues and clients is a key part of the daily routine. With Wix, you can share your work in progress with just one click and receive feedback from others in real time.
So, are you ready to play? Start creating with Wix now.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-08 20:46, modified at 22:25
Apple’s HomeKit system for communicating with smart-home devices started out slow, but it’s picked up steam in the past year. The first few smart-home devices in my house, alas, date from the before time: I’ve got a Nest thermostat, a couple of first-generation LIFX light bulbs, and some Belkin WeMo smart outlet switches that offer integration with Amazon Echo but not HomeKit.
In recent months I’ve bought Philips Hue lights, Lutron Caseta smart light switches, and Koogeek smart outlet switches that are all HomeKit compatible, and that’s made me much more appreciative of HomeKit. I’m also now frustrated that half of my smart-home tech talks to HomeKit (and shows up in the Home widget in Control Center) and the other half doesn’t.
The smart move would be for me to replace my non-HomeKit equipment with HomeKit-compatible devices. I bought a few more Koogeek switches, in fact, so I could retire the WeMo models. But I don’t really want to swap out my Nest for an Ecobee.1 And, anyway, this is silly! I’ve got a server running 24/7 in my house.2 Surely there’s some sort of software out there that will bridge these devices and make them accessible to HomeKit.
Yes, surely there is. It’s called Homebridge, and yesterday I got it up and running in about half an hour. Now my Nest, and those LIFX bulbs, and even the WeMo switches show up in my Home app.
Like the name says, Homebridge acts as a bridge between non-HomeKit devices and HomeKit. Individual devices are supported via plug-ins to Homebridge. I installed homebridge-nest and followed the instructions to sign up for a Nest developer account and paste the right codes in the right configuration files. After a couple of pauses to correct faulty JSON syntax in the config file, I was presented with a QR code I could scan to add Homebridge to my HomeKit network. And just like that, my Nest thermostat appeared in HomeKit.
I later added in the Homebridge-LIFX plug-in for my old smart lights and the Homebridge-WeMo plug-in for my older smart switches, restarted the server, and I was in business. All my smart home devices are now manageable in a single interface—Apple’s Home app.
Now the next trick. I don’t want to launch Terminal and type
homebridge every time I reboot my server. So I followed these instructions to set Homebridge to start automatically in the background.
Is this all easy? No, it’s not. It requires you to download a bunch of stuff and get dirty with configuration files and the Terminal. But if you’ve got a Mac that’s running 24/7 and a bunch of HomeKit-incompatible devices, it might just be worth your time to get it all working. It took me less than a half an hour to do it all, start to finish, and so far I’m quite glad that I did!
The Ecobee is good, and I might buy it now if I was starting from scratch, but I’m not spending $249 on a new thermostat just to get HomeKit. ↩
I’ve heard from several people that they set up a Raspberry Pi to run Homebridge, so that would be another option if you don’t have a Mac server. ↩
You’ll need to install Xcode from the App Store, too.) ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-08 14:45, modified on 2017-12-13 21:18
Another day, another bug to address. This morning I opened up my MacBook Air after having installed the 10.13.2 update yesterday1 and noticed that a bunch of the apps that usually load at startup were missing from my menu bar.
I’d actually noticed this yesterday on my iMac as well, but at the time I’d chalked it up to an isolated incident, shrugged, and re-launched the apps. The same thing happening on two machines, though, is a little suspicious, so I decided to get to the root of the problem.
First, I opened a few of the apps and made sure that their own preferences were set to start at login. Everything seemed to check out.
Next I opened up System Preferences, went to Users & Groups, and checked my Login Items.
Okay, well, I know it’s not supposed to be empty, so I resorted to Google and found that this seems to be a known problem with High Sierra.2
Appealing to Twitter, I got a link from our former Macworld colleague Rob Griffiths pointing me towards a post on Apple’s discussion boards, with a suggested fix:
Anyway, search out and destroy a file called backgrounditems.btm then reboot. The login panel should be cleared out.
So, I searched out and terminated said file (it’s in
~/Library/Application Support/com.apple.backgroundtaskmanagementagent/ but you can also find it by searching your Mac with system files included), rebooted, and sure enough, upon restarting, all of my startup applications launched as they should. Problem solved, right?
Well…mostly. Now when I go to my Login Items I see this:
Okay, that’s better, but it’s still not reflecting all the apps that are launching—I’ve got at least another four or five. Rob’s suggestion to fix this is to remove everything, logout, login, and then add everything manually.
I’m going to be honest: I haven’t tried that yet. To Rob’s point, it mostly matters if you’re dedicated to having a complete list of your login items and at this particular moment, I’m satisfied merely that the apps are launching as intended. But if I decide to take that next plunge, you can rest assured I’ll be back.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-08 13:38, modified at 15:33
For Apple watchers, the company is always a bit like the proverbial duck: floating seemingly calm and placid above the water while paddling furiously just below it. Which is why it’s often hard to gauge exactly what the company is up to, especially when the current is changing.
In the last few weeks, both my colleague Jason Snell and I have looked ahead to what Apple might be envisioning for the future of its devices. I’ve opined on ARM-powered Macs; Jason’s wondered about the possibility of a laptop running iOS. In a recent conversation—on our secret podcast, which you should check out—we started to put some pieces together and conjectured that maybe these aren’t two different stories but rather one larger tale of what Apple’s future might hold.
What if, to paraphrase the late Steve Jobs himself, these aren’t two platforms, but one platform with a bunch of devices?
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-07 23:17
What can you say about Apple’s terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week last week? A macOS security flaw and an iOS bug led to emergency security fixes, rapid OS releases, and the general sense that Apple’s software is having some serious safety and reliability problems.
But why is it happening, and what can be done about it? Unfortunately, Apple’s internal software-development processes are relatively secretive, not to mention incredibly complex. So beyond hoping that a week like this one doesn’t happen again, what can any of us say about it? (I’d certainly be interested in the perspective of someone like Steven Sinofsky, who managed Windows for Microsoft for many years, but unless someone has spent time working on developing an operating system with millions or billions of users, it’s unlikely they’ll understand the ridiculous complexity of these processes.)
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-07 15:49
It’s been a rough week for those who don’t like Apple software bugs. We run down the snafus alongside a few other frustrations, plus the continuing saga of Dan’s Face ID…challenges. We also talk about Lex’s new smart speaker and John weighs in on whether it’s time to get Dan a new Apple Watch. FILET MIGNON!
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-06 20:32, modified on 2017-12-07 18:00
I loved the first-generation Kindle Oasis. Though nobody needed to buy a $290 ebook reader, it was the best Kindle you could buy. Without its mandatory battery case, it was impossibly thin and light, and brought back the hardware page-turn buttons that Amazon seemingly abandoned several generations of Kindle ago.
The second-generation Kindle Oasis still holds down the top of Amazon’s Kindle product line, but it’s a very different product than the original model. The mandatory case is gone, the price has dropped $40 to $250, and the hardware itself has bulked up.
The second-generation Oasis is still shaped like the original model—it’s got a thicker side (8.3mm) that’s easier to grip and features the two page-turn buttons, and a thinner side (3.4mm) that helps the devices weigh less. But about that weight: Free of its case, the old Oasis weighed only 4.6 ounces, making it the lightest Kindle by quite a bit. This new one weighs 6.8 ounces, slightly heavier than the Kindle Voyage and slightly lighter than the Kindle Paperwhite.
The fact is, the second-generation Oasis is scaled up in all dimensions. It’s thicker, heavier, wider, and taller—but at least the increased width and height means that the screen is large. It’s a seven-inch diagonal, up from the six-inch screen size Amazon uses on all its other current Kindles. I’m not sure I’ve ever picked up the second-generation Oasis and marveled at the screen size, but if you’re someone who needs to use large type to read, you’ll get a real benefit. (My friend and fellow Kindle aficionado Scott McNulty says he thinks the larger screen is fantastic—so perhaps I’m an outlier here.)
To be fair, the first-generation Oasis only managed to be small and light because of the battery case, which came with the Kindle and extended the rather skimpy battery life of the core device. And I’ve never been a fan of Amazon’s cases for Kindles, so I’d have to say that the new Oasis is an improvement in that department. If you’re a fan of Amazon’s Origami case design, you’ll also be happy, because this Oasis will work with them again.
The second-generation Oasis is the highest quality hardware I’ve ever seen from Amazon, courtesy of its aluminum back and sides. I’d gotten so used to the Kindle being a plastic gadget, it was surprising to open the box and see the metallic sheen. It definitely makes the device feel more “premium”, which is appropriate, given that you could buy two Paperwhites for the cost of one Oasis.
The second-generation Oasis is also waterproof, the first time Amazon has offered that feature in a Kindle. I’m not someone who takes baths and I don’t own a hot tub or a swimming pool, but if you’re someone who (like Jeff Bezos) has been keeping their Kindle in a zip-top bag in order to read it in the water, it’s time to rejoice.
Another feature this Kindle offers that I don’t use: Bluetooth connectivity. You can attach a Bluetooth audio device and use screen-reading software or play back Audible audiobooks. Again, this is a feature I’m never going to use, but if you’re someone who frequently switches back and forth between Kindle books and their Audible equivalents, it might be convenient to have them both available in one place.
For me, though, Kindles are all about price and ergonomics. The second-generation Oasis is a nice piece of hardware, but I really appreciated the light weight of the first-generation model and I had hoped Amazon would push a little bit more in that direction. The larger screen is good, but it’s not like I’m reading a hardcover book—it’s just a slightly larger paperback size, which is fine but not revelatory. Waterproofing will be an important distinction for some people, to be sure.
As with the first-generation model, this new Oasis model is for people who love reading ebooks and don’t mind spending more money for a nicer experience. I’d prefer if the second-generation model were lighter and smaller, but regardless, the Oasis remains the best Kindle you can buy, and is appreciably nicer than the Paperwhite on almost every front.
Still, for most people, the $120 Paperwhite is the right choice. The Kindle Oasis is a splurge for people who simply want the best ebook reading experience around and don’t really mind that it costs twice as much as a perfectly serviceable alternative.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-06 19:35, modified at 19:36
This week on the show that acts as a reliable 30-minute timer, Dan and Mikah are joined by John Voorhees and Kathy Campbell to discuss our experiences with Apple Pay Cash, Google and Amazon’s tiff over YouTube, whether future emoji features will make it too complicated, and how we’ll look back on the iPhone another decade into the future.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-06 13:57, modified at 18:35
The prophecy has been fulfilled, at last!
Amazon Prime Video appeared on the Apple TV with relatively little fanfare today, finally bringing the retail giant’s video-streaming service to Apple’s platform. As you might expect, it’s a pretty straightforward app: Prime members can log in and get access to the company’s wide variety of videos, including their original content. The interface will look pretty familiar to anybody who’s used any of Amazon’s own streaming boxes. It plays 4K video, but unlike Netflix, doesn’t support 5.1 surround audio.
The app does integrate at least one Apple TV-specific feature, Universal Search. However, though both Tim Cook and Amazon’s own Twitter account said that it would support tvOS’s TV app, content wasn’t showing up when I tested it. Perhaps a future update? Update: Weirdly enough, Prime Videos are showing up in the TV app on my iPhone and iPad. Apple’s press release from this morning confirms that integration will be there; it seems to just be rolling out gradually.
In the end, the app itself is nothing special, but having access to the content is great. By adding access to this biggest and final hold-out, the Apple TV can now be the one-stop shop for video that Apple has been aiming for.
For Amazon’s part, we assume that the Apple TV will be reappearing on their virtual shelves soon. Just in time for Apple to take a backseat to the tiff between Amazon and Google.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-06 03:38, modified at 03:39
This week over at The Incomparable we got in the holiday spirit by doing an episode about 1946’s holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.”, which is beloved by two of our panelists—and disliked by the third! It’s a fun discussion of the pros and cons of one of the most beloved of Christmas movies.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-05 22:35, modified on 2017-12-06 03:40
Something about the Mac seems to lend itself to longevity where software is concerned. More than a few of the apps I use every day have been around for years on end. In the case of MarsEdit, I was using the blog-posting software more than a decade ago in my earliest days of posting to the MacUser blog. At Macworld, I was forced to take a hiatus as our CMS wasn’t compatible with the app, but since Six Colors has been a going concern, I’ve been back on the bandwagon.
Which makes me all the more glad to see version 4.0 come down the pike today. The update from Red Sweater Software1 brings a handful of welcome new features and a fresh coat of paint. Among the most prominent additions: a better rich-text editor format bar, improved WordPress support, and the ability to download the entire history of published posts and pages from your blog. (Which would have been super handy when I moved my own blog earlier this year!) There’s also a brand new extension for Safari that makes it easy to send a page into MarsEdit for posting.
Personally, one of my favorite features is the beefed-up support for previewing templates. Rather than spending your own time to try and adapt your website into a template, MarsEdit can automatically download and convert your site’s design into a template in a matter of seconds. Also a huge boon: support at last for macOS’s built-in autosave features, so you never have to worry about losing a draft again.
Frankly, if you’re doing any sort of regular, serious blog-posting from a Mac, and you aren’t using MarsEdit, I’m not sure what’s going on with you. Did I mention there’s a spiffy new icon?
You can get MarsEdit from the Mac App Store or directly from Red Sweater Software’s store. A license is $50, but if you purchased MarsEdit 3 before June 1 of this year, you can upgrade for just $25; if you purchased it after June 1, your version 4 upgrade is free—and that applies to those who bought it from the Mac App Store as well.
In a new move, MarsEdit 4 is a 14-day fully-featured trial no matter where you download it. Once those 14 days are up, you’ll still be able to use all the features of the app except for posting to the web. Which means if you download all your posts into MarsEdit, you can still use it as an archive without the worry you’ll lose your data.
Which, in full disclosure, consists of my friend Daniel Jalkut. ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-05 20:48, modified on 2017-12-06 03:40
“We’ve been trying to reach agreement with Amazon to give consumers access to each other’s products and services,” a Google spokesperson said in a statement. “But Amazon doesn’t carry Google products like Chromecast and Google Home, doesn’t make Prime Video available for Google Cast users, and last month stopped selling some of Nest’s latest products. Given this lack of reciprocity, we are no longer supporting YouTube on Echo Show and FireTV. We hope we can reach an agreement to resolve these issues soon.”
This is the second time Google has blocked access, though the story also suggests that Amazon’s implementations of YouTube on the Fire TV and Echo Show were workarounds, rather than Google’s own versions of the apps.
If all of this sounds familiar, though, it’s probably because Amazon has also been in a longstanding tiff over offering a Prime Video app for the Apple TV and, in return, refused to sell Apple TVs. That moratorium is supposed to come to a close by the end of the year; exactly six months ago today, Tim Cook stood up on stage at WWDC and said a Prime app would appear on Apple TV before 2018, though with less than month to go before that deadline expires, everybody’s wondering what the heck is going on.
Long story short, everybody’s got their turf they’re trying to protect. And guess who gets caught in the middle? If you thought “consumers,” you win a prize! That prize is having three set-top boxes attached to your TV so you can watch all the content you want to.
Update: Amazon has now fired back with its own statement, provided to The Verge among others:
“Google is setting a disappointing precedent by selectively blocking customer access to an open website,” a spokesperson told The Verge by email. “We hope to resolve this with Google as soon as possible.”
Not that Amazon is innocent in this either: remember, the company ditched the Chromecast from its store at the same time as the Apple TV, in both cases because the devices didn’t support Prime Video…which is Amazon’s choice. So, yeah. Nobody looks great here.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-05 01:54, modified on 2017-12-06 03:40
While iOS 11.2 was released seemingly ahead of schedule over the weekend to combat the endless rebooting bug, it did not initially activate the Apple Pay Cash feature that was in the betas. Instead, the ability to send money to contacts via the Messages app came in a gradual rollout on Monday.
If you’re not seeing it in Messages currently, it’s possible your number hasn’t come up yet; force-quitting and restarting Messages could help, as could a reboot of your phone, but you also may have to tap that most valuable of resources: patience.
For those of you who do have Apple Pay showing up, I did a quick test of how it works, spending money so you don’t have to. As promised, Apple Pay Cash is pretty straightforward: when it’s been activated, you should get a full-screen notice inside Messages alerting you that it’s ready to use and accessible via iMessage apps, which you get to by tapping the apps button next to the text field in Messages. (You can also send payments from your Apple Watch.)
By default, Apple Pay Cash has you sending $1, which you can adjust with plus or minus buttons that increment or decrement by a dollar. You can also tap the dollar amount to show a keyboard, which lets you request cents in addition to dollars, though you can’t apparently go below $1. You can also send a request to someone for money.
Important note: Remember that if you pay with a credit card, there’s a 3 percent credit card fee, which I learned the hard way.
When you send the money the first time, you’ll have to verify your identity, including your name, birth date, and the last four digits of your social security number. After that, you’ll get the same Apple Pay screen that you’ll recognize from any other Apple Pay transaction. iPhone X users will have to double-click the side button and authenticate with Face ID; users of earlier iPhones will just have to use Touch ID. Then, your money goes off at the speed of light.1
Under Settings > Wallet & Apple Pay, you’ll find a new Apple Pay Cash card—tapping on that gives you a few additional options, including a transaction history, whether or not you want to automatically accept payments, and ways to add money to your Apple Pay Cash balance or transfer your balance to a bank account. Remember that when you have a balance on your Apple Pay Cash card, you’ll be able to use it like any other card you have in Apple Pay. (I’m not sure yet what happens if there’s not enough balance to cover your purchase—does it simply fail or fall back to another card?)
Apple’s got a more thorough help document on Apple Pay Cash if you’re curious, as well as one that details the monetary limits. (Hint: Don’t try to store more than $20,000 on your Apple Pay Cash card.)
Or the speed of iMessage. Which is often much slower than light. ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-05 00:35, modified on 2017-12-06 17:40
Marco Arment’s Forecast is a newly released (into a public beta) Mac MP3 encoding and tagging tool for podcasters. It’s a tool that Marco built a couple of years ago to serve his own needs, and for the last 18 months or so I’ve been using it (in a private beta) to encode most of the podcasts that I create. Here’s an overview of how Forecast works and what it does.
Forecast takes input files—generally uncompressed audio exported from an audio editing app in WAV format, though it can open other file formats—and outputs MP3 files for use in a podcast feed. This is nothing remotely new. What makes Forecast interesting is the details of how it encodes and tags those files.
First off, the encoding process itself: Forecast is extremely fast at encoding MP3 files for a few different reasons. At its heart, it’s using the common (and excellent) LAME MP3 encoder, but Forecast spreads the encoding job across all of your Mac’s processor cores. The result is that files encode much, much faster (in 29 percent of the time as standard LAME, in my tests, and 80 percent of the time of the iTunes encoder)—and your Mac’s fans will probably spin up briefly, because Forecast is pushing your processor to use all its power to do the job.
