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Six Colors

A feed by Jason Snell and Dan Moren


Will Apple buy a content company? The clock's ticking.

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-23 00:09, modified at 00:15

If you didn’t know, I co-host a weekly podcast with Tim Goodman, chief TV critic at The Hollywood Reporter. We’ve been talking on the podcast about Apple’s increasing presence in the television world for more than a year now, and today he’s written a piece at THR about where Apple goes next:

There are still so many questions surrounding tech logic vs. TV logic when it comes to Apple. But at the moment, it’s hard to imagine that the delay in acquiring some other content provider is related to a different operating system rather than a matter of A) Apple secrecy and B) Nobody has sold anything yet, even if it seems that everything is for sale. Apple has been rumored to have been circling Viacom for at least two years but nothing ever happened…

But if you’re watching these mega-mergers happen right in this very instant of court-approved monolith-making capitalism run amok, then you are a little more dubious about where Apple will end up when the musical chairs anthem runs out on their Beats. Will they own Sony? Will they own MGM? Will the CBS-Viacom battle have become defined enough that Viacom is on the market and able to be snatched up by Apple? Is there something else out there that makes sense to Apple — Lionsgate? Are there a series of tiny acquisitions — Crunchyroll? — about to be strung together?

Apple does its own thing, and I kind of believe that if it had its druthers, it would assemble its own slate of content. That said, the AT&T-Time Warner merger ruling is about to set off an enormous feeding frenzy in the entertainment world, and Apple has a fat wallet. It might not want to buy a few large entertainment companies, but if the alternative is that its competitors buy them all, it may not have the luxury of sitting things out.

Apple announces MacBook keyboard service program

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-22 21:24, modified at 21:32

It’s a longstanding tradition to slide out bad news on a Friday afternoon, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s Friday afternoon. Apple has announced a special program to support repairs on bad keyboards in MacBook and MacBook Pro models:

Apple has determined that a small percentage of the keyboards in certain MacBook and MacBook Pro models may exhibit one or more of the following behaviors:

  • Letters or characters repeat unexpectedly
  • Letters or characters do not appear
  • Key(s) feel “sticky” or do not respond in a consistent manner

Apple or an Apple Authorized Service Provider will service eligible MacBook and MacBook Pro keyboards, free of charge. The type of service will be determined after the keyboard is examined and may involve the replacement of one or more keys or the whole keyboard.

The program covers all laptops that use Apple’s new low-profile “butterfly” keyboard design, including all models of MacBook (2015, 2016, 2017), and all three MacBook Pro models (13-inch without Touch Bar, 13-inch with Touch Bar, 15-inch) released in 2016 and 2017. The program is in effect for four years after the first retail sale of the units, so if you bought a MacBook the day it went on sale in March 2015, you’re still covered through March 2019.

Where oh where can the Mac updates be? (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-22 13:01, modified at 13:37

Even before Tim Cook took the stage, there was little expectation that this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference would focus on anything other than software. But now, with it in our rearview mirror and a new iPhone announcement likely not far down the road, questions have turned to the future of Mac hardware.

Rogue Amoeba co-founder Quentin Carnicelli stirred up some discussion this past week by examining Apple’s current Mac lineup, and pointing out that, with the exception of the new iMac Pro, none of it has been updated in over a year. (The most egregious case being, of course, the Mac mini, which is closing in on four years without a revision.) That’s prompted some clamor that Apple should commit to yearly updates of its computer platform, just as it does with the iPhone.

There are a few things that have probably conspired to bring the state of Mac hardware to the point that it’s at now. Perhaps what we’re seeing is a perfect storm: a confluence of events, any one of which might impact a model or two in Apple’s product line, but which, when combined, put us in the current situation.

(Podcast) Rebound 192: They Can't Make Something Out of Nothing

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-21 14:32

The show’s back with a full crew as we take turns adding value to the show. We discuss the current state of Mac hardware, the ergonomics of touchscreens on iPads and Macs, and neither Lex nor Dan can figure out how John hasn’t played Pocket Run Pool yet.

AirPower, AirPower, wherefore art thou?

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-21 13:38


One thing missing from Apple’s WWDC keynote—and from the March education event before that—was any news about the company’s AirPower wireless charging mat, first announced at a media event in September of last year with a release date of sometime in 2018.