There’s also a perceptual trick that Forecast uses to make encoding seem quick: When you add a file to be encoded, encoding begins immediately in the background. By the time you edit your file’s metadata, the encode may have already completed in the background. The first time I used Forecast, I thought something had gone wrong—because when I typed Command-S to save the file, it just saved. There was no wait. The file had already encoded—it was waiting for me, the slow human, to finish typing in episode titles and show descriptions.
All the rest of Forecast is about tagging files to include things like the episode title, show art, and chapter data. Just about any MP3 app can add description tags, but only a handful support MP3 chapters. (Some others are Rogue Amoeba’s Fission and Thomas Pritchard’s Podcast Chapters.)
It turns out that the WAV file format includes support for markers—specific designations of events that happen at particular time codes—and that most audio editors (including Logic and Audition) that export as WAV files will export any markers found in that particular project. This means that in order to add chapters to my podcasts, I don’t need to add a step where I laboriously write down time code for all the events in the episode and then input them one by one into Forecast.
Instead, I just click the Plus icon next to the Marker label in Logic and add a marker. When I export that project to a WAV file and import it into Forecast, the app automatically reads the markers and converts them into chapters. I don’t need to do anything.
That said, Forecast also does support the manual entry of chapter times and the editing of chapter data, including title, URL, and custom per-chapter images. (Manually entering times is a little bit buggy—frequently I need to do it twice before it displays properly. I don’t do this a lot, but it’s an annoying bug I hope Marco will fix.)
There’s also a checkbox that allows for the creation of invisible chapters that don’t display in the episode’s chapter list, but do change the displayed art or link at a particular time. There’s a lot here, depending on how much work you want to do to add a rich media layer on top of your podcast.
Forecast also tries to save you time by recognizing that similarly named source files are probably part of the same podcast, and attempting to intelligently autofill data based on that assumption. When I add a file called
theincomparable382.wav to Forecast, it realizes that this is almost certainly episode 382 of The Incomparable and automatically enters The Incomparable in the Podcast Title field, adds 382: to the Episode Title field, adds the right image to the show art, and even sets the proper MP3 output format—and all because it knows what I did when I encoded
theincomparable381.wav last week. (This autofilling extends to URLs and art in chapters, too. If I have a regular sponsor for a podcast, Forecast is smart enough to remember the URL attached to those sponsorship chapters.)
For editors of sponsored podcasts, Forecast can detect your sponsorship chapters and export those out as separate files, ready to be sent to your ad network or sponsors as “airchecks”—i.e., proof that the ad spots aired as promised. There are also quick-copy features that let you quickly put the show’s duration or file size on the clipboard—apparently this is something Marco needs for one particular podcast host, though I’ve never needed to use those features myself. There’s also a feature that warns you if your audio file contains long amounts of silence—a sign that perhaps something is wrong with your podcast, so you might want to check it before posting.
If you’re a podcaster, you should give Forecast a try. It’s free, and a whole bunch of podcasters have been using it enthusiastically for more than a year, so it’s battle tested. I recommend it highly.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-04 21:21, modified at 21:22
This week on Upgrade: All the Apple operating-system bugs in the world can’t stop us from discussing Jason’s office clean-out, holiday decorations, the new Kindle Oasis, and podcasting tools and techniques. And yes, in the end we have to discuss Apple’s terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-02 05:17, modified at 13:03
Rene Ritchie with a good summary of a bad bug that may be biting lots of iOS users:
🚨 There’s an #iOS11 bug that’s causing springboard crashes when a local notification occurs on Dec. 2, 2017. Setting the date back or disabling notifications seems to be a temporary fix until Apple patches. (Please RT to help spread the word.) 😡🤬🤯 pic.twitter.com/ENFPRvwM4z— Rene Ritchie (@reneritchie) December 2, 2017
I hope Apple finds a way to fix this without a huge amount of pain. In the meantime, if you’re running stock iOS 11 (and not a developer beta) you may want to turn off notifications and update to iOS 11.2, which was released today and fixes this bug.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-12-01 13:48
Recently, in taking stock of my primary computing hardware, I noticed an interesting trend: Over the course of the last year, I’ve swapped out almost all of the devices that I use every day. I replaced a 2011 iMac with a new 2017 5K model. My iPad Air 2 got superseded by a 10.5-inch iPad Pro. And, of course, my iPhone 7 was turned in for an iPhone X.
Some of this is the nature of the job. When you write about tech, people want to know about the latest and greatest devices, and there’s not much to say if you don’t have access to those devices. But some of it is about your own usage, too. That iMac was getting too long in the tooth for some of the things that I do every day (namely podcast editing); I wanted to get an Apple Pencil, which didn’t work with the Air 2… and so on.
But usage also can be an impediment to adoption. Case in point, the one machine that I didn’t upgrade: the very 11-inch MacBook Air on which I’m writing this column. Because for my usage, this early-2014 laptop still fills a niche that can’t be addressed by either the MacBook Pro or the new MacBook.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-30 21:28, modified at 21:29
This week on Download, we’re recovering from Black Friday and Cyber Monday with Jacqui Cheng and Dan Frakes of Wirecutter and talking about what cities are doing to woo Amazon’s HQ2 and Net Neutrality.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-30 18:57
We have returned for our weekly look at tech that also generally comes with marginally amusing “jokes.” This time, Lex is convinced that something is wrong with Dan’s Face ID, Moltz regales us with tales of his text editing choices, and the guys discuss Apple’s autocorrect porblems.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-30 16:28
Last week I wrote about how Apple should make an iOS laptop, and unsurprisingly, a lot of people reacted strongly to that suggestion! The conversation made me consider where iOS needs to be improved, especially in the context of laptops, but also more broadly, whenever external input devices are connected. So let’s take another dip into the pool of speculation about where Apple is headed with iOS and the Mac and whether they’re on a collision course.
There are a lot of interesting arguments against Apple making an iOS laptop. (I’m going to call it “the iBook” as a placeholder, since I’ve been a fan of Apple re-using that name since the iPad was just a rumor.)
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-29 19:30
This week, on the tech show that we just can’t hold to 25 minutes (believe me, we tried), special guests Lory Gil and Myke Hurley join Dan and Mikah to discuss where we’d deploy robots in our house (or, in Myke’s case, part of a robot), our thoughts on Nintendo’s mobile gaming forays, whether we’re down for gesture-based computing, and just what is the obligation to report critical software vulnerabilities.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-29 17:16, modified at 17:52
On Wednesday Apple released a security update to the macOS root security hole made public yesterday. You can download it now, but if you’re running High Sierra and you don’t download it, it will download and install itself:
This morning, as of 8:00 a.m., the update is available for download, and starting later today it will be automatically installed on all systems running the latest version (10.13.1) of macOS High Sierra.
This isn’t the first time Apple has forced the automatic installation of a security patch. Back in December 2014, a security hole in the Network Time Protocol daemon was discovered. Rather than wait, Apple pushed out a security update that was automatically installed on compatible Macs. Like the current update, it’s not something that requires that your Mac restart—it just happens in the background, and you receive a Notification Center alert that a security update has been installed. This seems to be the key combination to kick off one of these automatic patches: a severe security problem that can be fixed without requiring a restart.
This isn’t the only automatically-updating security feature Apple has at its disposal. Since 2011, “Apple maintains a list of known malicious software…. The list is stored locally, and… is updated daily by a background process.” This all happens via the security mechanism that has evolved into Gatekeeper, which checks the viability of all newly downloaded software before launching it for the very first time.
In recent years Apple has applied a lot of the automatic-update philosophy from iOS to macOS as well. Perhaps most notably, macOS now automatically downloads even major OS updates in the background, making it more likely that you’ll update to High Sierra (or whatever comes next).
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-29 16:32, modified at 16:50
Here’s a statement Apple provided to Six Colors:
Security is a top priority for every Apple product, and regrettably we stumbled with this release of macOS.
When our security engineers became aware of the issue Tuesday afternoon, we immediately began working on an update that closes the security hole. This morning, as of 8:00 a.m., the update is available for download, and starting later today it will be automatically installed on all systems running the latest version (10.13.1) of macOS High Sierra.
We greatly regret this error and we apologize to all Mac users, both for releasing with this vulnerability and for the concern it has caused. Our customers deserve better. We are auditing our development processes to help prevent this from happening again.
Go get your software update while it’s hot.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-28 21:08, modified on 2017-11-29 00:59
Developer Lemi Orhan Ergin uncovered a vulnerability in macOS High Sierra allowing access to the
root superuser account without a password:
Unsurprisingly, that news has quickly rippled through the Apple community as many people—including yours truly—have verified the claim. You can test it for yourself by going to any locked System Preferences pane, trying to unlock it, and entering username
root with no password. (The number of tries varied for me—sometimes it worked on the first attempt, but pretty much always by the second.)
Obviously, this isn’t great, and the manner of disclosure didn’t help much either. Usually it’s advisable to disclose these vulnerabilities privately to the vendor, so that it can patch any holes before malicious parties attempt to use them for their own gains. But that ship has sailed.
What can you do in the meantime? The easiest solution appears to be changing the password for
root. To do so, in the Finder, use Spotlight to open the Directory Utility app1 and go to Edit > Change Root Password. (If that option is currently grayed out, you may first need to choose Edit > Enable Root User.) Enter a new password when verified, preferably a strong one generated with Keychain Assistant, 1Password, or a similar tool.2 At that point, you should be all set.
While this flaw is bad—you never want to give unfettered access to a user with
root’s power—the vulnerability doesn’t seem to be remotely exploitable, unless the attacker already has login credentials. (Logging in as
root with no password via the login window or via SSH didn’t seem to work in my tests.) However, if somebody already has remote access to your machine, or has physical access, then this could be a worry.
Update: TidBITS proprietor and friend Adam Engst says he was able to log in as root with no password, even via screensharing, which makes this a much scarier flaw. I haven’t been able to duplicate his efforts, but it makes it that much more imperative that you change your root password.
Apple no doubt is working double time to get to the…root…of this flaw.3 In the meantime, however, you should change the root password on your Macs and make sure to secure physical access if you haven’t already. And above all, don’t panic.
Here’s the official word from Apple, supplied to us a little while ago:
“We are working on a software update to address this issue. In the meantime, setting a root password prevents unauthorized access to your Mac. To enable the Root User and set a password, please follow the instructions here. If a Root User is already enabled, to ensure a blank password is not set, please follow the instructions from the ‘Change the root password’ section.”
Updated at 5:45pm Eastern to provide an easier way to open the Directory Utility.
If you can’t find it via Spotlight, use the Finder’s Go > Go to Folder option and open
Some early suggestions say that you should then disable the root user again, but in the tests of myself and others, that appears to bring the flaw back, so don’t do it. ↩
Sorry, not sorry. ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-28 18:48, modified on 2017-11-29 01:16
Allow me to state this point plainly: I am absolutely in favor of net neutrality… I am willing to make trade-offs (specifically data caps) to achieve it. The question at hand, though, is what is the best way to achieve net neutrality? To believe that Chairman Pai is right is not to be against net neutrality; rather, it is to believe that the FCC’s 2015 approach was mistaken.
This is a well reasoned argument (as I always expect from Thompson). I hope he’s right, because the FCC changes are going to happen regardless. And I do hope that, in the future, Congress will pass laws that make the public responsibilities of Internet providers much clearer, though I’m not going to hold my breath on that one.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-28 18:40, modified at 18:47
Gough Lui discovered that Netflix used his photos of VHS tapes in its “Stranger Things” packaging:
Initially, I was in disbelief for two reasons. I’ve not watched Stranger Things, but I’ve heard a lot of good things about it. Could it be true that my work has become a part of their product and I should be so honored to be part of it? The images I were seeing did not lie. They were my photos.
Then it turned into a feeling of betrayal. How could they, a large corporate company with day-to-day experience in handling rights-protected materials, use my material without so much as asking me for permission? How did they think they can get away with it? I’ll admit, I’m not a lawyer, but I do have a moral right to copyright over the images I take that does not require any registration. At the least, they have chosen my images because they are somehow special (e.g. well taken, high resolution), and I deserve to be compensated for it.
It’s pretty obvious what happened here. Netflix made a deal with a DVD distributor to sell the disc copies of “Stranger Things.” That distributor probably contracted with an independent designer or design firm to create the box and ancillary material—in this case, cleverly packaged as a VHS tape, fitting the 1980s setting of the show. And that designer searched the internet for photos of VHS tapes, found Gough Lui’s, and downloaded them.
The issue isn’t about a “large corporate company” ignoring his copyrights while fiercely protecting its own; this is almost certainly about of chain of contractors leading to a (probably low-paid) designer who thought it was okay to rip off some photos of VHS tapes rather than get royalty free images or shoot it themselves. This reflects badly on Netflix, but this is ultimately a story about a designer somewhere making a bad decision.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-27 22:28
In the latest in a long line of leaks lately, a recent report says that the upcoming iMac Pro will also include an A10 Fusion chip—the same processor that powers the iPhone 7 series. This is a shoe we’ve been expecting to drop for some time, and it’s fueled a lot of discussion of whether or not a Mac solely powered by an ARM processor might be in the offing.
I think it’s pretty clear that if this report is true—and the evidence is solid enough to believe it is—that this first Mac with an ARM chip won’t be the last. But at the same time, it doesn’t mean that Apple’s about to throw the x86 architecture to the side and put all its chips—if you’ll pardon the expression—on ARM.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-27 21:13, modified at 21:15
This week on Upgrade, Myke returns from his trip to catch up on everything Jason and John did on last week’s show: summoning Siri, selling merchandise, and proposing entirely new classes of Apple product. We discuss Myke’s travels with the iPhone X, a possible udpate to the iPhone SE, and whether or not Apple should one day make a laptop that runs iOS.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-27 20:35, modified at 20:38
On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the release of “Casablanca”, here’s a 2015 essay by David Youngblood about the amazing “La Marseillaise” scene:
When I think of the film, the first thing that comes to my mind isn’t “Here’s looking at you, kid,” or “We’ll always have Paris,” or the song “As Time Goes By,” or any of the other often best-remembered parts. For me, it’s always “La Marseillaise” — the dueling anthems between French refugees and their German occupants singing “Die Wacht am Rhein.” I’ve never found a movie scene yet that can match it. So now, at a time when people are once again turning to “La Marseillaise” for comfort in the face of adversity, I wanted to revisit what makes this scene so powerful.
The most amazing thing? The scene was filmed with actual French refugees. Not people who were refugees—this was shot during the war. They were actual French people who had fled the Nazi takeover of their country. Singing their national anthem.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-27 20:32, modified at 20:33
I think Gabe Weatherhead’s piece about trying to use an iPad instead of a Mac is a good description of the current state of affairs:
The Mac still feels more comfortable for almost everything. The Mac feels less innovative and “fun” but I actually feel more relaxed when using multiple windows, real keyboard shortcuts, and a true file manager. The irony here is that the size and design of the iPad makes it more of a joy to use, but it’s also tainted by inefficiency. I do almost every task faster and more easily with my Mac than I can do it on my iPad Pro.
Of course, portability is the real strength of the iPad Pro. I want no other computer when I’m stuck on a plane for six hours. Don’t even try to use a regular laptop on a modern airplane dining tray. I barely notice the weight of the iPad in my backpack to the point that it’s just a peripheral part of my travel gear. The 10.5 inch iPad is the perfect size for me.
(I need to add systemwide, customizable keyboard shortcuts to my ever-evolving list of future iOS features I’d like to see. Keyboard shortcuts really need to be taken to the next level on iOS.)
I love working on my iPad, but the Mac is superior to it in many ways, and for some people it’s simply not an appropriate tool—and that’s okay. If every product had to be built for every possible user, the world would be a really dull place.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-27 20:25, modified at 20:26
Over at 512 Pixels Stephen Hackett reviews the Apple Watch Series 3:
With the updated silicon inside the Series 3 Apple Watch, the Watch and its operating system are finally in balance. Apps open quickly, scrolling is smooth and Siri is responsive. For the first time, I’m finding myself using Siri. I like the audible replies, but the speed is still surprising, a couple of months into ownership.
It’s a good review. I still really like mine.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-27 20:18, modified at 20:21
Steven Aquino says the Touch Bar makes his Mac more accessible:
I find the Touch Bar to be an invaluable tool when I’m using macOS. Where it shines considerably is as an alternative to keyboard shortcuts and the system emoji picker. Tapping a button on the Touch Bar is far more accessible than trying to contort my hands to execute a keyboard shortcut or straining my eyes searching for an emoji. In addition, the Zoom feature—one of the Touch Bar’s many accessibility features—makes seeing controls much easier.
I think there might be some life in the Touch Bar yet, if Apple spends the effort to make it more functional and flexible. (For example, background apps need the ability to place items on the Touch Bar.) Perhaps the biggest problem with the Touch Bar is that some users who don’t want it can’t avoid it—because if you want a modern 15-inch MacBook Pro, you can’t buy a model without the Touch Bar.1
This is on Apple. If Apple’s going to force the Touch Bar into the hands of every MacBook Pro user, it needs to show that it’s actively, aggressively improving the feature. There were almost no changes to Touch Bar in macOS High Sierra. If not then, then when?
In any event, Steven Aquino’s piece makes it clear that nobody should make blanket statements about the Touch Bar succeeding or failing. But where does it go from here? Does it get better, so more people embrace it? Does it become an option, rather than a mandatory feature? Does it fade away? Only Apple knows.
Someone jokingly suggested on Twitter this weekend that maybe a lot of anger at the Touch Bar could have been avoided if the escape key hadn’t been jettisoned. I do wonder if simple tweaks like this might help a lot. ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-23 15:17, modified at 15:18
The dividing lines between Apple products are clear. Apple makes phones and tablets that run iOS, and laptops and desktop computers than run macOS. But it’s time for Apple to start breaking down those barriers and experimenting with new kinds of products that cross the streams. It’s time for Apple to expand beyond the MacBook and MacBook Pro. It’s time for the first iOS laptop.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-22 18:13
This week on the 30-minute tech podcast that we’re all thankful for, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Jeff Carlson and Florence Ion to talk holiday tech support tips, kitchen smart gadgets, what we do with our photos, and whether we could get by with a simple phone.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-22 16:37, modified at 16:56
This week, on the irreverent tech show that gives thanks for everything having to do with technology, we talk about the HomePod’s delay, the FCC’s terrible plans for the Internet, and rumors of an A10 chip in the upcoming iMac Pro. Also, Lex keeps trying to get us to give Thanksgiving tech tips.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-21 16:54, modified at 16:55
This week on Upgrade, John Siracusa joins Jason to discuss the possibilities of an iMac with an A10 processor inside, the delay of the HomePod, whether Apple understands the concerns of professional Mac users, the return of Twitterrific for the Mac, and the proper way to refer to keyboard shortcuts.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-20 18:48
Pretty much every book I’ve written in the past decade or so1 has spent the majority of its life in Scrivener; it’s one of my indispensable tools. So the release of Scrivener 3 for macOS is a cause for celebration!
Version 3, which I did spend a little time beta testing, adds a brand new modernized interface, redesigns options for compiling and exporting, and introduces a full styles system. There are also enhancements to writing stats, custom metadata, outlining, and more. If you’re a user of one of the latest MacBook Pros, there’s even Touch Bar support. Under the hood, developers Literature and Latte have also rewritten the codebase to improve speed and stability. And, as you might expect from a program as full featured as Scrivener, there’s way more here.
I’m sure I don’t even use a fraction of the bells and whistles that Scrivener has to offer, but I’m not alone in singing its praises. I know Jason uses it as well, as does our good friend Antony Johnston.2 (Check out his excellent post on using Scrivener for comics scripts, which includes a template of his own design.)
Obviously, Scrivener doesn’t turn you into a writer anymore than handing you a paintbrush turns you into Picasso, but if you’re looking for a tool to help you on your journey, it’s a great choice.
Scrivener 3 costs $45, though owners of earlier versions can snag an upgrade discount for $25. (If you bought Scrivener on or after August 20 of this year, you’re eligible to upgrade for free.) Though the Mac App Store doesn’t allow for discounts, if you purchased an earlier version through it, Literature and Latte is inviting you to email them for a discount coupon.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-20 18:17, modified at 18:27
Dr. Drang informs us of the proper way to refer to keyboard shortcuts on Apple products, as defined in the Apple Style Guide:
Control (⌃), Option (⌥), and Command (⌘) always go in that order. The oddball is the Shift(⇧) key, which sneaks in just in front of Command.
But here’s the thing: I absolutely do not follow this style. It seems completely backward to me, in fact. It’s not “Shift-Command-3”, it’s “Command-Shift-3.” Command is the commander! Command is the monarch of all keys! Command always comes first, in my book.1
Of course, your mileage may vary. Apple’s certainly does.
I’ve heard various explanations for the origin of the keyboard shortcut divide between PCs and Macs (Control/Command, Alt/Option). I suspect the root of this debate was not the Mac and Windows, but the behavior of DOS prompts on the Apple II and IBM PC. It’s a funny parallel evolution.
Related: A great column by Christopher Phin about the origin of keyboard shortcuts and symbols. And at Folklore.org, Andy Hertzfeld on the origin of the Command symbol.
For me, priority is all about proximity to the space bar, apparently. ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-20 18:06, modified at 18:16
As discovered by Steve Troughton-Smith and Jonathan Levin and reported by 9to5 Mac, it looks likely that the iMac Pro—which Apple announced in June and said would ship by the end of the year—may contain an A10 processor.
It looks like the idea here is to boot the Mac into “BridgeOS” on the A10 first, then start up the Intel processor and give it firmware to load. In other words, the A10 would be the gatekeeper of the entire boot process. If so, this could lead to improved security on the Mac, and possibly make it much harder to run macOS on PC hardware in the future.
The A10 also includes a Secure Enclave, so it could potentially increase the security of operations on the Mac and potentially point to future support of Face ID on new Mac hardware. (But not the iMac Pro, if this report is accurate, because presumably the A11 inside the iPhone X is required for Face ID.)
I also wonder if perhaps it means that iOS developers will be able to simulate iOS devices with native ARM code. There are just so many possibilities out there—though it’s also worth mentioning that this is very much a first step. (Or second step, if you throw in the Apple Watch processor that’s included in the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar.) The iMac Pro might be an experimental test case, with a few basic security features and support for “Hey Siri”.
One of Apple’s great successes the past decade has been its transformation into a company that designs and uses its own chips in its products. Even if the Mac were to retain an Intel processor on the Mac for compatibility purposes, it’s not surprising that Apple might want to find ways to use the chips it builds for its other devices in the Mac as well.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-20 17:45, modified at 17:47
Here’s a nice post by Dan Provost of Studio Neat going into details about when the iPhone X switches from 2x to 1x lenses in low-light conditions:
With the improved sensor, wider aperture, and added optical image stabilization on the telephoto lens in the iPhone X, I wanted to see if Apple’s frequency of presenting a cropped image at 2X was reduced at all. The answer: yes. But by how much?
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-17 12:53
When Apple comes to mind, it probably conjures images of slick, carefully engineered devices with innovative, envelope-pushing features. And the company’s surely had more than its fair share of those, but it’s also managed to pull off a subtler but far greater feat that goes underappreciated.
The company has not only figured out how to make us eat our vegetables—technologically speaking—but it’s also turned those very features into selling points. Because it’s one thing to sell a flashy, shiny device; it’s quite another to get people excited about the mundane necessities of the technology world.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-17 03:27
This week, Dan shows up late because he needs to restart all of his devices. Lex is the only one who brought picks (fortunately he brought enough for everyone), but we all discuss our frustrations with Twitter and the idea of potentially leaving for other pastures—though we probably won’t? Finally, Face ID’s still a hot topic.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-16 23:43, modified on 2017-11-17 00:11
I like Satya Nadella. I think he’s been a good leader for Microsoft. He’s building a Microsoft that’s more open to innovation and change and letting go of a lot of old ways of thinking. In the late Ballmer era, Microsoft did some incredibly inventive things, only to have them kneecapped by its CEO’s Old Microsoft way of thinking.
That all said, this was stupid:
As he walked into the room along with Microsoft India head Anant Maheshwari, Nadella spots that I and a colleague have iPads and cheerfully says, “You need to get a real computer, my friend.”
When I wake up in the morning, and before I go to bed at night, my iPad Pro is a tablet that’s easy to hold while I’m reading Twitter or Slack or newspapers or websites.
When I travel, my iPad Pro is a laptop, letting me work anywhere by opening up the clamshell and getting started.
When I’m not sure what I’ll face as I roam, I’ll bring my iPad Pro with a slightly thicker cover knowing that I can fold it out and turn it into a keyboard at a drop of a hat.
What’s a real computer? My iPad Pro is whatever I want it to be.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-16 20:55
It’s funny, Apple crowing about its biggest Mac revenue year ever at a time when there seems to be quite a bit of unrest about the Mac out there on the Internet. Is the Mac doing well or is the Mac user base frustrated at the last few years of Apple’s stewardship of the platform? It might be a little bit of both.
I detailed some of Apple’s controversial laptop design decisions a couple of weeks ago. To be sure, there are classes of users for whom the latest generation of MacBook Pro models, introduced in October 2016, are appreciably worse than the previous-generation models. But I’ve also talked to a lot of people who have bought new MacBook Pros and love them. My daughter got a new MacBook for her birthday, and thinks it’s great.
It’s possible that this swirling dissatisfaction with Apple’s laptop direction has a little whiff of selection bias. People who are more likely to listen to Apple-focused podcasts and read Apple-focused websites are probably more likely to be in more technical fields with specific requirements that might not be well served by Apple’s design decisions. They’re also probably more likely to be persnickety about the details of their computer choices than the general public.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-15 19:55
This week on the podcast that made the 30 under 30-minutes list, we welcome special guests Georgia Dow and Stephen Hackett to discuss Face ID spoofing, Facebook requesting people’s nude pictures, whether we’d consider leaving Twitter for greener pastures, and what we’d like to see Apple change in iOS for the iPhone X.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-14 22:59
I was trying to figure out what exactly Clips 2.0 reminded me of—I kept thinking iChat, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Karan Varindani nails it:
Playing with the Selfie Scenes in Clips last week, I had the same feeling that I did playing with Photo Booth on my Mac many years ago. It was a little surreal, as someone with incredible front-camera shyness, to find myself having so much fun with it. The whole experience had me thinking: In a few years, once the Face ID technology has spread to the rest of the iOS line (and maybe even the Mac), could Clips be the successor to Photo Booth? Between Selfie Scenes, stickers, Live Titles, and fast sharing to social media, it seems the perfect fit.
My cousins’ kids loved playing with Photo Booth on my Mac when they were younger, especially the distortion effects. I’d reclaim my MacBook twenty minutes later and have 60 new pictures, and they’d all be in hysterics. As Karan points out, though Photo Booth came to the iPad, it never quite made it to the iPhone. But it’s not hard to see Clips as the spiritual successor, right down to the selfie scenes, which are way more impressive versions of the old iChat effects from yesteryear.
But in this era of Snapchat and Instagram, can Clips capture the same joy? I don’t know, but it’s interesting to see Apple make a play for it. I enjoyed the initial release of the app back in April and the second version seems to have a lot of cool stuff going for it, including licensed content from Disney and Lucasfilm. I haven’t had too much time to play around with it yet, though.
It’s a little curious that Apple chose not to include animoji in there, since we’ve already seen third parties try to encroach on the territory by building standalone apps for recording the talking heads. Perhaps it’s because they only work on the iPhone X, or perhaps it’s one of those instances of one Apple team not talking to another. Then again, maybe we just need to wait for Clips 3.0.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-14 17:40, modified at 17:48
Clip Studio Paint, iPad Pro, Apple Pencil 😍 pic.twitter.com/J8p8vYdpfL— Jen Bartel (@heyjenbartel) November 13, 2017
I’m not a graphics professional by any stretch of the imagination, but I have been using Adobe Photoshop for more than 25 years. Its interface and keyboard shortcuts are stored deep within my neural pathways. So much so that, despite the plethora of great alternatives to Photoshop on macOS—the $30 Acorn and the $30 Pixelmator among them—I pay $119/year to Adobe so I can keep using Photoshop.
The power of familiar products and brands should not be underestimated—and not just with consumer products, but with professional tools too. I am paying more for Photoshop because I’d rather stick with the familiar than slow down my productivity while investigating a bunch of tools that are Not Photoshop. Sure, I might come out the other side just as productive (and with more money in my wallet), but how much time will I need to put in to get there? And what if my new tools fail me at a key moment when I need to perform a task that I know by heart in Photoshop?
There are limits to the power of familiarity and loyalty, of course. If Photoshop abandoned the Mac I wouldn’t switch to Windows. If Adobe decided to charge $300/year for Photoshop, I would probably not pay it. But my loyalty and familiarity is strong.
Now, how many hours per year do I spend in the five different iOS apps that bear the imprint of the Photoshop product family, many of whom are only accessible to people who (like me) have active Creative Cloud subscriptions? (Keeping in mind that I often travel with only my iPad Pro, and do an awful lot of my work on the iPad these day.)
The answer is zero. I never use them.
I have to give Adobe credit for trying to reinvent Photoshop on iOS. It’s built a custom drawing app called Adobe Sketch. Photoshop Fix is a capable image-retouching app. Photoshop Mix is used for compositing. And Photoshop Express provides basic image-adjustment functionality. There’s also the recently revamped Lightroom CC, which is perhaps the iOS app most reminiscent of its desktop versions.
And yet part of me longs for something that’s more recognizably Photoshop, a tool where I can quickly modify an image and save out a JPEG or PNG in a few different sizes for uploading to a web server. If that functionality is there in one of these “Photoshop” apps on iOS, I’ll be damned if I can find it.
I’ve got a bunch of web and podcast art templates that are saved as layered PSD files—that’s the Photoshop file format—in my Dropbox. How would I crack one of those open on iOS and use them? So far as I can tell, nothing Adobe makes will do the trick… but I can open those files in the $20 Affinity Photo without any trouble. Procreate for iPad will do the same. iOS is apparently a wasteland for active Photoshop users unless they buy and learn someone else’s app.
That’s great for the competitors to the Adobe juggernaut. And it’s great that Adobe’s customers can find an alternative that will solve their thorny iOS problems. But how in the world can Adobe think that this is an acceptable state of affairs?
I’ve been meaning to write about this subject for some time, but I was prompted into action by a series of tweets by comics artist Jen Bartel over the weekend. Bartel is a Creative Cloud subscriber who loves the brushes by Kyle Webster that are an Adobe exclusive and therefore only available on iOS as a part of Adobe Sketch. And yet she still finds Adobe’s iOS efforts wanting, declaring that Adobe Sketch is simply “meh” for her work. It took the arrival of Clip Studio Paint to get her sketching again on her iPad with the Apple Pencil.
Here’s the thing, though: Bartel, despite clearly not wanting to use Windows, has been using a Wacom MobileStudioPro 16. Why? Because it runs Photoshop CC, which allows her to create finished work that she feels she’s unable to create on iOS.1 Her loyalty to her Photoshop workflow pushed her to the MSP, even though the iPad “wins in every hardware category and is better for couch drawing.” (For what it’s worth, she says that neither experience can match a full-fledged computer with a Wacom Cintiq tablet attached.)
Some initial thoughts! Keep in mind I’ve got the small iPad (10.5” display, 256gb) and the large mobile studio (16” 512gb, i7) pic.twitter.com/Aew3Ih5eg0— Jen Bartel (@heyjenbartel) November 12, 2017
It’s great that there are alternatives like Affinity Photo and Clip Studio and Procreate, so that iOS users can get work done despite Adobe’s lackluster efforts. But it’s frustrating that Adobe has failed its core design customers to such a degree—and it’s also a big risk for Adobe. Photoshop commands a lot of space in the brains of many creative professionals, but a lot of those people want to use iOS. If Adobe provided them with fulfilling tools for iOS—ones that are as capable as what’s available on macOS and Windows—it could keep its customers loyal.
But the longer Adobe fails to provide, the more creative professionals will seek out alternatives. The gravitational pull of Photoshop will be reduced. Mental pathways will be retrained. And the once unthinkable—dumping Adobe’s products for alternatives across all devices—will suddenly become easy.2
It should never have come to this. Perhaps Adobe’s app strategy on iOS made sense for the early days of the App Store and the iPhone, but it doesn’t make sense anymore. The company needs to get on board with supporting its customers on the world’s best mobile platform—or risk losing them forever.
Could she spend a bunch of time finding and learning different apps to get her to the same finished state on iOS? Maybe, but it’s potentially a huge time investment. ↩
I haven’t even mentioned the people I’ve heard from who are frustrated that Adobe’s other pro apps, such as Illustrator, are also entirely missing in action on iOS. ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-14 15:33
As a result, in the fourth quarter of 2016 and first quarter of 2017, 47 in 1,000 of Android enterprise devices protected by Lookout encountered app-based threats, compared with only 1 in 1,000 iOS devices.
People often equivocate on Android and iOS, but iOS’s security record really is incredibly impressive. One of the reasons that iOS security holes make such big news is that they are in fact pretty rare. As our good friend Rich Mogull is quoted saying in the above article, “Ten years of iPhone and no major malware? That’s unheard of.”
Even when something like the Face ID story I posted yesterday comes up, it’s more out of academic interest than any actual widespread security risk.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-13 19:34
This week on Upgrade: Jumping off from two Bloomberg reports about Apple hardware, Myke and Jason discuss the future of the iPad Pro and what in the world Apple is thinking as it develops an augmented-reality headset. We’ve also got updates on Apple’s television venture, the future and influence of the iPhone X, and Apple Pay for iMessage.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-13 15:33
Writing at Wired, Andy Greenberg covers claims that hackers have already broken Face ID on the iPhone X:
On Friday, Vietnamese security firm Bkav released a blog post and video showing that—by all appearances—they’d cracked Face ID with a composite mask of 3-D-printed plastic, silicone, makeup, and simple paper cutouts, which in combination tricked an iPhone X into unlocking. That demonstration, which has yet to be confirmed publicly by other security researchers, could poke a hole in the expensive security of the iPhone X, particularly given that the researchers say their mask cost just $150 to make.
First thing’s first: this was inevitable. Nobody’s yet invented the security measure that can’t be beaten.1 The real question is “how vulnerable is the system?” and, in this case, despite the low cited cost, the chances that this will be deployed against the average person is pretty low. Not least of all because it seems to require several minutes of scanning someone’s face. If you have that much access to someone’s face, there are far easier ways of opening their phones, with or without their cooperation.
But, look, most people are not going to be at risk here, anymore than the average person was at risk from someone duplicating their fingerprint. If you’re a high profile person who’s likely to be targeted by thieves or intelligence agencies, then, yes, you should probably be taking extra precautions, but the rest of us are plenty fine using Face ID, Touch ID, or even a six-digit passcode.2 But there’s no question that Face ID is tougher than many previous attempts at face-based security.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-13 00:26, modified at 03:46
I’m not one to toot my own horn, but a couple months ago I theorized that Apple was absolutely working on a heads-up augmented reality display. This week, lo and behold, a Bloomberg report seemed to confirm that conjecture, adding that such a device could ship by 2020.
Meanwhile, in the company’s most recent financial results conference call, Apple CEO Tim Cook once again made it clear that AR is at the top of his agenda, saying it will “change the way we use technology forever.”
Both of those closely followed the releases of new iPhones and a new version of iOS, all of which boast augmented reality as a selling point; indeed, Apple says the A11 Bionic chip inside both the iPhone X and the iPhone 8 series is specifically designed for AR.
So, sure, Apple is investing heavily in augmented reality. It wants the technology to succeed, that much is clear. But AR is still in its infancy and if it’s going to capture the world’s enthusiasm as seems to have Tim Cook’s, it’s going to need a couple things first.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-13 00:24
If this week’s episode is a bit late in airing, it’s all because Lex and Dan are staring lovingly at their iPhone Xs while John pets his new Apple Watch Series 3. We also talk a little bit about “wireless” charging experiences, our migration experiences, and why this isn’t a show for kids. (Also, please forgive Lex’s poor audio in this episode—he was being held inside a Freedonian prison.)
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-11 02:11, modified at 02:17
Here are some nice mock-ups of a bezel-less and home-button-less iPad Pro by Benjamin Geskin. They look good, though I do wonder about the challenge of building a TrueDepth sensor bar that works in both portrait and landscape orientations. Supporting both orientations is a must for the iPad—I use mine in landscape far more than portrait, though I know other people are the opposite way. The Smart Keyboard forces a landscape orientation, and Apple wouldn’t build an iPad Pro that couldn’t use Face ID.
One challenge with putting the sensor on either edge is that you risk having a hand cover up the sensor while holding the device. And of course, the Face ID software will need to support either orientation. I have no doubt that Apple’s engineers are up to the challenge, but it’s interesting to imagine how they’ll solve the particular ergonomic problems of the iPad Pro. (Assuming, of course, that Face ID on iPad Pro really happens as Mark Gurman suggests.)
[via David Sparks]
2018 iPad Pro with Face ID | Concept Render pic.twitter.com/TTyMRXPMv1— Benjamin Geskin (@VenyaGeskin1) November 8, 2017
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-09 18:24, modified at 18:25
Last week, Apple announced its biggest fiscal fourth quarter ever, with the promise of an even bigger holiday quarter to come. The three months encompassing holiday shopping—October through December—are always Apple’s biggest of the year, generating a third of the company’s overall revenue.
Apple delivered an early Christmas present to analysts last week when it provided guidance that it expected the holiday quarter to be an all-time record for Apple, with revenue between $84 and $87 billion. (To put that in perspective, that’s 11 percent higher revenue than the previous year’s holiday quarter.)
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-08 19:16, modified at 19:19
Apple Inc. is working on a redesigned, high-end iPad for as early as 2018 that incorporates key iPhone X features such as slimmer edges and facial recognition, according to people familiar with the matter.