Writing today for Bloomberg, Mark Gurman says that the accessory may finally appear in September, and chalks the delays up to technical problems:

An executive at an Apple partner that manufactures third-party wireless chargers for iPhones, who asked not to be identified, said that the multi-device charging mechanism is challenging to build because it likely requires different sized charging components for the three types of devices, which would all overlap across the mat.

These technical challenges jibe with what I’d heard, secondhand, at WWDC. 1

What remains peculiar about this episode, however, is the fact that Apple announced this product before it was ready to ship. This has become a trend more recently with Apple: the Apple Watch, AirPods, HomePod, even the forthcoming Mac Pro—the company has become much more willing to pre-announce products. That’s resulted in risks, too: the AirPods and HomePod were both delayed from their original release targets.

However, the AirPower takes this to the extreme. While the AirPods and HomePod were delayed by a couple months each, likely due to either being able to manufacture the products at scale or last minute software adjustments. The AirPower, by contrast, seems to not even be in production yet, reinforcing the idea of challenges with the device’s engineering.

Nor is this a case like Apple’s software releases where the company wants to give time for developers to adopt new features introduced in releases that won’t appear for several months. There’s no software developer component to the AirPower.

So, why? Why introduce the AirPower before it was ready to ship in the first place? Apple has been selling third-party charging pads in their stores since it added wireless charging capabilities to the iPhone line last year, so it wasn’t as though there was no way to use the feature without the AirPower. Perhaps it wanted to put a stake in the ground and encourage people to wait for the AirPower? (Although with no firm release date or price point, that was going to be a hard sell.)

I don’t have a good answer to this question; this seems to be a rare misstep from Apple on a product that, let’s be honest, is hardly going to have the impact of a new iPhone or Mac. Either the AirPower team was mistaken about how ready the product was last fall (or how hard the remaining engineering would be), or the readiness of the product was misrepresented to Apple leadership. Because it’s hard to imagine Phil Schiller getting up on stage to announce an accessory he knew wouldn’t be available for a year.

We may never have a really good answer to this question. At best, you might expect an offhanded comment at its release about how difficult it was to get the execution right and how impressive the result is, but no company ever really wants to admit it made a mistake.

It will be interesting, however, to see if this has any ultimate impact on Apple’s recent strategy of pre-announcing some of its devices. Might the company be a little cagier in the future, a little more conservative? I doubt this will have any impact on a major product such as the next iPhone—Apple’s not about to take risks with its bread and butter. But it might be one reason that hardware was nowhere to be seen at WWDC: when there’s nothing ready to go, you don’t want to make any promises you can’t keep.

  1. Jason and I discussed this on a recent episode of the Six Colors Secret Subscriber Podcast. ↩

(Podcast) Clockwise #246: Things That Control Other Things

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-20 17:10

This week on the 30-minute show that doesn’t have a laugh track, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Tiffany Arment and Joe Rosensteel to discuss how Apple will sell its TV service, our favorite E3 announcements, controlling smart home devices from smart speakers, and AMC’s MoviePass competitor. Plus, our favorite bagel flavors in any and all contexts.

Imagining how Apple will roll out its new TV service (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-20 16:16, modified at 16:18

It’s been almost exactly a year since Apple hired two executives from Sony Pictures Television to lay the groundwork for a new, premium Apple video service. In the intervening 12 months, Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg have staffed up their operation with heavy hitters from the television programming and development world, and Apple has since bought at least 18 original series, an animated feature, and of course, an overall deal with Oprah.

It takes a long time to make TV shows, so we might not see the fruits of Erlicht and Van Amburg’s work until 2019. (Forget about “Carpool Karaoke” and “Planet of the Apps”, which were a product of Apple’s television prehistory, when the company was just dipping its toes in the waters rather than cannonballing into the deep end.) But because the entertainment industry is even leakier than Apple’s hardware supply chain, we learn the details of Apple’s content deals pretty much as soon as they’re made. What remains in Apple’s control is the big picture about where all the stuff it’s buying is going to live, who’s going to see it, and what it’s going to cost.

(Podcast) Upgrade #198: The Mac Is Dead, Long Live the Mac

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-18 21:53

Apple has said that it’s not merging iOS and macOS, but that sneak peek of iOS apps coming to macOS opens up a lot of questions about just what the Mac might look like in five years. Jason’s optimistic, but Mac users may be in for the biggest changes to the platform since the introduction of Mac OS X nearly two decades ago. Also, what’s up with no new Mac hardware announcements? And just when you thought you had a handle on Apple’s unannounced video service, here comes Oprah!