Here’s the key iPad Pro info from the story:
A screen size similar to the current 10.5-inch iPad Pro, but with much smaller bezels at the top and bottom, and no home button.
Face ID support.
No OLED screen, because they’re really expensive and only Samsung can really make them to Apple’s standards.
A faster processor and custom Apple GPU.
A “new version” of the Apple Pencil.
An implied release date more than a year after the most recent iPad Pro update—so the second half of 2018.
This report seems pretty reasonable to me. Reducing the size of the iPad Pro’s bezel will make it feel smaller without sacrificing screen size. It will be interesting to see how Apple handles replacing the home button on the iPad—gestures currently exist that allow you to move around an iPad without clicking the home button, but they’re not as discoverable and intuitive as the swipe-up gesture on the iPhone X.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-08 18:47
This week, on the 30-minute show that’s shorter than most meal prep times, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Lex Friedman and Caitlin McGarry to discuss Apple Pay Cash and other payment services, our tech workarounds, whether wearables are feasible, and what killer AR apps we’ve found, if any.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-08 01:24, modified at 01:34
This is so far out of my comfort zone that I can’t even see it from here, but the New York Times wrote a piece about how Apple and other tech giants avoid taxes, based on disclosures from the new “Paradise Papers” leaks from a law firm in Bermuda.
The story focuses on Apple (it’s the biggest company in the world, so why not), but also mentions that many giant multinational corporations use shell companies in different locales to avoid paying taxes on international earnings:
Indeed, tax strategies like the ones used by Apple — as well as Amazon, Google, Starbucks and others — cost governments around the world as much as $240 billion a year in lost revenue, according to a 2015 estimate by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development…. In prepared statements, Allergan, Facebook, Nike and Uber said they complied with tax regulations around the world.
Apple’s response, is of course, that Apple is the world’s largest taxpayer. And that’s undoubtedly true—it’s the world’s most profitable company, after all.
The question isn’t if Apple pays taxes. The question is, is it paying its fair share? (And are all the other companies like it doing the same?)
I’d argue that it’s the responsibility of the people employed by public corporations to use every single legal option available to reduce their companies’ tax burdens. And it’s the job of governments to make sure they’re obeying the law, and to amend tax laws when necessary in order to prevent these companies from failing to pay the tax that they should.
Apple doesn’t seem to be an outlier. It’s just the biggest example of a larger trend. The European Union seems to be clamping down on Ireland’s tax laws. Apple claims it wants to repatriate its international cash, but wants the U.S. government to lower the tax rate before it does so.
Exciting stuff… if international taxation excites you. It doesn’t excite me.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-06 23:40, modified at 23:43
So it’s been a week since I took delivery of the iPhone X. When I initially wrote my story about the device, I’d only been able to spend about 12 hours with it. Here’s what I’ve noticed after seven whole days.
Space Gray versus Silver. My Apple review unit is silver; on Friday the Space Gray iPhone X I bought with my own money arrived. With both of them here, I have to admit that I may have made the wrong choice. (Yes, I got to see both models close up at Apple’s media event, but that was a long time ago and I was much more focused on the screen and how it felt in my hand.)
As I mentioned in my initial review, the silver iPhone X looks better than I anticipated. Both phones have a black front bezel, which is good. The shiny silver stainless steel ring is gorgeous, bringing back memories of the original iPod. And the back plate is a sparkly, shimmery silver-white that really looks amazing.
The space gray model, on the other hand… is kind of boring. I had hoped it would look more or less like the Jet Black iPhone 7, but it doesn’t. It’s just a little bit lighter, maybe like a bar of dark chocolate? The color and texture of the aluminum ring and glass back are beautifully matched to one another, but neither matches the, well, jet black of the front bezel and screen. It’s an attractive phone, but much more muted than the flashy, head-turning look of the silver model.
The camera impresses. Over the weekend I went to a college football game. We sit about 20 rows back, and I used to bring a long lens and shoot pictures with my SLR camera. Now, the results of a zoomed-in iPhone X shot weren’t as good as those pictures, but I was startled at just how good my football shots looked. Chalk that up to the telephoto lens with optical image stabilization and a high-quality sensor. My football photos won’t win any awards, but they look way better than I expected—and viewing them on the iPhone X’s OLED screen after I took them was also a treat.
Animoji as performance art. Thanks in part to the facilitation of my former IDG colleague Harry McCracken, my Twitter timeline has been flooded with videos featuring iPhone X Animoji characters lip-syncing to popular songs. It’s bound to be a fad that burns out in a few weeks, but in the meantime it’s fun—and is the kind of advertising that money just can’t buy.
Not to be outdone, I created my own Animoji video featuring one of my favorite scenes from a favorite film. To successfully record Animoji for this purpose, I recommend tapping the arrow at the top of the Animoji window to expand the Animoji interface, and then using iOS 11’s screen recording feature to grab the actual interactions. (The built-in Animoji recorder only works for 10 seconds.) I recorded both of my characters separately, then placed them together with synced audio from the film in Final Cut Pro X and exported the finished result. I’m pretty happy with how it turned out—namely, it’s just as ridiculous as I originally envisioned.
iPhone X as a table-bound slab. I’m loving iPhone X in almost all the places I use it. The gestures are becoming second nature to me. But there’s one use case where it doesn’t really work: laying on a table. And it doesn’t work there for several reasons. The sizable camera bump makes the whole thing unstable. Facing straight up, the Face ID camera can’t see me, so I can’t unlock my phone without leaning way over the table or picking the phone up. And attention detection can’t detect me, so after 30 seconds the screen dims.
I hadn’t realized how much I left an iPhone unlocked on a table for a minute or two. The iPhone X is more aggressive about locking the phone (and dimming the display), and Face ID is no help. I suppose in the end, the phone will train me—but right now it’s one of the areas where my old way of using my iPhone no longer seems to apply.
Requiem for Control Center. I’m dissatisfied with the relegation of Control Center to the upper right corner of the screen. That corner is inaccessible to me when I’m using the phone one handed. (I can shimmy my hand around a bit and reach high spots on the screen, but the upper right corner is just too far away.) It’s all made me realize how often I used Control Center functions.
Perhaps Apple will add some feature to make Control Center more accessible. I like this idea from my pal Lex Friedman, who suggests that the optional Reachability shortcut (swipe down in the home indicator area) could be mapped to other functions, including Control Center, instead. Sounds like a great idea to me.
While we’re at it, I’d like the buttons on the lock screen to be customizable as well. It’s great that I can turn on the flashlight with one pleasant, haptic-filled 3D touch command from the lock screen. It’s great that I can activate the camera with a similar gesture (though it’s also redundant, since I can swipe from right to left to do the same thing). It would be even greater to drop a couple other commonly used Control Center features on there. Or swap them in for buttons (like that camera one) that we don’t really need.
As much as iOS 9 and iOS 10 laid the groundwork for many aspects of the iPhone X interface, it’s important to remember that this is still Apple’s first take at the software for this phone. Maybe feedback from users about issues like the exile of Control Center will prompt Apple to reconsider some of its decisions in a future software update. I hope so.
Add a case or not? Along with my iPhone X review unit, I got an Apple-branded silicone iPhone X case. I’ve been using it sporadically this week, and it’s been making me consider whether I’ll put a case on my iPhone X. This phone is going to be very expensive to repair, which makes me more inclined to use a case or buy AppleCare+. I generally avoid cases on my iPhones, though I made an exception for the 6 and 6S because they were just so slippery.
That said, the Apple case is very nice—I especially like how it fits perfectly around and negates the camera bump. The silicone makes it hard for me to take it out of my pants pocket, so if I get one, I’ll probably opt for the leather. A $50 case isn’t cheap, but it’s cheaper than AppleCare—that is, if you believe that Apple’s thin leather case will really spare the phone’s glass from being shattered on a drop. I’m not entirely sure I do.
Wireless charger preferences. My iPhone X review bag from Apple also included Mophie’s Qi charging pad, and I have to agree with iMore’s Rene Ritchie, who told me a couple of weeks ago that he vastly preferred the Mophie charger to the Belkin model that I had already been using. The Mophie model is smaller, shorter, and more grippy than the Belkin. There are plenty of other Qi charging options out there, too, though apparently a forthcoming software update will enable faster charging for the iPhone, and only some chargers will be able to take advantage of that? With the arrival of Apple’s AirPower mat due sometime next year, this is an unsettled category, to be sure.
My iPad doesn’t work right. A week is long enough to have rewritten many of my time-honored iPhone gestural routines, but it’s also introduced some confusion. Now when I switch over to my iPad Pro, I find myself flipping up from the bottom of the screen to go to the home screen—and of course, that doesn’t work. In iOS 11, the iPad Pro got its own set of new gestures for showing the Dock and displaying the multitasking switcher, and they’re similar to those on the iPhone X, but they’re not the same. I hope it only takes me one more week to find a way to allow the two different gestural languages to coexist together.
But I will say this: Having the iPhone X definitely makes me wish for a new iPad Pro with a TrueDepth front camera and, presumably, no more home button. It’s hard to believe that such an iPad isn’t coming in 2018 or 2019 at the latest. It will take some time for the iPhone X’s new features to make their way into the rest of Apple’s product line, but they absolutely will.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-06 20:01, modified at 20:02
This week on Upgrade, Myke abandons the #plusclub for an iPhone X, and compares notes with Jason after a week of using Apple’s new phone, including cameras, OLED, Animoji karaoke, and Face ID. We also discuss Apple’s latest quarterly results, which show great news for the iPad and Mac and the promise of a record-setting holiday quarter to come.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-05 04:56
There’s no better way to show that you’ve got an iPhone X (and your friends don’t) than by sending them Animoji messages. Of course, Animoji is more than just a way to establish your iPhone power use bona fides — it’s also a way for iPhone X users to add more pizzazz to convesations in Messages.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-05 04:56
The banner feature of the iPhone X is Face ID. Powered by an array of tiny sensing hardware tucked into the “notch” at the top of the iPhone X screen, Face ID paints your face with invisible, infrared light and scans it with an infrared sensor to determine if you are the person who is allowed to unlock this particular phone.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-03 13:30
Ahead of the iPhone X’s announcement back in September, there had been plenty of rumors about it including biometric security based on facial recognition, as well as whether or not Apple was struggling to incorporate Touch ID into this new model. Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of handwringing over this move, with plenty of pundits who insisted that Face ID was only a sop until Apple could figure out how to incorporate Touch ID into its new all-screen phone.
Now that the iPhone X has finally made its way into the world, we’ve gotten a little more perspective on the matter. Not only have we seen how Face ID is a major departure from previous facial recognition systems, but we’ve also had Apple executives point out that the company had long ago made the decision to ditch Touch ID for Face ID—which we should have all logically considered when the rumors were flying, as the company’s not going to be struggling with design decisions mere months before they ship millions of devices.
But now that Face ID is about to become part of many of our daily lives, it’s worth considering what else might be in store for this technology. Because if the company’s moving away from Touch ID in its flagship device, you can bet that Face ID is here to stay.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-03 13:12, modified at 14:20
Sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, sure as autumn follows summer, sure as Apple will declare its latest iPhone the best phone it’s ever made, the iFixit team will be tearing down said phone as soon as it arrives. And the iPhone X is no exception. The team has already dissected the X, and while it’s not going to win any awards for repairability, there’s a lot in the construction that impresses, including the amazingly small logic board. If you’re interested in the iPhone X’s internals, nobody does it better.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-03 00:42, modified at 00:43
Apple closed out its 2017 fiscal year in style Thursday, and is prepared to barrel into the holiday quarter with huge momentum. For the quarter ending September 30, Apple set a record for its fourth fiscal quarter with $52.6 billion in revenue. Pretty much every product category you can think of showed positive signs, and the news for the next quarter is even better: Apple’s guidance for the first fiscal quarter of 2018 suggests that the traditionally conservative company is going to have its best single quarter ever, and by a wide margin.
I’ll break down some of the most interesting details below, but be sure to check out our complete transcript of the Apple call with analysts.
This quarter the iPhone was the largest piece of Apple’s pie chart, as always: 55 percent of Apple’s quarterly revenue came from the iPhone. What’s interesting is that Apple CEO Tim Cook characterized the iPhone 8’s sales as having exceeded their expectations.
Cook and CFO Luca Maestri seemed to take direct aim—without mentioning it by name—at a report by KeyBanc Capital Markets analyst John Vinh that the iPhone 7/Plus was outselling the iPhone 8/Plus. Both executives repeatedly mentioned that the moment the 8 and 8 Plus went on sale, “They instantly became our two most popular iPhone models and have been every week since then.” (Vinh wasn’t a participant on the call, shockingly.)
Apple steers away from giving away too much detail of the mix of different iPhone models it sells—on Thursday analysts tried repeatedly to get Cook to talk about it. “Obviously, I’m not going to talk about mix, it’s not something that we’ve done in the past,” he said at one point. But he did offer this tidbit: the iPhone 8 Plus is selling the best of any iPhone Plus model to date.
“That, for us, was a bit of a surprise, and a positive surprise, obviously,” Cook said. “And so we’ll see what happens next.”
Analysts really wanted to know what Apple thinks about iPhone X sales, but as Cook reminded them, this is unexplored territory. So the company has made its best guess, but it doesn’t really know.
“This is the first time we’ve ever been in the position that we’ve had three new iPhones at once like this, at the top end of the line, and it’s the first time we’ve had a staggered launch,” Cook said, and actually chuckled. “And so we’re going to see what happens! But we put our absolutely best thinking that we have here in the guidance… you can tell from that that we’re bullish.”
In terms of speculation that Apple hasn’t been able to make enough iPhone X models to fulfill demand, Cook similarly had little to say. “The ramp for iPhone X is going well, especially considering that iPhone X is the most advanced iPhone we’ve ever created, and it has lots of new technologies in it,” he said. “And so we’re really happy that we’re able to increase week by week what we’re outputting and we’re going to get as many of them as possible to the customers as soon as possible.”
When challenged by UBS analyst Steve Milanovich about the $999 and up price tag of the iPhone X, Cook pushed back on two different fronts. One of his statements, about pricing strategies, was a bit puzzling: “In terms of the way we price, we price to sort of the value that we’re providing,” Cook said. “We’re not trying to charge the highest price we could get or anything like that. We’re just trying to price it for what we’re delivering.”
The PR spin here is that the iPhone X isn’t $999 because Apple’s gouging users, but because it provides $999 worth of value. Fair enough. But if Apple thought it could charge $1099 or $1199 for the iPhone X and make more money, wouldn’t it?
Cook also used one of the most tired metaphors for pricing in the technology industry, and I don’t think his heart was in it. He pointed out, quite rightly, that many people will buy the iPhone X on an installment plan with monthly payments, so they won’t see a $999 bill at all. Then, citing a $33/month charge on U.S. carriers, he said, “That’s a few coffees a week—it’s less than a coffee a day, you know, at one of these nice coffee places.”
So wait, people can afford the iPhone X if they stop drinking coffee? Tim, blink if you’re being held against your will in a Blue Bottle Coffee.
It was the second good quarter in a row for the iPad, previously doomed but now apparently flourishing. Average selling prices took a big bump, suggesting a stronger quarter for the iPad Pro. According to Apple, the iPad grew in all of Apple’s geographic segments, and showed especially strong growth in emerging markets.
The Mac showed plenty of good signs. 2017 was the best fiscal year for the Mac product line ever by total revenue—$25.8 billion—and this quarter was the best fourth fiscal quarter for the Mac ever. In mainland China, Apple said that this quarter it sold more Macs than ever before.
The average selling price of a Mac ticked up a little bit, too, and Apple suggested that the improved Mac sales this quarter were largely on the back of the MacBook Pro.
Apple’s just not going to tell you how many Apple Watches it’s sold, but Cook did say that the Watch saw “unit growth of over 50 percent for the third consecutive quarter.” Presumably that’s year-over-year unit growth? Cook also said that the overall wearables category—so throw AirPods in there too—was up 75 percent year over year.
It was an all-time high for Apple’s Services line, which includes Apple Music, the App Store, and iCloud. Even leaving aside a one-time revenue adjustment, the Services category is growing rapidly for Apple. Last year Apple said it wanted to take its $24 billion in Services revenue for fiscal 2016 and double it by 2020. 2017’s total Services revenue was $30 billion, so it’s well on its way.
Maestri pointed out that Apple’s music business has “turned the corner.” iTunes a la carte sales were declining, but now growth in Apple Music has offset those declines, and Apple’s music business is growing again, which helps contribute to the growth of the Services line as a whole.
Cook was asked about augmented reality at a few points during the call, and he gave a description of how he feels AR is a much more humane innovation than many others that was interesting enough that I just wanted to quote it here:
“The reason I’m so excited about AR is my view that it amplifies human performance instead of isolate humans,” he said. “And so as you know it’s the mix of the of the virtual and the physical world, so it should be a help for humanity, not an isolation kind of thing for humanity.”
There you have it. Augmented reality: Good for humans. Virtual reality: Not so much.
Wall Street will be over the moon about Apple’s guidance for next quarter. Holiday quarters are always Apple’s best by a wide margin, but Apple’s guidance for this holiday quarter beat all analyst expectations and suggests that the company will set records.
The guidance is for between $84 and $87 billion, which would be between $5.6B and $8.6B more than last year’s holiday quarter, which is the current record. It would be the biggest increase in holiday-quarter revenue since the staggering $17B jump between calendar 2013 and 2014. If the guidance holds, the calendar 2017 holiday quarter would join the past three holiday quarters as Apple’s four biggest quarters of all time.
I guess the holiday party at Apple Park will be epic this year.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-02 21:28, modified at 22:44
Every three months, Apple executives spend an hour or so on the phone with financial analysts. Here’s a complete transcript of the call.
Good afternoon, and thanks to everyone for joining us. As we close the book on a very successful fiscal 2017, I have to say, I couldn’t be more excited about Apple’s future. This was our biggest year ever in most parts of the world, with all-time record revenue in the United States, Western Europe, Japan, Korea, the Middle East, Africa, Central and Eastern Europe, and Asia. We had a particularly strong finish this year, generating our highest September quarter revenue ever as year over year growth accelerated for the fourth consecutive quarter.
Revenue was fifty two point six billion dollars above the high end of our guidance range and up 12 percent over last year. We generated revenue growth across all of our product categories and showed all-time record results for our services business. As we expected, we returned to growth in Greater China, with unit growth and market share gains for iPhone, iPad, and Mac. In fact, it was an all-time record quarter for Mac sales in mainland China, as well as an all-time high for services revenue. And revenue from emerging markets outside of Greater China was up 40 percent, with great momentum in India, where revenue doubled year over year. We also had great results in enterprise and education, with double-digit growth in worldwide customer purchases of iPad and Mac in both markets.
Gross margin for the September quarter was at the high end of our guidance range, and thanks to exceptional work by our team, we generated record fourth quarter earnings per share of $2.07 cents, up 24 percent from a year ago.
iPhone sales exceeded our expectation. In the last week and a half of September, we began shipping iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus to customers in more than 50 countries. They instantly became our two most popular iPhone models and have been every week since then.