Tim Cook, at the center of US-China relations

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-18 19:29, modified at 19:31

The New York Times’s Jack Nicas and Paul Mozur have an interesting overview of the place Apple (and Apple CEO Tim Cook) hold in the relationship between the United States and China:

Under Mr. Cook’s leadership, Apple’s business in China grew from a fledgling success to an empire with annual revenues of around $50 billion — just a bit under a quarter of what the company takes in worldwide. He did this while China was tightening internet controls and shutting out other American tech giants.

Cook has said repeatedly that China is a key market for Apple, and his frequent appearances in China show that Apple cares very much about its relationship with the Chinese government. But as the article points out, Apple also stands to be one of the biggest targets in any a trade war between the U.S. and China.

WhenWorks is a new tool for scheduling your availability

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-18 17:53, modified at 18:46


If you’re the kind of person who constantly has to refer to their calendar whenever somebody asks if you’re free at a specific time, then the brand new WhenWorks, the latest venture from BusyMac co-founder John Chaffee, is something you might appreciate. It’s a combination app and web service that lets you easily schedule appointments with people.

When you download the app and create an account, you’ll be able to create various types of events (meetings, phone calls, lunches, etc.), setting information like how long the event is, when your availability window is, and how long you want between events. WhenWorks then generates a link to your page on their website that you can send out to your invitee and let them select a time that works with your existing calendar. (It integrates with Apple’s iCloud calendars, Office 365, Google Calendar, and Outlook.com.)

You can also add pre-event questions for your guest (such as a phone number or contact info about where to reach them). When they select a time, the event will automatically be added to the calendar of your choice.

Overall, WhenWorks is a simple idea that’s well executed in an attractive app. I’ve been playing with it for the last week or two leading up to its release. It does currently have some shortcomings, primarily among them the inability to schedule events for more than two people, but if you need to schedule a lot of one-on-one meetings and appointments, this could be a huge timesaver.

If you want to give it a whirl, you can download a 14-day fully featured free trial of the app from the App Store. After the trial expires, you can still schedule up to 5 events per month for free; a $5/month subscription unlocks unlimited events.

App Store antitrust case will be heard by Supreme Court

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-18 15:01


The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Apple Inc.’s bid to kill an antitrust lawsuit over the market for iPhone apps in a case that could shield e-commerce companies from consumer claims over high commissions.

The lawsuit accuses Apple of monopolizing the app market so it can charge excessive commissions of 30 percent. Apple, backed by the Trump administration, says it can’t be sued because the commission is levied on the app developers, not the purchasers who are suing.

So, I’m sure this will get misinterpreted as the Supreme Court hearing a case as to whether or not the App Store is a monopoly when in fact the issue at stake here is whether or not consumers have the standing to sue Apple on antitrust grounds. 1 So while it’s still significant for its implications, it doesn’t immediately threaten the App Store’s existence.

  1. The usual “I am not a lawyer” disclaimer applies here.  ↩

Making 3D Touch more discoverable

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-15 14:04, modified at 17:37

Great post by user experience engineer Eliz Kılıç on the discoverability problem with 3D Touch on iOS, and a suggestion on how to fix it:

What would happen if we decide to make all links same color and style as the regular text? People would not know what to click on right? Why is 3D Touch be any different? We rely on our vision to decide actionability before anything else. If you can’t distinguish 3D Touchable buttons from those that are not, how are you supposed to know you can press on them?

3D Touch is an interesting idea, and it does help add a dimension to some aspects of iOS, but it remains problematic four years after its introduction. Not only, as Kılıç points out, is it hard to discover, but it’s hard to demo to less tech savvy folks (“No, don’t tap, press. Press harder. Harder. But then hold it!”).

It’s also still not distributed across iOS devices: the iPad line still lacks it, which means that it hasn’t become ingrained in people’s use. 1

Furthermore, I think that some of the uses of 3D Touch are poorly executed. In particular, peeking and popping used as a way to preview content rarely saves you time over actually tapping into content—particularly when the content you are previewing is a URL that then has to load, leaving you holding your finger pressed on the device, trapped, while it continues to load. Because if you let go while it’s still loading, then you need to tap on it again, so you’ve ended up losing time instead of saving time. This is a bad interaction.