As we speak the launch of iPhone X is now underway, as stores open across Australia and Asia. iPhone X is packed with innovative new technologies that chart our path for the next decade. Technologies like the TrueDepth camera system, Super Retina display, and A11 Bionic chip with Neural Engine, which has been in development for years with a focus on deep machine learning. iPhone X enables totally new experiences, like unlocking your iPhone with Face ID, taking photos with studio-quality lighting effects, or playing immersive augmented reality games.
We can’t wait for people to experience our vision of the future. Orders have already been very strong and we’re working to get iPhone X into customers’ hands as quickly as possible.
Turning to services, revenue reached an all-time quarterly record of $8.5 billion in the September quarter. A few quarters ago, we established a goal of doubling our fiscal 2016 services revenue of 24 billion by the year 2020 and we are well on our way to meeting that goal. In fiscal 2017, we reached $30 billion, making our services business already the size of a Fortune 100 company.
We’re also delighted to report our second consecutive quarter of double-digit unit growth for iPad. Customers have responded very positively to the new iPad lineup, and with the launch of iOS 11, the iPad experience has become more powerful than ever, with great new features for getting things done, like the new Dock, Files app, drag-and-drop, multitasking, and more power than most PC notebooks.
The launch of iOS 11 also made iOS the world’s largest platform for augmented reality. There are already over a thousand apps with powerful AR features in our App Store today, with developers creating amazing new experiences in virtually every category of apps aimed at consumers, students, and business users alike. Put simply, we believe AR is going to change the way we use technology forever. We’re already seeing things that will transform the way you work, play, connect, and learn. For example, there are AR apps that let you interact with virtual models of everything you can imagine, from the human body to the solar system, and of course you experience them like they’re really there. Instantly, education becomes much more powerful when every subject comes to light in 3D. And imagine shopping, when you can place an object in your living room before you make a purchase. Or attending live sporting events when you can see the stats on the field. AR is going to change everything.
iOS 11 is also allowing developers to integrate machine learning models into their apps with CoreML. Pinterest is already using CoreML to deliver fast and powerful visual search. PadMapper uses CoreML to provide intelligence features that make it easy to find or rent your apartment. And Visual Dx is even pioneering new health diagnostics with CoreML, automating skin image analysis to assist dermatologists with their diagnosis. These are just a few examples. There’s so much more to come.
Next I’d like to talk about the Mac, which had its best year ever, with the highest annual Mac revenue in Apple’s history. It was also the best September quarter ever, with Mac revenue growth of 25 percent, driven by the notebook refreshes we launched in June and a strong back-to-school season.
The Mac experience has become even better since the September launch of macOS high Sierra, with new technologies to make Mac more reliable, capable, and responsive, and lay the foundation for future innovation.
Moving on now to Apple Watch. With unit growth of over 50 percent for the third consecutive quarter, it continues to be the best selling and most loved smartwatch in the world. We began shipping Apple Watch Series 3 just six weeks ago, and customers love the new freedom of cellular. The ability to go for a run with just your Apple Watch or go for a quick errand without your phone while staying connected is a game changer. Now more than ever, Apple Watch is the ultimate device for a healthy life, and is already making a big difference in our customers’ lives.
We’re very excited about the upcoming launch of the Apple Heart Study, which will use data from Apple Watch to identify irregular heart rhythms and notify users when unusual patterns are detected.
Earlier this week, we introduced watchOS 4.1, bringing 40 million songs to your wrist through Apple Music. The combination of music streaming on Apple Watch and AirPods is truly a magical experience for people on the go. We’re thrilled with the momentum of these products. In fact, our entire wearables business was up 75 percent year over year in the fourth quarter, and in fiscal 2017 already generated the annual revenue of a Fortune 400 company.
Late in the September quarter. We also launched Apple TV 4K, delivering a stunning cinematic experience at home. So now users around the world can watch movies and shows in 4K HDR quality, and stream live sports and news on the apple TV app. There’s already a great selection of 4K HDR titles available through iTunes and other popular video services, with many more movies and shows on the way.
We’re also very excited about the opening of Apple Michigan Avenue two weeks ago on Chicago’s riverfront. This is the first store that brings together our complete vision for the future of Apple retail, providing a welcoming place for everyone to experience our products, services, and inspiring educational programs, right in the heart of their city. In addition to our very popular Today at Apple programming, which is available in all Apple stores around the world, offering daily sessions in photography, music creation, art and design, coding, and entrepreneurship, Apple Michigan Avenue is partnering with local nonprofits and creative organizations to make an ongoing positive impact in that community.
Also this quarter we expanded our free App Development with Swift curriculum to more than 30 community colleges across the country. We’re very excited about this initiative and we’re thrilled by the momentum we’re seeing. The schools we launched with this summer are just the beginning. Community colleges have a powerful reach into communities where education is the great equalizer, and the colleges adopting our curriculum this academic year are providing opportunity to millions of students to build apps that will prepare them for careers in software development, in information technology, and much more.
We’re incredibly enthusiastic about what our teams have accomplished this year, and all the amazing products in our line-up. As we approach the holiday season, we expect it to be our biggest quarter ever. I’d like to thank all of our teams, our partners, and our customers for their passion, commitment, and loyalty. You’ve helped us make 2017 a sensational year.
Now for more details on the September quarter results, I’d like to turn over the call to Luca.
Thank you Tim. Good afternoon, everyone.
Revenue for the September quarter was a record $52.6B, up 12 percent over last year, and it has been great to see our growth rate accelerating in every quarter of fiscal 2017. Our terrific performance this quarter was very broad based, with revenue growth in all our product categories for the second quarter in a row, a new September-quarter revenue records in the Americas, in Europe, and in the rest of Asia Pacific segments. We grew double digits in the U.S., Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Korea, and several other developed markets.
We were especially happy to return to growth in Greater China, where revenue was up 12 percent from a year ago, and with our momentum in India, where revenue doubled year over year. We grew more than 30 percent in Mexico, the Middle East, Turkey, and Central and Eastern Europe. These resorts helped fuel overall growth of over 20 percent from emerging markets.
Gross margin was 37.9 percent, at the high end of our guidance range. Operating margin was 25 percent of revenue, and net income was $10.7B. Diluted earnings per share were $2.07, up 24 percent over last year to a new September Quarter record, and cash flow from operations was strong at $15.7B. During the quarter we sold 46.7 million iPhones, up 3 percent over last year. We were very pleased to see double-digit iPhone growth in many emerging markets, including mainland China, the Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe, India, and Mexico.
We gained share not only in those markets, but also in Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and Singapore, based on the latest estimates from IDC. iPhone channel inventory increased by 1.3 million units sequentially, to support the launch of iPhone 8 and 8 Plus, significantly less than the increase in the September quarter a year ago.
Customer interest and satisfaction with iPhone are very strong with both consumers and business users. In the U.S., the latest data from 451 Research from consumers indicates a customer satisfaction rating of 97 percent or higher across all iPhone models. Among consumers planning to buy a smartphone in the next 90 days, purchase intention for iPhone was 69 percent, more than five times the rate of the closest competitor, with a loyalty rate for current iPhone owners of 95 percent, compared to 53 percent for the next highest brand.
For corporate smartphone buyers, iOS customer satisfaction was 95 percent, and of those planning to purchase smartphones in the December quarter, 80 percent plan to purchase iPhone. That is the highest score for iPhone in the history of the survey.
Turning to services, we set an all time quarterly record of $8.5B, up 34 percent year over year. Our results included a favorable one-time revenue adjustment of $640 million. On a run rate basis excluding this adjustment, services growth of 24 percent was terrific, and the highest that we have experienced this year. The App Store set a new all-time record, and according to App Annie’s latest report, it continues to be the preferred destination for customer purchases by a wide and growing margin, generating nearly twice the revenue of Google Play. We’re getting great response to the App Store’s new design in iOS 11, from both customers and developers. We’re seeing increases in the frequency of customer visits, the amount of time they spend in the store, and the number of apps they download.
The success of Apple Music also continues to build and we’re seeing our highest conversion rates from customers trying the service. Revenue grew strongly once again in the September quarter, and the number of paid subscribers was up over 75 percent year over year.
We also saw great performance from our iCloud business, with very strong double-digit growth in both monthly average users and revenue.
Across all of our services offerings, the number of paid subscriptions reached over 210 million at the end of the September quarter, an increase of 25 million in the last 90 days.
Apple Pay expanded to Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and the UAE last month and continues to grow rapidly. Over the past year, active users have more than doubled and annual transactions are up 330 percent. In the U.S. 70 percent of leading grocery chains are now accepting Apple Pay, with the recent launch of Safeway. And over five million U.S. merchant locations will be Apple Pay enabled by the end of this year.
Next, I’d like to talk about the Mac, which for fiscal 17 set a new all time revenue record of $25.8 billion. We sold 5.4 million Macs during the September quarter, up 10 percent over last year and gained significant market share, as the global market contracted by one percent based on ITC’s latest estimate.
This performance was fueled primarily by great demand for MacBook Pro, and Mac revenue grew 25 percent to a new September quarter record. We had outstanding results all around the world, with each of our geographic segments growing Mac revenue by 20 percent or more.
We were also very happy with the success of Mac in the education market, where customer purchases grew double digits year over year.
It was also another great quarter for iPad. We sold 10.3 million units, up 11 percent over last year, with strong demand for both iPad and iPad Pro and revenue grew 14 percent. It was great to see iPad unit and revenue growth in all of our geographic segments, and particularly strong results in emerging markets, including Greater China, where iPad unit sales grew 25 percent year over year, and India which grew 39 percent.
NPD indicates that iPad had 54 percent share of the U.S. tablet market in the September quarter, including seven of the ten best-selling tablets. That’s up from 47 percent share a year ago. Also the most recent surveys from 451 Research measured customer satisfaction rates of 97 percent across iPad models, and among people planning to buy tablets, purchase intent for iPad was over 70 percent for both consumers and businesses.
We’re seeing great momentum with our enterprise initiatives. During the September quarter we announced a new partnership with Accenture, who is creating a dedicated iOS practice in select locations around the world. Experts from Apple are co-locating with this team, and together they will be launching new tools and services that help enterprise clients transform how they engage with customers using iPhone and iPad. Examples include services to build new customer experiences and to facilitate iOS integration with enterprise systems, to help businesses take greater advantage of data from Internet of Things platforms and to enable the smooth transfer of existing legacy applications and data to modern iOS apps.
And last month we announced a partnership with GE to reinvent the way industrial companies work, by bringing GE’s industrial IoT platform to iOS. The Predix SDK for iOS will enable developers to build native apps to drive industrial operations with more efficiency and speed than ever before. GE is also standardizing on iPhone and iPad for its global workforce of more than 330,000 employees. And working with Apple, GE is developing iOS apps for both its internal and external audiences to bring predictive data and analytics to workers across a broad range of industries. Beyond our iOS devices, we are also seeing great traction for Mac in the enterprise market, with all time record customer purchases in fiscal year 2017.
The September quarter was very strong for our retail and online stores, which welcomed 418 million visitors. Traffic was particularly heavy during the week of our new product announcements, up 19 percent over last year. Retail ran a very successful back to school promotion in the Americas, Europe, China, and Singapore, with sales of Mac and iPad Pro up strong double digits compared to last year’s program. And around the world, our stores conducted over 200,000 Today at Apple sessions doing the quarter.
Let me now turn to our cash position. We ended the quarter with $268.9 billion in cash plus marketable securities, a sequential increase of $7.4 billion. $252.3 billion of this cash, 94 percent of the total, was outside the United States. We issued $7 billion in new Canadian and U.S. dollar denominated debt during the quarter, bringing us to $104 billion in term debt and $12 billion in commercial paper outstanding. We also returned $11 billion dollars to investors during the quarter. We paid $3.3 billion in dividends and equivalents, and spent $4.5 billion on repurchases of 29.1 million Apple shares through open-market transactions. We also launched a new $3 billion ASR program, resulting in initial delivery and retirement of 15.1 million shares and we retired 4.5 million shares upon the completion of our eleventh KSR during the quarter. We have now completed almost $234 billion of our $300 billion capital return program, including $166 billion in share repurchases.
As we move ahead into the December quarter, I’d like to review our outlook, which includes the types of forward looking information that Nancy referred to at the beginning of the call. As a reminder that December quarter in fiscal ‘17 spans 14 weeks, whereas the December quarter this year will include the usual 13 weeks.
We expect revenue to be between $84 and $87 billion. We expect gross margin to be between 38 percent and 38.5 percent. We expect OpEx to be between $7,650,000 and $7,750,000. We expect OI&E to be about $600 million, and we expect the tax rate to be about 25.5 percent.
Also today, our board of directors has declared a cash dividend of 63 cents per share common stock, payable on Nov. 16 2017 to shareholders of record as of November 13, 2017.
Katie Huberty, Morgan Stanley: Thank you. Congrats on the quarter. Luca, when do you expect to catch up with iPhone X demand, and given it’s likely to be not in the December quarter, should we think about March as a better than seasonal revenue quarter because of that iPhone X ramp.
Tim: I’ll take that Katie, it’s Tim. The ramp for iPhone X is going well, especially considering that iPhone X is the most advanced iPhone we’ve ever created, and it has lots of new technologies in it. And so we’re really happy that we’re able to increase week by week what we’re outputting and we’re going to get as many of them as possible to the customers as soon as possible. And I can’t predict at this point when that balance will happen. In terms of March, we obviously don’t give we don’t give guidance beyond the current quarter.
Okay. And then China growth return to strong double digits, 12 percent up. But you’ve talked historically about that region being more sensitive than others to form factor changes. And the new iPhone X form factor was not available in September, and so should we assume that growth in that region only accelerates from here as that new product gets pushed into the market?
Let me talk a little bit about Q4 in China to get a little bit of color on the results. We increased market share for iPhone, Mac, and iPad during the quarter. We hit all-time revenue records for services and for Mac for the PRC during the quarter. We had very strong iPad revenue growth. We had double-digit unit growth in iPhone. And both the upgraders and Android switchers were both up on a year over year basis during the quarter. And so the results were broad based. They were pretty much across the board, as I indicated.
The other thing that happened is that the decline that we’ve been experiencing in Hong Kong moderated. And so it’s still down year over year, but less so than it was. And part of that is the compare is an easier compare.
And then finally in terms of another headwind that is a little less than it was, currency has been affecting us more significantly. Last quarter in China it affected us one percentage point.
And so the sum of all that, I feel great about the result. We don’t obviously provide geographic-specific guidance, but you can see from our overall guidance, we think we’re going to have a really strong quarter.
Michael Olson, Piper Jaffray: Good afternoon and congrats on a strong quarter. Is there any information you can provide on how iPhone X preorders compare to what you saw with iPhone 8 preorders?
Michael, we never go through the mix, but I would share with you that the iPhone X orders are very strong for both direct customers and for our channel partners, which as you know are lots of carriers throughout the world, and we couldn’t be more excited to get underway. And I think as of a few minutes ago the first sales started in Australia. And I’m told we had several hundred people waiting at the store in Sydney, and I’m getting similar reports from across that region.
All right, thanks. And we’re excited about augmented reality and from your perspective and maybe from from our perspective on the outside looking in, How do we gauge the success of AR and what are some of the applications of the technology that you’re most excited about today?
Yeah it’s a it’s a great question. The reason I’m so excited about AR is my view that it amplifies human performance instead of isolate humans. And so as you know it’s the mix of the of the virtual and the physical world, so it should be a help for humanity, not an isolation kind of thing for humanity.
As I go through different countries as I’ve been traveling lately and looking at things, some things in the market, other things that are coming, the very cool thing is they’re all over the place. I see things that the consumer is going to love because it’s going to change shopping. I see things that consumers will love on the gaming side and the entertainment side. I see business-related AR apps as well that are going to be great for productivity and between small and large business. And I see apps that make me want to go back to K-12 again and repeat my schooling because I think it changes the game in the classroom a lot.
And so the real beauty here is that it’s mainstream. And of course Apple is the only company that could have brought this because it requires both hardware and software integration and it requires giving the operating system update to many people at once. And the software team worked really hard to make that go back several versions of iPhones so that we sort of have hundreds of millions of enabled devices overnight. And so there’s a thousand plus in the App Store right now. I think this is very much like in 2008 when we fired the gun in the overall App Store, and so that’s what it feels like to me, and I think it will just get bigger from here.
Shannon Cross, Cross Research: Tim, can you talk a bit about how you’re thinking in terms of the lineup for iPhone. You go from $349 to above a thousand dollars. And it appears that you probably sold a fair amount of the lower end, perhaps that was to some of the switchers in China and maybe drove some of the growth in China in terms of market share, but how are you sort of thinking about what went into the guidance for the December quarter. Are you seeing really strong demand at the low end, and obviously expected benefit from the the X at the high end. I’m just trying to understand, because you have such a broader line-up than you’ve had in prior years.
Yeah, in terms of what we saw in Q4, you can probably tell from the ASP. We had good success, I would say, through the different iPhones. And we’ve tried hard to have an iPhone that is as affordable as possible for people that really want an iPhone but that may have a more limited budget. And we’ve got you know some iPhones that are really great for that market. And then we’ve got three new iPhones and people will look at these and decide which one they want.
This is the first time we’ve ever been in the position that we’ve had three new iPhones at once like this, at the top end of the line, and it’s the first time we’ve had a staggered launch. And so we’re going to see what happens! But we put our absolutely best thinking that we have here in the guidance that Luca presented and you can tell from that that we’re bullish.
And in terms of services. $8.5 billion, up 34 percent. Can you talk about some of the portions of that that outperformed. How sustainable? You mentioned China in terms of significant growth in services. But I’m just curious, that’s a pretty remarkable number, so I’m curious what the drivers were.
Luca: Shannon, It’s Luca. As I mentioned in the prepared remarks there was a six hundred forty million adjustment and there was a one-off change and it’s important to call it out because of course it’s a one off. And so the underlying growth rate for services in the quarter was fantastic, was 24 percent, the highest growth rate that we’ve had for services during fiscal 17. So the business is going incredibly well.
I would highlight maybe three of these businesses within services. The App Store set a new all-time record. It’s going incredibly well. The number of paying accounts continues to grow very strongly and that’s very, very important to us for the App Store business.
Apple Music was, subscriptions were up 75 percent year over year. We’re getting the highest conversion rates that we’ve had seen since the launch of the service. And so we turned the corner in music. You remember that a few years ago we were actually declining in music. Now with the streaming service, in addition to the download business, the business is growing again and that really helps the growth rate for the entire services business.
iCloud is a service that continues to grow. Very strong double digits. And that’s also helping. So we’ve already become the size of a Fortune 100 company. We set a goal for ourselves to double what we did in fiscal 16 and the trajectory is actually quite positive.
Steve Milanovich, UBS: I wanted to try to push a little bit more on the mix. Could you comment whether the 8 Plus outsold the 8 in the quarter? There seems to be some data that suggests that. And the 451 Research survey that you’re alluding to also finds that over the next 90 days those buying an iPhone, 43 percent are planning on buying the X. Could you comment upon your expectations in terms of the mix going forward? And if you won’t do that, perhaps you could comment a bit about your thinking in terms of pushing price elasticity. I think a couple of years ago no one would have imagined selling a phone at this price and obviously you’re pretty confident that you can do it.
Tim: Obviously, I’m not going to talk about mix, it’s not something that we’ve done in the past. If you look at the 8 and 8 Plus, when we launched them they instantly became our top two selling products. If you look at 8 Plus in particular to provide a little color there, 8 Plus, for the period of time that we can measure to date, has gotten off to the fastest start of any Plus model. That, for us, was a bit of a surprise, and a positive surprise, obviously. And so we’ll see what happens next. As I mentioned before, we’ve never had three products and it’s only today that the first customers can sort of look at all three of those, and I’m sure there’s been some people that wanted to do that before deciding even which one. And so we’ll we’ll see what happens there.
But in terms of price elasticity, I think it’s important to remember that a large number of people pay for the phone by month. And so if you were to go out on just the U.S., since that tends to be more of the focus of this call, if you look at the U.S. carriers I think you would find you could buy an iPhone X for $33 a month. And so if you think about that, that’s a few coffees a week. It’s less than a coffee a day, you know, at one of these nice coffee places.
The other thing to keep in mind is that many people are now trading in their current iPhone on the next iPhone, and the residual value for iPhone tends to be the highest in the industry. And many people get $300 or $350 or so for their iPhone, and so that even reduces the monthly payment less. And then obviously some carriers also have promotional things going on. And so I do think it’s important to try to place it in that context.
In terms of the way we price, we price to sort of the value that we’re providing. We’re not trying to charge the highest price we could get or anything like that. We’re just trying to price it for what we’re delivering. And iPhone X has a lot of great new technologies in there that are leading the industry and it is a fabulous product and we can’t wait for people to start getting it in their hands.
I wanted to ask, the Street historically has been a little skeptical about continued innovation, and you suggested there is more to go. Historically you weren’t first to large screens, you weren’t first to OLED. Now, though, you’re leading in AR, you’re leading with Face ID, which the all-in a year ago as some of you guys have suggested was kind of very reminiscent of the aggressive Apple. Is it possible going forward that you could accelerate share gains from Android because you’re now in a stronger competitive position.
Well I think the we’ve been in a competitive position and so I probably maybe have a different view than you do, or the folks that you’re quoting. There’s always Doubting Thomases out there. And I’ve been hearing those for the 20 years I’ve been here, and suspect I’ll hear about them until I retire. So, I don’t really listen to that too much. There’s lots of fantastic people here, and they’re doing unbelievable things. And yes, I view AR as profound. Not today, not the apps that you’ll see on the App Store today, but what it will be, what it can be. I think it’s profound, and I think Apple is in a really unique position to lead in this area.
Toni Sacconaghi, Bernstein: Just following up a little bit on that question. Tim, you talked a bit about providing a lot of value and that Apple sets its prices according to value, and I think given the uniqueness of the product you have with the iPhone X in particular, that makes a lot of sense. I guess the question is, given the uniqueness of value that you have in the marketplace, should we or why shouldn’t we expect gross margins to improve this cycle versus previous ones? And perhaps you can talk a little bit about how you think about pricing in the context of gross margin.
Luca: When you said we price our products for for the value that we deliver, we also said that every time we launch new products, the cost structures of the new products tend to be higher than the products that they replace. It’s inevitable. We’re adding new technologies, new features, and therefore the cost structures go up. We have a very good track record of taking those cost structures and over the life cycle of the products, we are able to bring them down. There are a lot of elements in the gross margin line that we have good control over and there are also elements that we don’t control. Take, for example, foreign exchange which has been a significant headwind for the company for the last three years now. And also the mix of products that we sell into the market tends to change over time and that also has an impact on the overall gross margin for the company.
There are situations where the commodities markets are in good shape. There are situations where commodity markets can be a bit out of balance. We have a case right now around memory pricing which which is a headwind for the time being. So there’s many puts and takes. The fact that our services business is growing, it should be a positive because our services margins tend to be accretive to company margin. So there’s many puts and takes. We tend to think about maximizing gross margin dollars because we think that’s the most important thing for investors at the end of the day. When we look at our track record over years, I think we’ve found a good balance between unique growth and gross margins and revenue. And we will continue to do that as we go forward.
And then I wanted to revisit this notion of supply and demand, and I realize it’s very early and you can’t make predictions. I think a common investor question is, the iPhone X was made available for sale, it quickly had pushed out availability levels to unprecedented levels versus history. And so I think the really significant question is, is that initial push-out really a function of uniquely strong demand versus history, or is that push-out in availability really a function of much weaker supply versus history? So it would be really helpful, you have in the past commented on first 24 hour orders for which there were four million plus for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. You have very often on this call talked about targeting when you think you could reach supply-demand balance, so it would be really helpful if you could provide some context in terms of what you know either about initial orders or about supplies versus history that can help investors try and better understand the little data points that they’re seeing in terms of availability of the device.
Tim: The truth is, we don’t know. We’ve put our best estimate into the guidance, and you can see from the guidance that we’re very bullish. And so we feel really great about the product line-up. We just sold the first units minutes ago. And so we’ll see how things go. Until you get all of them out there where customers have the ability to demo and so forth, I think any kind of mix discussion is very much estimating. And so we’ve put our best estimates in. Granted, we’ve never done this before, so there’s no comparison here with either the three iPhones nor the staggered launch. And so we’re gonna learn something!
Jim Suva, Citigroup: You’d mentioned a great success in India. I believe, Tim in your prepared comments you mentioned I think India doubled year over year? Based upon market analysis, it looks like Apple is still just a relatively small sliver of the pie there. So what would it take to be even more successful in India. Is it a manufacturing footprint there with your partners? Is it more physical stores? Is it lower price point? Is it the bandwidth that has now called up to many other countries? How should we about that. And then the follow question is on the AR/VR. Where will it really show up in your income statement? Are you hoping more for hardware sales, or services to the apps, or where the excitement will then monetize within Apple.
In terms of India, many of the things that you mentioned are correct. Growing a market like India is a result of all of those things and doing them all well. And so it’s analogous to the many years that we put into China. It’s building stores, it’s building channels, it’s building market, it’s building the developer ecosystem, it’s having the the right product line-up for the market.
And you know, I feel like we’re making good progress there and are gaining understanding of the market, but we still have a long way to go. Which I sort of see as an opportunity instead of a problem. And I do feel great about the growth rate. And so that’s India. I think it’s all of those things.
As you know, we started manufacturing the iPhone SE there six, nine months ago or so. And the majority of the iPhone SE’s that we sold in the domestic market last quarter were manufactured there. And so we also have that going, and are hoping that that winds up saving some amount of money over time and avoiding some of the compounding of taxes, etc.
The bandwidth issue has also been an issue but as you point out, it is being addressed, and between the large carriers there with Bharti and now Jio investing the way they are, the service in India is materially better than it was just 12 months ago. So there’s been a sea change there in a short period of time. So I feel good about all that, but we have a long way to go.
In terms of the monetization question on AR/VR. We tend to focus first and foremost on customer experience. And so we’re all about making sure the experience is great, and we think that if we get the experience right, that revenues and profits will be a result of getting that right. And so we’re very much focused on the experience right now.
Amit Dariyanani, RBC Capital Markets: On gross margins, Luca, year-over-year revenues are going to be up high single digits at the midpoint, gross margin will be down a little bit. Can you just talk about, what are the puts and takes on that, and are yield and efficiencies broadly much more severe this time versus what you’ve seen historically.
Luca: So we’re guiding 38/38.5, that’s up 35 BPS sequentially. Obviously we’re getting the leverage from the larger volumes. As I mentioned to Toni, we have higher cost structures every time we launch new products, so that is going to be the offset. And I mentioned particularly the impact from the memory pricing environment, which is a headwind at this point. Just to size it for you, the impact of memory on our gross margin is 40 BPS sequentially and 110 BPS on a year over year basis. So they are meaningful impacts, and I think that is what I think probably you’re referring to.
And I guess if I could just follow up on the services line. You guys talked about it a fair amount earlier, but if you exclude the one-time gain, it looks like the back half of 17 accelerated by 500 basis points in fiscal 17 versus the first half of 17. Qualitatively and quantitatively, is there a way to think about how much of this is from expanding the installed base, which is one of the three things you’ve mentioned I think, versus more dollar per iOS device that you see?
Yeah, I think it’s it’s both. As I mentioned particularly on the App Store, which is very important to us. The number of paying accounts has grown a lot. It’s grown a lot because, as you said, the installed base has grown. But also because we have made a number of changes that made it easier for our customers around the world to participate on the App Store and be able to transact on the App Store. We are accepting, for example, more forms of payment today than we were 12 months ago, or even six months ago. So that’s been very important.
We also see that there is a typical spending curve for our customers when they start transacting on the store. They start at a certain level and they tend over time to get more familiar with the store and they start to spend more. We also now very recently made some changes, as you probably have seen, to the design of the App Store and I was mentioning during the prepared remarks that these changes have been received very favorably, and so people now are spending more time on the store, they download more apps, and that over time translates into monetization.
But we also have other businesses that are growing very very fast and actually accelerating. I mentioned music, I mentioned iCloud, and so it all adds up. And as you correctly point out, our growth rate is accelerating.
Brian White, Drexel: Tim, I’m wondering if we take a look at Mainland China and we think about iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, they’ve been on sale for a while now. What has been the just general response to those two new iPhones, and also preorders around the iPhone X in mainland China?
Tim: Brian, I hate to repeat this, but we don’t we don’t really disclose mix. We view it as competitive information that we want to hold tightly ourselves. In terms of the way the pre-order process works in China in the channel—so not not in our direct channel but in the broader carrier channel and channel—they generally take indications of interest versus something that I would label a preorder. And so I would hesitate to even quote a number, for fear it could be misconstrued. And we’ll find out what the demand is and where the supply and demand meet some time in the future. I don’t know when yet. But we’re really excited to get going to find out.
And Tim, you know, it’s interesting that you know sales grew 16 percent sequentially. If you look at the past five years sales were up 7 percent in the September quarter, so that’s an average. Yet you didn’t have all your iPhones in the market. So what would you attribute that to, it’s a pretty big disconnect, 16 percent versus an average of 7.
Our emerging market performance during the quarter was very strong. If you take China out, it’s even stronger, but you can you can see that China rebounded, and as I indicated before the China rebound was broad based across the products. And so we just had a phenomenal quarter on iPad, on the Mac, on services, on Apple Watch, on iPhone. I mean, we literally were firing on all cylinders. And so that and our new products give us great confidence heading into the holiday season that this is going to be the best holiday season yet.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-02 17:40, modified at 17:41
There are a lot of new features and changes rolled into the iPhone X, which arrives on Friday. But after using the iPhone X for a few days, the one that I think will make the biggest impact on the way we use our iPhones day-to-day is definitely Face ID. It’s a huge feature that takes advantage of groundwork Apple has been laying for some time in iOS, but in the end it will triumph invisibly.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-02 14:32
This week, on the tech podcast voted least likely to succeed, the prodigal Lex returns to discuss iPhone X pre-ordering, Apple’s novel PR strategy for the phone release, Dan’s frustrations with Apple’s cloud-based technology, and the story of how John caved and bought a brand new TV.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-11-01 17:19
This week, on the 30-minute show that’s only slightly longer than a sitcom, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Katie Floyd and Daniel Bader to discuss whether we think animoji are a flash in the pan, our use of cases (or lack thereof) on smartphones, Face ID’s one-face limit, and why Android users and iPhone users can’t just get along peaceably.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-31 18:25
My friend and former Macworld colleague Heather Kelly tried the new waterproof Kindle Oasis in the bath. It didn’t go great:
Water, it turns out, triggers the Oasis touchscreen. One small splash can turn the page, change the font size, exit the book or do anything else a rogue hand might. In my tests, it didn’t take more than one fat droplet to activate the 7-inch touchscreen.
So, yeah: the Oasis’s waterproofing is fine if you don’t want it to get damaged when it gets wet, but don’t expect to get a ton of use out of it in a water-filled environment.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-31 10:00, modified at 15:26
This year, ten years and change after the introduction of the original iPhone, Apple decided to release two separate iPhone models. The iPhone 8 is the latest iteration on the original, offering improvements while maintaining the conventions that have been part of the iPhone since its conception.
But the iPhone X isn’t just another iteration. It’s the biggest change to the fundamentals of the iPhone in years, possibly ever. It’s got a display unlike anything Apple’s shipped in any iPhone or iPad, with high resolution and OLED quality, spanning more of the phone’s front surface than ever before. It’s got advanced sensors for an entirely new form of biometric authentication. And perhaps most fundamentally, it’s got no home button.
Since the very first iPhone, the home button has been a major part of the iPhone’s identity. Yes, it was the ultimate get-out-of-jail-free card for an audience unused to dealing with multi-touch devices. But it was also part of the identity of the iPhone—a circle that hearkened back to the iPod click wheel. How do you draw an iPhone? A rounded rectangle with a tall rectangle inside, and a small circular button below the tall rectangle. Over a decade of evolving technology and design language, that basic set of shapes has unmistakably represented the iPhone.
iPhone X throws that out the window. It’s all for a good cause: The iPhone X is as close as Apple has come yet to the ultimate form of a smartphone: a glass slab made entirely of touchscreen. We’re also ten years into the smartphone revolution, and Apple’s betting that we no longer need that physical get-out-of-jail button to navigate around on our phones. But for everyone who has ever used an iPhone, and especially if you’ve been using one for several hours a day, every day, for ten years, the iPhone X will be an adjustment.
But before we get to the new language the iPhone X demands that your fingers speak, let’s consider the hardware itself. The nearly featureless front of the phone is dominated by a 2436-by-1125 OLED “super Retina” display with a resolution of 458ppi. The screen has the highest pixel density of any Apple display to date, making every single interface element impossibly smooth and clear. The OLED display offers black levels that other iPhones, with their backlit LCD screens, can’t match.
I watched ten minutes of “Wonder Woman” on both the iPhone X and the iPhone 8, and the differences were stark. On the iPhone X, black elements are truly black, not a backlit gray. Bright elements still shine. And yet the colors on the display appear to my (somewhat color-deficient) eyes to be accurate, not cranked up like a screen you’d find in a TV showroom. I didn’t notice any color-shifting effects when viewing the phone from off-axis angles.
The quality of the screen is half the story, but the fact that it fills (most of) the face of the phone is the other half. When I pick up the phone, as a longtime iPhone user, I am taken aback by how there is screen extending all the way to the top and bottom of the device, as well as perilously close to the sides. The curves at the edge of the screen that match the phone’s curves—yes, the screen edges are rounded, so it’s not a perfect rectangle—heighten the effect.
Of course, there’s one large area on the face of the screen that’s not part of the display. It’s packed with cameras and infrared sensors in order to enable Face ID and selfie photography, and it has the net result of carving out a little curved notch at the top of the screen. Apple is leaning into the notch shape, using it (instead of that home button) in its simplified drawings of the iPhone X. I haven’t found the notch to be a blight on the phone, by any means—in some ways, having those Batman ears poke out of the top of the screen around the notch sends the signal that the screen simply can’t be contained, that Apple would rather cover every possible area with screen. (The status bar, once a single unit, is now split across both sides of the notch, in greatly truncated form.)
I have no doubt that Apple would prefer the notch to be utterly invisible, and maybe one day it will be. So far it doesn’t particularly bother me, though it will cause pain for third-party app developers who have to figure out how to adapt their interfaces around the notch (and the curved edges) of this screen.
A style change in the design of the iPhone X is the abandonment of the white front bezel. Past iPhone models offered either white or black bezels, depending on the color of the rest of the phone. (For example, the silver iPhone 8 has a white back and white bezel.) On the iPhone X, the front bezel (such as it is) is always black, and this is the right decision. The black bezel blends in perfectly with the screen when the display is off, creating a nearly featureless glass slab.
While I ordered a Space Gray model for myself, I have to admit that the silver iPhone X looks much better than I expected. The stainless steel frame is extremely shiny, and the white rear glass panel almost sparkles with its glossy coating. The steel frame on the black model1 is specially treated to match the glossiness of the back panel, so that the device appears uniformly shiny and black on all sides.
In my hand, the iPhone X feels very much like the iPhone 8—the glass makes it much easier to grip than the iPhone 6 or 7. This phone is a little bit wider than the 8 (3.5 mm, or .14 inch), and after a day I can already tell that I’m going to need to retrain some muscle memory and readjust my grip. Still, as someone who found the iPhone Plus design simply too wide for my hands (the Plus is 7.2 mm wider than the iPhone X), this phone feels comfortable.
If there’s an ergonomic issue I’m going to have with the iPhone X, it’s the height of the device, not its width. Holding my iPhone 8 in one hand, I can barely reach my thumb up to the top of the screen. But not only is the iPhone X 5mm taller, but the screen extends almost all the way to the top. I can’t keep the bottom of the iPhone X braced with my pinky and use my thumb to tap items high up in the interface. I suppose over time I will either change how I hold the phone in my hand, get used to shimmying my hand up the phone to reach the top, or get used to not one-handing my iPhone as often as I currently do.
Apple obviously realizes that reaching the top of the large screen might be an issue, so it has rethought its Reachability feature—which scrolls the entire phone interface downward so that the hard-to-reach stuff at the top comes into touch range—for the iPhone X. When Reachability is turned on (it’s in the Accessibility submenu of the Settings app), you can swipe down at the very bottom of the screen to bring the interface closer to you. I never ended up using Reachability on my previous iPhones and I’m skeptical if I will find it an acceptable workaround this time, but I’ve turned it on for now.
With the home button gone, Apple has had to revisit numerous gestural conventions that had been built up over the last decade. The home button let you verify your identity biometrically (via Touch ID), go to the home screen (via a single button press), kick off multitasking (two button presses), open Apple Pay (two button presses at the lock screen), take a screen shot (home button plus lock button), and activate Siri (hold the button down). On the iPhone X, all of those tasks have been relocated, causing a cascade of new gestures on the screen and new clicks on the three remaining buttons (volume up and down and sleep/wake).
The most important of them all is the gesture for taking you to the home screen (or exiting the lock screen, if your phone was locked). On the iPhone X, it’s a swipe up from the very bottom of the screen. Since there’s no longer a button for people to push, Apple has chosen to place a bright bar at the bottom center of the screen, indicating that this is the place you swipe up to go to the home screen. (The bar is there most of the time, though it disappears during movie playback and fades down in opacity in some apps, including games.)
Everyone is different, but swiping up from the bottom of the screen strikes me as being pretty much as natural a move as pushing the home button. The target for both gestures is in more or less the same location on the device, and if I’m unlocking my device, the swipe requires a lot less precision because I don’t need to provide my thumbprint to Touch ID. Less than a day in and I’m already used to it.