Where I do think 3D Touch works is in making certain actions more convenient. For me, the gold standard is in the Music app—yes, I know! Surprising!—where you can press on a song to bring up a contextual menu that lets you do things like add it to your Up Next queue. It saves time and it makes sense, especially to anybody who’s used a contextual menu on the Mac.

But none of that matters if people can’t figure out where 3D Touch is usable without having to rely on trial and error, and that’s where Kılıç’s suggestion of having a visual cue for the feature makes a lot of sense.

  1. Imagine if only Mac laptops let you right-click on things and on desktop Macs you had to control-click. That’d be weird, right? ↩

Apple WWDC 2018: The best announcements you may have missed (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-15 13:26

It’s easy to emerge from Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference with your head spinning. There were so many announcements last week that it can be hard to sort through all of them—and even more of them are now coming to light as the beta versions of Apple’s next updates are installed by developers and aficionados around the world.

But I thought I’d take a moment to note my favorite small enhancements in each of the company’s four major upcoming platforms. Oftentimes, we focus on the big ticket items: macOS Mojave’s Dark Mode, or iOS 12’s Siri Shortcuts, for example. But it’s in these small features where Apple’s attention to detail is apparent, especially in how they help users save time and use their devices more efficiently.

(Podcast) Rebound 191: Memoji Emergency!

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-14 14:33

This week, on the irreverent tech podcast that features between two and three panelists a week, we’re still discussing WWDC announcement fallouts, but we discuss macOS’s Dark Mode, the possibility of USB-C on the next iPhone, and then—after we get rid of Lex—a weird security vulnerability recently patched in macOS. Also, what to expect from a possible fall event?

'Shortcuts: A New Vision for Siri and iOS Automation'

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-13 18:08, modified at 18:11

Everything that is known about Siri Shortcuts is covered in this article by Federico Viticci today on MacStories:

On the surface, Shortcuts the app looks like the full-blown Workflow replacement heavy users of the app have been wishfully imagining for the past year. But there is more going on with Shortcuts than the app alone. Shortcuts the feature, in fact, reveals a fascinating twofold strategy: on one hand, Apple hopes to accelerate third-party Siri integrations by leveraging existing APIs as well as enabling the creation of custom SiriKit Intents; on the other, the company is advancing a new vision of automation through the lens of Siri and proactive assistance from which everyone - not just power users - can reap the benefits.

The article is in-depth, comes from one of the people most knowledgeable about Workflow (the source of Siri Shortcuts) outside of Apple, and has details that suggest that Federico spent some quality time last week in San Jose discussing these topics with people in the know.

If you want to know about Siri Shortcuts in iOS 12, this is a must-read.

(Podcast) Clockwise #245: Guinea Pig Hate Mail

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-13 17:08

This week, on the 30-minute tech show that features its fair share of betrayals, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Jeremy Burge and Jean MacDonald to discuss our favorite delightful WWDC announcements, whether Memoji are here to stay, the Apple news we didn’t get last week, and whether everyone should go a conference like WWDC. Finally, we propose our own solutions to IHOP’s rebranding nightmare.

Would Apple ever make a convertible MacBook? (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-13 15:48

We’ve heard it straight from Apple: macOS and iOS aren’t merging together. Instead, Apple is going to bring the iOS app platform to the Mac in 2019. The result will likely be a macOS platform that’s still the Mac, but with a much heavier influence from iOS. Last week I suggested that this makes me question the long-term viability of the Mac, but it’s also possible that Apple’s moves will lead to a world where I stop dreaming about a laptop that runs iOS because it just won’t be necessary. It all depends on how much all that iOS-originated software will change the Mac in the next few years.

macOS Mojave's dark side of the mode

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-12 14:28

Our pal and regular Six Colors Magazine contributor Stephen Hackett delves into the most prominent feature of macOS Mojave, dark mode:

The last point, “Dark Mode is content-focused” should sound familiar to anyone who was around during the iOS 7 transition, or who was paying attention when OS X Yosemite was introduced. Apple’s modern design language, the company is fond of saying, is made to get out of the way, allowing users’ content to shine through.

Apple has returned to that well with Dark Mode, and I think it works.