The beat goes on. With that gesture taken, the gesture to display Control Center has been relocated to the top right corner of the screen. It’s a more out-of-the-way place, and I can’t reach it with my thumb, which is unfortunate. Adding the flashlight and camera icons back to the lock screen (you activate them with a 3D Touch) is nice, but I use Control Center a lot, and it’s now in a less convenient space. (The top left and top center are still the home for Notification Center.)
Multitasking gestures have been updated, too. To bring up the app switcher, swipe up and hold your finger on the center of the screen for a few seconds. To switch quickly between apps, swipe left or right across the very bottom of the screen, where the bright bar lives.
There’s more. Siri is still a press-and-hold action, but it’s now on the side (sleep/wake) button. Likewise, Apple Pay’s double-tap gesture still applies, but you now do it to the side button. Taking a screen shot now requires that you press the volume up button and the side button simultaneously. To force the phone to shut down, you press and hold the side button and either one of the volume buttons. To force a reboot of a hopelessly stuck phone, you now need to do the iPhone X version of control-alt-delete — pressing the volume up button, followed by the volume down button, followed by a press-and-hold on the side button.
The existence of the swiping area at the bottom of the screen takes some getting used to, and will require app developers to adjust. Apps need to leave that area free, because the system-wide swiping gestures take priority.
Among the interface elements that’s avoiding that area is the software keyboard. It’s positioned quite a ways up from the bottom of the screen. If I had to guess, Apple did some ergonomic tests and discovered that you can’t hold a phone and thumb type on a keyboard that’s all the way at the bottom of that device. (It would certainly be awkward, but all that empty screen space below the keyboard also feels weird.) At least Apple uses some of the empty space below for dedicated buttons to switch keyboards and trigger voice dictation. With those items moved out of the software keyboard proper, other keys get to take up a little more space.
I’m going to miss the home button. It was comfortable and friendly and, in 2007, quite necessary. But in 2017, I think it’s time to move on. When we already swipe endlessly on our devices, why should button mashing be necessary for certain tasks?
Touch ID, what can I say? You and my fingerprints had a good run. Four solid years. But the iPhone X kicks Touch ID to the curb for the new Face ID system, which uses an infrared camera, two infrared projectors, and a whole lot of image processing and machine learning to scan your face and unlock your phone.
The premise here is pretty awesome: Imagine picking up your phone, looking at the screen while you flick up with your thumb, and… your phone just unlocks. A natural set of gestures that doesn’t require you to scan a fingerprint. If your phone recognizes you, it opens, and it’s as simple as that.
I’ve only unlocked the iPhone X a couple of dozen times so far, but I can report that it seems to work just as advertised. If my phone is laying flat on a table starting up at the ceiling, it won’t unlock unless I lean over it. But in my hand? I guess I have to invoke that phrase: It just works. You don’t even need to wait to see the phone unlock before swiping up—if you swipe up and Face ID isn’t done processing, it will pause until the unlock is complete and then honor your swipe.
The sensor is fast. I lift my phone, swipe my thumb, and wait somewhere between zero and a fraction of a second for the phone to open. It works in the dark (thanks to that infrared illuminator). I haven’t had a failure yet, which gives me hope that this will be a more reliable unlocking method than Touch ID, which frequently failed if my fingers had been in contact with water recently. I unlocked my phone while wearing two different sets of glasses and with no glasses at all. Apple says that certain sunglasses may defeat Face ID—it all depends on if they have a coating that blocks infrared light in the 940 nanometer range, so you’ll need to test your sunglasses2 to be sure that they work.
A feature called “attention awareness” is a part of Face ID by default. The premise behind this feature is that someone shouldn’t be able to unlock your phone by waving it in your general direction without you looking directly at the phone. When this feature is on, the phone won’t unlock when it sees you—it needs to see you looking at it. The moment your eyes shift, the phone unlocks. It’s uncanny. (Some people, in particular those with certain disabilities, may need to disable this feature, which Apple does allow you to do.)
I also found training Face ID to be easier than training Touch ID. To train Face ID, you center your face in a circular target3 and are prompted to pivot your head in a circular motion as the circular target fills in with color and the iPhone plays a sound effect just to make it seem cooler. After two of these pivot sessions, Face ID has enough data to recognize you.
I’m sure that in the coming days we’ll learn a lot more about Face ID, once it’s been unleashed on a wider universe of faces. We’ll hear wacky stories of friends and relatives who can unlock one another’s phones. We may find out about particular brands of sunglasses that are Face ID unfriendly. There may be weird cases where the feature breaks down. I am just a single person with a single face, but I can report that this is a feature that works as advertised for me—so smoothly that I can basically forget about it and just open my phone with the confidence that it will unlock automatically because I’m looking at it.
It’s a little bit silly to review a $1000 phone and spend a lot of time on animated emojis. And yet I have to give Apple credit for taking its investment in all that face-detection hardware and software and spinning it into a frivolous, fun feature that will get people talking and make people who don’t have an iPhone X envious.
Animoji is an app inside Messages that lets you record video messages where your facial expressions are applied, in real time, to an animated creature based on an emoji symbol. There are 12 emoji characters supported, and yes, that includes the smiling-pile-of-poo emoji. You can record video messages as an Animoji character and send them to your friends, or drag out stickers based on an Animoji pose.
This sort of thing isn’t new—when I showed this feature to my son, he mentioned that there are video games that will use your computer’s webcam to mirror the player’s expression. I have no doubt that Apple’s face-detection pipeline is more technically impressive than some random PC game. The iPhone X really does provide the power to turn anyone into a motion-capture actor, an Andy Serkis of emoji. It’s novel and funny. If it’s anything, it’s a triumph of whoever animated these characters. The animations are varied and some of them are surprisingly expressive. Mapping human facial movements to the movements of, say, the ears of the fox emoji—that’s not easy stuff, and it’s incredibly well done.
Since this is an unusual year in which Apple’s releasing two different families of iPhone models, it’s worth going over where the iPhone X is the same as the iPhone 8, and where it’s different. Both phones are driven by the same A11 Bionic processor running at the same speeds, though the iPhone X takes more advantage of the Neural Engine subprocessor because of all the facial-recognition calculations going on with Face ID and Animoji. Both the iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X have two rear cameras that can shoot images with portrait effects, including the new Portrait Lighting feature.
The iPhone X camera is slightly more advanced than the one on the iPhone 8 Plus, most specifically its telephoto camera module: It’s got a wider aperture (ƒ/2.4 versus ƒ/2.8 on the iPhone 8 Plus), and it’s got built-in optical image stabilization, which is only available on the wide-angle camera on the iPhone 8 Plus. And of course, the iPhone X can also shoot portrait images via its front-facing selfie camera, thanks to all the same depth-sensing technology that lets it run Face ID.
As I mentioned above, I’ve resisted the siren song of the iPhone Plus models for years because they’re just too big to fit in my hand. The iPhone X brings the power of those cameras to those of us who prefer the smaller phone size for the very first time, and I’m excited by the prospect of having a dual-camera phone in my pocket every day.
It’s worth noting that the iPhone X is not what it was once assumed by some to be: this is not an iPhone 8 Plus crammed into the body of an iPhone 8. The iPhone Plus can fit more data on its screen, and more apps (including the home screen) will optionally display in landscape mode on the iPhone Plus. It’s better to think of the iPhone X as having a slightly wider and quite a bit longer display. iPhone Plus users won’t lose their cameras if they make the move to the iPhone X, but they’ll probably feel a little bit cramped.
One other interesting note: This is the first iPhone to support magnetic cases. Apple is, of course, selling a $100 folio case of its own that takes advantage of the built-in sensor to put the phone to sleep when the folio’s cover is closed, and wake it up when the cover is opened. I suspect there will be many alternatives, too. I’ve never wanted a folio case for my iPhone, but I know some people who swear by them, and this will make them happy.
As you might expect with a device that’s full of new technology, some aspects of the iPhone X are still works in progress. Most importantly, app developers need to adjust their apps to take advantage of the iPhone X screen. (If an app isn’t updated for iPhone X, it will appear with black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. It’s not a great look.) The existence of the notch at the top and the gesture area at the bottom (not to mention the rounded edges!) complicates matters, doubly so if the app also runs in landscape mode. There will be a period of adjustment while app developers figure out how to adapt to a very different display than they’ve had on an iOS device before.
I’m also curious to see what new apps will be built to take advantage of the depth-sensing features of the front-facing camera on the iPhone X. At Apple’s September media event, Apple previewed a version of Snapchat that used the ARKit framework to dynamically place masks and other objects on someone’s face in real time, complete with lighting sources.
The iPhone X is loaded with new technology. Face ID doesn’t make the act of unlocking your phone easier so much as it makes it irrelevant—it just happens in the natural motion of picking up your phone and swiping. The display offers high resolution and high dynamic range never before seen in an iPhone. The cameras are the best yet on any iPhone, and yes, one of them will let you send animated movies of your voice accompanied by a perfectly synced cartoon character.
Starting at $999, the iPhone X is at the very high end of the smartphone world. It is most definitely a cutting-edge phone, packed with cutting-edge technology, available to those who want to taste the future and are willing to pay for the privilege. A decade in, this product reveals Apple’s redefinition of what the iPhone (and iOS) should be. It’s not hard to imagine that in the next few years, Face ID and OLED displays and more advanced machine-learning-based features will spread their way across all of Apple’s products. This is where it all starts.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-30 13:17
The iPhone X reviews are starting to appear, beginning with Steven Levy at Wired:
After a few days with the iPhone X, I can begin to make out its themes. It’s a step towards fading the actual physical manifestation of technology into a mist where it’s just there —a phone that’s “all screen,” one that turns on simply by seeing you, one that removes the mechanics of buttons and charging cables. A decade hence, when it’s time for the iPhone 20 (XX?), we’ll already be on the road to what comes after the smartphone; the X might be a halfway point to that future. And that’s why, despite the fact that the iPhone X at present is no more than a great upgrade to the flagship device of the digital age, I can’t easily dismiss Tim Cook’s effusions that this is more than just another iteration.
Levy was one of the first reviewers of the original iPhone, so he’s got an interesting perspective on the evolution of the device from its earliest days. But this is just the beginning of the flood of imminent iPhone X reviews, so buckle in and hold on tight.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-27 16:02, modified on 2017-10-28 03:40
For ten years, the release of a new iPhone model has been cause for celebration. People wait in lines, wake up at ungodly hours to pre-order their phones, and gleefully show off their new device when it finally arrives. And yet when I traveled to a conference in Chicago this month, one full of Apple-focused developers and media personalities, I was stopped several times by people who were struck by the brand-new iPhone I was carrying.
“Is that the iPhone 8?”, they would ask.
This is the fate of the iPhone 8. It will be ignored by many of Apple’s most committed followers, who see it as a speed bump on the road to the release of the iPhone X in early November. Instead, it will soldier on, doing its job as the latest iteration of the existing iPhone line, providing a substantial upgrade to people who haven’t bought an iPhone in two or three years and aren’t interested in paying $999 for the very first generation of a new iPhone, if they could even find one in stores. These people are ready for a better version of their existing phone, and the iPhone 8 will deliver that to them.
This past weekend, we replaced the iPhone 6 my wife has been using for nearly three years with a new iPhone 8. After three years, her iPhone’s battery life is becoming a bit spotty, and the upgrade to iOS 11 had made the device much less responsive.1
With her upgrade, she doesn’t just get all the new features of the iPhone 8, which I’ll address in this review. As someone who hasn’t upgraded in three years, she’s never had access to features from the iPhone 6S like 3D Touch and Live Photos.
People upgrading from a two-year-old iPhone 6S—the classic smartphone upgrade cycle—join her in also experiencing the features of the iPhone 7 for the first time. That means a massively upgraded camera system, the multiple-LED True Tone flash, a display capable of displaying a much wider color gamut, stereo internal speakers, water and dust resistance, and a new taptic home button. These upgraders also get to experience for the first time what the rest of us had to come to terms with a year ago: A one-way ticket to Dongletown, courtesy of a Lightning-to-headphone-jack adapter required by the removal of the headphone jack.
A lot of people who read reviews like this are so committed to Apple that they buy a new phone every year; it’s easy to lose perspective about the buying pattern of the average iPhone buyer. Most people don’t update their phones every year, so a new iPhone doesn’t just come with one iteration’s new features—it also rolls in features from the previous phone, and perhaps the model before that. I’ve seen that first-hand in my family this week. These are upgrades meant to stack upon one another, and experiencing three years of progress in a single upgrade is pretty great.
Last year, the iPhone 7 added some new color options, including a Jet Black model that coated the entire phone in a shiny black material that was prone to fingerprints and micro-abrasions. But that coating also addressed one of the biggest issues of the curvy design introduced with the iPhone 6: It was as slippery as a bar of soap. I had never used a case regularly on my iPhone before the iPhone 6 came out, but it was so slippery that I snapped on one of Apple’s leather cases and never looked back.
No, that last part’s not true. I kept looking back, wistfully, at the days when I could just slip a caseless iPhone in my pocket. So when the iPhone 7 came out, I got the Jet Black model and found that I no longer needed a case on my iPhone.
Good news, everyone: The feel of the iPhone 8 is basically the same as the Jet Black iPhone: It’s shiny and grippy. It’s prone to picking up fingerprints2, but not micro-abrasions, because instead of coated aluminum, the back of the phone is made of reinforced glass. I didn’t drop my phone to test how resilient it is to breakage, but Apple says this is the toughest glass it’s shipped on an iPhone.
I can see why they chose to return glass to the back of the iPhone, though: It looks and feels fantastic. The shiny back on the Jet Black iPhone 7 was a head-turner, and now every iPhone gets to sport it. On models with a silver aluminum band between the two glass panes, the back is a solid white; on gold models, it’s a very warm white (almost tan) that better matches the gold. As for the black, how much blacker could it be?3
Taking a page from the iPad Pro, the iPhone 8 is the first iPhone model to offer a True Tone display. Basically, this means the iPhone is using an ambient light sensor not only to adjust the brightness of its display, but to set its color temperature. The net result is that if you’re in a warmly lit room, the white on the iPhone screen will be a warm white. If you’re in a more blue-skewing, fluorescent-lit office environment, the screen will be bluer.
It’s a subtle effect, but it makes looking at the iPhone screen much less jarring—a blue-white screen in a yellow room seems deeply out of place. If you’re someone who appreciates an iPhone with a white front bezel, this feature helps smooth out some of the color difference between the bezel (which changes with ambient light, because it’s a physical object!) and the screen (which previously didn’t change, but now does). I wouldn’t buy an iPhone just for True Tone, but it’s a very nice feature that incrementally adds to the enjoyment of using the device.
Apple says the speakers on the iPhone 8 are 25 percent louder than on the iPhone 7, and while I can’t measure loudness in that way, I can say that it’s changed my behavior in a few specific ways. When I’m making lunch I find that I’m frequently just laying my iPhone down on the counter and playing podcasts directly though the speakers, rather than connecting to an external speaker or headphones. The sound is plenty loud for a quiet room, and I’ll often find myself just standing at the counter, eating my sandwich while continuing to listen.
Apple continues its iteration on the iPhone camera. Every model gets a bit better, and while the iPhone 8’s camera captures the same 12 megapixels as the iPhone 7, it’s got an upgraded sensor that captures more dynamic range. Perhaps the banner feature is the ability to capture 4K video at 60 frames per second, a staggering amount of data that results in spectacular video. Improved image processing in the iPhone’s A11 chip helps in many areas, and HDR (high dynamic range) mode is so solid now that Apple defaults to saving only the HDR version to your camera roll, rather than saving both an HDR and non-HDR shot just in case the HDR version looked weird.
The camera also now supports Slow Sync, which is a fantastic feature that I’ve been using in point-and-shoot cameras for almost 20 years. It excels at photos in low-light environments where there’s a subject you want to illuminate with the flash, but not at the expense of blowing out all the dimly lit items in the rest of the shot. (If you’ve ever taken a flash picture of someone and ended up with a brightly lit person surrounded entirely by black space, you know what I’m talking about.) Slow Sync works by keeping the camera’s sensor open longer than the flash, allowing it extra time to gather light from the poorly lit background. The results can be spectacular, especially if you’re taking a picture of someone standing in front of a sunrise or sunset.
On the iPhone 8 Plus, there’s a new Portrait mode feature called Portrait Lighting. This uses the two cameras on the 8 Plus to calculate the depth of the image and then apply lighting effects, including a spotlight mode that drops out the background entirely, as if the picture was taken in a darkened studio. It’s a fun effect, though I found that it took some experimentation before I could get spotlighted pictures that looked good.
All depth-effect photos on the 8 Plus get a boost from iOS 11, because the new HEIF image format allows all the accumulated depth information of a photo to ride along in the file containing the image; this means you can edit a shot later and change or remove the depth effect, and third-party apps can read that data as well. Even Photos for macOS High Sierra can apply and edit the depth-effect shots, because it has access to all the data in the HEIF container.
Now that they’ve hit double digits, Apple has taken to giving its A-series processors cute names to go along with their numbers. Last year’s was the A10 Fusion, and this year’s is the A11 Bionic. Stepping into my Apple Kremlinologist4 boots for a moment, I have always taken the names to refer to the processor cores at the hearts of these chips. The A10 Fusion chip was a four-core design, essentially creating two separate banks of processor cores: A pair of high-performance cores would operate when the phone really needed to crank on something (eating battery in the process), and a pair of high-efficiency cores took over when things were quiet (while daintily sipping from the battery).
The A11 Bionic doesn’t just suggest that the people who name Apple products are of an age where Steve Austin and Jaime Sommers ran across TV sets with their bionic body parts. It also suggests the duality that’s at work inside the A11 processor. Now there are six processor cores. There are still two high-performance cores, which Apple claims to be up to 25 percent faster than their A10 equivalents. And there are four high-efficiency, cores, which (despite their low power usage) are up to 70 percent faster than the previous generation.
Here’s the cool part, though: The A11 can use all six cores as it sees fit. So rather than flipping between two dual-core modes, the A11 can crank up all six cores if it really needs to do some heavy processing work. There’s also a new Apple-designed GPU that’s up to 30 percent faster.
The results are clear: The iPhone 8 is spectacularly fast, faster than Android phones and even faster than some of Apple’s MacBook Pro laptops. Of course, the standard questions apply. You may not think anyone needs that much processing power in her pocket, but plenty of modern mobile games—and especially augmented-reality applications—can really use as much processor power as they can muster. And that added power will also pay off down the line, when in two years both iOS 13 and its accompanying apps will be accustomed to using this much processor to enable who knows what advanced features.
Certainly a user upgrading from a phone with the A8 or A9 processor will notice how much faster the phone feels. It’s really, really fast.
The iPhone 8 is the first iPhone to support inductive charging. Though nothing is included in the box, if you buy a third-party charger (I used one from Belkin) you can charge the iPhone battery without ever plugging in a Lightning cable. Just lay the back of the iPhone down on a Qi-compatible charger, and power will slowly trickle from the charger to your iPhone’s battery.
This is hardly new technology, but it’s notably new to Apple—and with Apple indicating that it will be releasing its own charging pad, the AirPower, next year, it’s possible that Apple will be introducing inductive charging to most of its mobile devices in the future.
The question is, is it worth it? After having spent a month with a wireless charging puck in my house, I’d have to say no. Inductive charging is slower than USB charging, so if I’m trying to top up my battery before heading out, I’ll invariably prefer plugging in a Lightning cable. Dropping the phone on top of the small circle of the charging pad so that it’s properly aligned for the charge—the phone indicates that it’s charging and a small light appears on the charger base—is not really any less difficult in terms of mental focus than plugging in a Lightning cable.
I can imagine that there are some scenarios where being able to place your iPhone on a charging pad would be more natural and comfortable than plugging in a cable, but I haven’t been able to fit any into my life. (I’m also coming to the conclusion that I’d probably rather use a larger charging pad that felt more like a natural part of the furniture surfaces than a small, elevated plastic puck.) I’ve also heard many people complain about vibrating alerts knocking their phones off the Qi charger overnight, leaving them with a depleted battery in the morning.
So while this technology is interesting and cool, I’m not convinced that it’s practical—yet. With two iPhone 8’s in our house, I can see how something like the AirPower—which Apple says will charge up to three devices at once—might actually be a better solution, when placed on the counter where our current devices usually charge with Lightning cables. But that’s theoretical and in the future. For now, Qi charging is a novelty, but I’m a bit dubious about its utility.
Most people who have bought every single iPhone released thus far will skip over the iPhone 8, and that’s fine. The iPhone X is shiny and new and exciting… and full of new, untested technology with a $999+ price tag. For anyone upgrading from and iPhone 6 or 6S, the iPhone 8 models are pretty great. They aren’t cutting-edge devices like the iPhone X, but that’s not their role. Instead, they are the fourth design iteration of a familiar, reliable, and successful product line. As powerful as a laptop, with an excellent camera and a shiny, grippable design that’s the best-looking version yet, the iPhone 8 is a solid device so long as you measure it by what it is, not what it isn’t.
This is where conspiracy theories about Apple intentionally breaking old phones to force upgrades get their raw material: iOS 11 is embarrassing on the iPhone 6. ↩
Both glass sides have the same oleophobic coating, so prints wipe off fairly easily. ↩
None more black. ↩
Should I call us Apple Parkologists now? ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-27 15:57, modified at 15:59
Stephen Hackett details the higher repair costs of the iPhone X. Suffice it to say, this phone will cost a lot more to repair than previous iPhones.
It’s not surprising, really, but it’s enough to make me seriously consider buying AppleCare+ for the first time ever. If you’re buying an iPhone X, it’s worth considering.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-27 15:27
Virtues are so often a two-edged sword: your best qualities can also be your worst. Apple’s certainly no stranger to this; the company prides itself on simplicity and ease of use, but those same qualities can often backfire and yield situations where its products and technology don’t work quite right under less than ideal circumstances.
Many of us are used to technology not working right, but that doesn’t necessarily make it any less frustrating when our devices behave in seemingly illogical ways. Computers, after all, are incredibly literal devices—on the one hand, they only do what we tell them to do; on the other hand, sometimes they can interpret what we tell them in pretty strange ways.
I’ve used a lot Apple products over the last 25 years, and while they’re more powerful than ever, they can also seem more inscrutable than ever when things go wrong. Just in the last week, I’ve run into a handful of issues—mostly cloud- and network-based—where the company could do to spend some time improving reliability and living up to that self-imposed mantra: “it just works.”
Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-26 15:20
With Lex away again, Dan and John recruit a special guest—Six Colors’s own Jason Snell—to address the pressing topics of the week, including Amazon’s new system for totally not sending strangers into your house, exactly how much nudity and violence Apple’s upcoming TV shows will include, and, of course, how many James Bond title puns you can fit in a single episode of this dumb show.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-26 13:53, modified at 13:56
Apple’s not a company that backtracks easily. It’s got a lot of pride and a reputation for moving forward. And yet every so often the company makes a decision that it thinks is right—and is ultimately proven to be completely wrong.
In 2008, Apple removed FireWire from the MacBook, only to put it back in 2009. In 2009 the iPod Shuffle went buttonless, only to revert to its previous buttony design in 2010. The third-generation iPod, with its row of touch-sensitive controls, was a similar design cul-de-sac. And the most recent example is the Mac Pro, which Apple introduced to fanfare, but ultimately admitted was a mistake.
I’ve been thinking about all of these visible failures because I’m starting to imagine what Apple might do if it decides that some of the decisions it’s made the past few years regarding Mac laptops might have been… misguided.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-25 17:17
This week, on the 30-minute tech show that brings you chills and thrills, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Aleen Simms and Kevin Clark to discuss whether we’d let Amazon into our homes, what happened to Apple doubling down on secrecy, whether or not we’re lining up for the iPhone X, and if that new iPhone is the ultimate form of Apple’s smartphone.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-25 15:34, modified at 17:43
Update: Apple has issued a statement, saying “The quality and accuracy of Face ID haven’t changed.” and “Bloomberg’s claim…is completely false.”
At Bloomberg, Alex Webb and Sam Kim write that in order to try and ship more units of the upcoming iPhone X, Apple let some of its suppliers reduce the accuracy of parts—specifically in the dot projector used for Face ID:
To boost the number of usable dot projectors and accelerate production, Apple relaxed some of the specifications for Face ID, according to a different person with knowledge of the process. As a result, it took less time to test completed modules, one of the major sticking points, the person said.
It’s not clear how much the new specs will reduce the technology’s efficacy. At the phone’s official unveiling in September, executives boasted that there was a one in a million chance that an interloper could defeat Face ID to unlock a phone. Even downgraded, it will probably still be far more accurate than Touch ID, where the odds of someone other than the owner of a phone being able to unlock it are one in 50,000.
The real question here is what the bottom line impact of this supposed “accuracy reduction” is. Bloomberg’s description of Face ID being more accurate than Touch ID in terms of false positives is correct on the surface of things, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that a “less accurate” dot projector will result in more people being able to unlock your phone. (It could, for example, make it less likely for Face ID to work correctly when presented with your face—still frustrating, but perhaps less risky overall.) There’s still a software part to this equation, and way too many unknown unknowns to jump to conclusions about how the device will be affected.
Overall, though, this puts into stark relief the issues Apple has with rolling out cutting edge tech to a product as popular as the iPhone. As many have noted, there’s a difference between producing 200,000 units of a brand new piece of tech and 20 million. In time, it’ll get better as production is streamlined, but right now, nobody else on the market needs this many of these things.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-25 15:10
Recode’s Peter Kafka on Apple’s plans for more family-friendly video fare:
One thing Apple does know, though: It doesn’t want them to feature sex. Or violence. Or any of the mature stuff you can find in hit TV shows like “Game of Thrones,” “Breaking Bad” or “The Walking Dead.”
This shouldn’t surprise anybody. Apple likes to present the image of a wholesome company, and it’s not going to invest in R-rated fare—there’s a reason the company has so strongly allied itself with Disney and Pixar. The App Store, likewise, has been strongly policed—though more for sex than violence—although the company has no problem selling/renting R-rated movies, TV shows, and so on.
Still, you can bet that anything it’s going to slap the Apple logo on is going to be suitable for kids from 2 to 92.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-25 14:44, modified at 15:41
This state-of-the-art technology doesn’t simply replace a key with a digital passcode. Each time a delivery driver requests access to a customer’s home, Amazon verifies that the correct driver is at the right address, at the intended time, through an encrypted authentication process. Once this process is successfully completed, Amazon Cloud Cam starts recording and the door is then unlocked. No access codes or keys are ever provided to delivery drivers. And, for added peace of mind, in-home delivery is backed by Amazon’s Happiness Guarantee.
The Cloud Cam is a new Internet-enabled security camera that Amazon is selling for $120, or for $250 bundled with one of several compatible smart locks.
But, okay, look, is this really the best solution? I understand that Amazon packages sometimes get stolen from doorsteps or that some people don’t live in areas where there’s a convenient place to leave packages. And yes, all of us at some point or other have probably missed a package that required a signature and then done the dance of trying to get it from UPS or FedEx. All valid problems that this could solve.
And yet the idea of letting people I don’t know into my house is straight-up anathema. Amazon is, for its part, trying to do its best to encourage accountability and safety by having cameras where you can review the delivery, or by telling its drivers not to open doors more than they have to, and so on, but at the root of it, this is about giving people access to your home while you’re not in.
Because Amazon makes no bones about the idea that this is directed at building up more and more home-based services through which Amazon can essentially act as an intermediary; the company specifically suggests it can be used for ancillary services like cleaning and pet care. It’s not a far leap to imagine Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods meaning that you’ll pretty soon be able to have groceries delivered and put in your refrigerator while you’re out. Maybe that’s the world we’re moving towards; I’m not sure it’s one that I want—but hey, my tastes aren’t everybody’s. There are probably some busy people for whom this could be a life-saver, but I wonder what the costs—and I’m not talking money—might be.
The other part of this announcement that got my attention was the Cloud Cam. There’s nothing fundamentally new about this tech: Nest, Canary1, Netgear, and more all offer Internet-based security cameras. But then there’s this from The Verge article about the Cloud Cam:
The device has motion detection and computer vision. The first half of that equation is pretty simple to explain. Amazon is promising that the camera will be able to detect motion and automatically record a video clip for you to review later, along with sending a notification.
The second part is more interesting, but not yet fully baked. Amazon says Cloud Cam will send clips to the cloud for review. Over time, it should be able to learn what belongs in the house, like, say, your dog, and stop triggering alerts every time it sees the pooch walking around. “With intelligence that lives in the AWS cloud, over time you will see more advanced detection, alerts, and other new features become available in the service and on the camera itself, such as advanced audio alerts or pet detection, without having to purchase a new device,” Amazon says. [emphasis added]
Cloud intelligence and machine learning seem to be the underpinning of so many new techs and, as cool as they are, it gives me pause to hand over footage of my house, even for the purpose of machine-learning.2 There’s a reason Apple emphasizes that it does its machine-learning on device.
Plus, what other algorithms might Amazon be looking to hone here? Noticing when you’re out of pet food and automatically ordering more? Seeing that your kid broke a toy and suggesting you buy a replacement? Amazon’s still a retail business at the end of the day, so it’s always worth thinking about how its products draw a line to that.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-24 14:52
I’ve been a customer of Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program since it became available back in 2015. For me, it’s the perfect solution to the yearly tide of new phones: I pay a monthly fee to get a new model, use it for a year, then trade it in for the subsequent year’s model. As someone who writes about all this tech for a living, it makes it a lot easier to commit to getting a new phone each year without having to worry about laying out hundreds of dollars every time or dealing with the hassle of trading in my old phone.
The one downside in the past has generally been that the upgrade program is a bit clunky when it comes to actually upgrading. The first year, I had to go to an Apple Store and actually wait in line to get a new phone, with no assurance that it would actually happen. Last year, matters improved somewhat in that upgrade program customers were able to pre-order their phones online and then go pick them up in an Apple Store (though it didn’t go smoothly for all potential customers).1
But this year, iPhone Upgrade Program customers are once again back in the boat with everybody else hoping to snag an iPhone X. Yesterday, Apple rolled out the ability to go through the pre-approval process for your loan in the Apple Store app, making it simpler for customers to choose the model they want and get all the upgrade program paperwork squared away ahead of time. That way we can blearily wake up in the middle of the night on Friday and stab at our phone to order a new one like everybody else.2
This addition levels the playing field, giving iPhone Upgrade Program customers the same result as people “favoriting” a certain model of the iPhone and making sure we don’t have to go through a ton of steps when it comes time to check out. And that’s on top of the fact that customers can now get their upgrades delivered, rather than having to actually go to the store. Like other firms that let you trade in your old phone, Apple will now ship you a box for your existing phone, which you can send back once your new model is delivered and set up.
I walked through the process when it became available yesterday, and found it relatively simple, especially since it imported all of my personal information from my current iPhone Upgrade Program loan.
There are still some limitations: for example, you can’t currently get pre-approved for a brand new loan. If you want to start the iPhone Upgrade Program this year with an iPhone X, you can do it, but you’re going to have to select the upgrade program as a payment option when you go to check out—which means when you’re ordering the phone come this Friday. That could be a little dicey.
All in all, though, my experiences with the iPhone Upgrade Program have been pretty positive and it looks like it’s on an upward trend. We’ll see how this pans out when the iPhone X goes up for pre-order at the end of the week.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-23 22:54, modified at 22:55
This week on Upgrade: What if Jason went to a tech conference with a brand-new iPhone and nobody cared? We discuss the curious case of the iPhone 8, the challenges entertainment and tech companies both face when trying to launch video streaming services, and the future of the Mac as viewed through the inbox of Apple executives.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-23 21:44, modified at 21:47
It’s tough being the fan of the Mac mini. Objectively, it’s Apple’s least important Mac—the low-end, low-selling desktop in a world that’s three-quarters laptops. That it still exists is a miracle; that Apple only bothers updating it every three or four years isn’t really surprising.
But here we are, three years on from the most recent (and unsatisfying!) Mac mini update, and everyone’s concerned that the Mac mini might be a dead product walking.
Apple could survive without the Mac mini in its product line, but it would make a lot of Mac users sad. I’d argue that the Mac mini is great not because it fills a niche, but because it fills a thousand of them. That’s great for Mac users because if you need a Mac in a particular place (where a laptop would be inappropriate and an iMac won’t fit), it’ll do the job. And it’s great for Apple because the Mac mini can act as a release valve of a sort—it can do all the jobs for which other Macs with more focused designs simply aren’t suited.
There’s been a Mac mini running in my house for more than a decade now. (Not the same one—I’m now on my third, which I gave new life with an SSD upgrade.) It started as a web and email server, replacing a Power Mac G4 tower. Its role has changed over the years, so these days it’s primarily a file server with some weather station action on the side.
I’ve been hoping for a new Mac mini model, ideally an Apple TV-sized model similar to the Intel NUC design, for some time. The most recent Mac mini was designed in an era where spinning disks were required, but a new design could leave that behind (just as the previous model ditched the need for an optical disc drive). Intel’s NUCs are the right size and yet they’re full-fledged, powerful PCs. A Mac mini based on that design would certainly fulfill the original idea of the Mac mini as a relatively low-cost, small, use-anywhere Mac.
My hopes were given a shot in the arm last week when Tim Cook wrote an email to a MacRumors reader asking after the fate of the Mac mini. Here’s what Cook said:
I’m glad you love Mac mini. We love it too. Our customers have found so many creative and interesting uses for Mac mini. While it is not time to share any details, we do plan for Mac mini to be an important part of our product line going forward.
Probably the worst part of Apple Kremlinology is plumbing the outboxes of Apple executives for clues. But here we are. “Going forward” suggests the Mac mini has a future beyond Phil Schiller’s statement earlier this year that it “remains a product in our lineup.” It could just mean that the Mac mini will be sold forever in its current, 2014 vintage, but I doubt that.
Schiller used the same word as Cook to describe the Mac mini’s place in the Mac lineup—“important”—so I’m not sure whether we can ascribe any meaning to that word. Most encouraging is the forward-looking nature of Cook’s remarks—not just “going forward” but the statement that “it is not time to share any details.” The strong implication there is that Apple doesn’t comment about unannounced products, and therefore Cook can’t talk about the new Mac mini that is coming sometime in 2018.
I can see how those who are pessimistic about Apple’s current and future stewardship of the Mac platform would choose to believe that this statement provides no information about the company’s plans. But I’m not one of them. I think there will be a new Mac mini and I hope that when we finally see it, it’s the smallest one yet.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-20 20:19
So, you want to build a streaming service.
At this point, the evidence that Apple is jumping into streaming is incontrovertible. You don’t pony up a boatload of cash for the likes of Steven Spielberg and not build a streaming service. Nor do you just shove that into Apple Music, a platform which has proved to be only half-baked when it comes to streaming video.
No, this kind of $1 billion investment seems to call for a major revision to infrastructure as well. This is a serious investment, and so of course Apple’s going to want to be serious about how it builds a service. So, let’s take a look at what’s critical in such an endeavor.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-20 17:23, modified at 17:24
This week I’ve been in Chicago for a conference, and people keep coming up to me to ask if I’ve been impacted by the horrible fires ravaging the Bay Area this month. Fortunately, beyond all the smoke in the air making it hard to breathe outside, my family has been unscathed. But just a couple dozen miles to the north, whole neighborhoods have burned and people have lost their lives.
One story that stuck with me last week was about the president of Sonoma State University and her husband, who narrowly escaped the fire when they were awakened by their home smoke alarm and discovered that their entire neighborhood was on fire.
As everyone gets smartphones and drops their land lines, it’s become increasingly complicated to get the word out when an emergency strikes. Emergency authorities have the ability to make mass calls to land lines in a geographic area, but it’s harder to collect information about cellphones.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-19 14:08
Once again, Dan and John are left to fumble their own way while Lex is off doing something or other. So they discuss the new Movies Anywhere service, the news that Wi-Fi encryption was compromised, and of course, kids today and their smartphones. Plus, John has a pro tip for anybody looking to get rid of an old CRT display: lift from the knees.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-18 17:33, modified at 17:34
This week, on the 30-minute show where we’re bound to accidentally activate a voice assistant at least once, emoji maestro Jeremy Burge and CNN’s Heather Kelly join Dan and Mikah to discuss securing your most intimate photos with machine learning, our dalliances with other desktop platforms, whether we even really need real cameras anymore, and how we deal with the walled garden of voice assistants.
Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-18 15:16, modified at 15:20
Entirely new Mac apps don’t arrive that often. But today marks the arrival of Cardhop from Flexibits, the maker of Fantastical. Cardhop is the answer to the question, “What if there was a Fantastical for managing contacts?” Cardhop is now available direct from Flexibits or in the Mac App Store for an introductory price of $15, and will regularly sell for $20.
I love Fantastical on my Mac and iPhone, and have come to use its hotkey-driven drop-down interface as my primary way to view and update my personal calendars. Cardhop uses the same idea: There’s a drop-down menu, activated by a customizable keyboard shortcut, into which you can type information to find a contact, add a contact, or kick off an action (send an email, send a tweet). By default the drop-down interface shows you recent contacts and upcoming birthdays, rather than the top of a long alphabetized list.
This is an app that’s probably overkill for most casual Mac users, but it’s tailor made for anyone who wants quick access to data in their Mac address book. (I often use LaunchBar for this, but the advantage of CardHop is that its interface is focused on actions you can do with contact entries, as opposed to LaunchBar’s more one-size-fits-all approach.)
Of course, if you’re someone who’s looking for a heavy-duty contacts manager with lots of additional features, it’s worth considering the $50 BusyContacts.