I recently realized that I use the current Dark Mode on my iMac, and the normal light appearance on my MacBook Air, in large part because it matches the respective bezels on the devices’ screens.

Stephen also runs down the addition of the new Accents feature, which finally brings different selection colors to menus and other UI elements.

5 Reasons Why iOS 12 Is the Biggest Upgrade in Years (Tom's Guide)

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-12 00:13, modified at 00:14

All the rumors said that Apple was going to take it easy this year, scaling back on the ambition of its software updates in order to focus on improved performance, stability and security. Those three items are definitely at the top of the feature list for iOS 12, due this fall, but this is anything but a snooze of an update for iPhone users.

In fact, iOS 12 may change the way we interact with our iPhones more than any previous iOS release since the App Store arrived ten years ago.

(Podcast) Upgrade #197: Banana Royale

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-11 19:33, modified at 19:34

It’s time to reflect on WWDC week, so Jason and Myke are joined by special guest developer James Thomson. We discuss our first impressions of the iOS 12 and macOS Mojave betas, the future of Mac apps in and out of the Mac App Store, and what new features are now at the top of James’s priority list as a developer.

App Store's "free trials" are in name only

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-08 13:41

MarsEdit developer (and my pal) Daniel Jalkut has some thoughts on Apple’s addition of “free trials” to the App Store guidelines:

In summary: none of the mechanics of supporting ersatz free trials are substantially supported by the App Store. Every aspect of the solution is bolted on to a system which was not designed for, yet is somewhat admirably being used to simulate real support for free trials.

Free trials have long been a top request of app developers; they’re something that’s existed in the Mac software world for decades, and Apple has yet to really embrace them. Whether that’s because it believes it’s too complicated, or simply doesn’t think people use them is unclear, but Daniel’s post adroitly lays out why the change to App Store guidelines is a step in the right direction, but far from enough.

WWDC 2018: Apple’s counterintuitive business moves (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-08 13:08

There’s a great scene in my favorite Christmas movie, Miracle on 34th Street, where a Macy’s sales manager is shocked to overhear the department store Santa Claus send a distraught mother to a competitor to buy a toy. But what starts as a fireable offense ends up becoming a marketing strategy, as Macy himself realizes that, counterintuitively, there’s a benefit to being seen as a store that cares more about its customers than its profits.

Apple, it seems, has taken this philosophy to heart. The company has always put forth the image that it cares more about surprising and delighting its customers than about cold hard cash, and on occasion it seems to make decisions that would otherwise seem counterintuitive to the capitalistic idea of simply raking in as much money as it can.

This year’s WWDC announcements were no exception: the company showed off more than a few features that seem as though they go against the grain of the company’s business model. But, as with Apple, there’s always a method to the madness.

(Podcast) Rebound 190: I Don't Have Thirty Friends!

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-07 18:04

This week, on the irreverent tech show which features only one panelist in San Jose, we discuss the WWDC announcements of 2018. Moltz is happy about getting a walkie talkie on the Apple Watch, Lex isn’t thrilled about Control Center on the iPad moving, and Dan is very worried that he doesn’t know enough people for FaceTime.

What will the Mac be like in 2020? (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-07 00:14, modified at 00:15

It was as absolute an answer as you could possibly get. Is Apple merging iOS and macOS? “No,” said Apple software chief Craig Federighi, with an animated accompaniment smashing down on the screen behind him.

And yet… Federighi made that comment just moments before he unveiled a new system, being worked on by Apple over multiple years, that will allow the developers of iOS apps to bring those apps to the Mac more easily. And first up will be Apple itself, which is using this approach to translate the iOS Stocks, Voice Memos, News, and Home apps for macOS Mojave, coming this fall.

While the Mac and iOS might not be merging, major changes are in store for the Mac and the apps it runs. It’s hard to imagine how the Mac of a couple of years hence isn’t populated with apps sourced from iOS. And yet, Apple says, the Mac will remain the Mac.

What does that mean? What will define the Mac in 2020?

Six Colors podcast from WWDC

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-06 17:58, modified at 18:00

Every week (ish) Six Colors members can hear a podcast where Dan and I discuss the issues of the week in a fun, casual format. This week we recorded outside in San Jose for WWDC and I’m making the mp3 available to everyone. If you enjoy it, consider subscribing to Six Colors! You’ll get access to the podcast feed and also a monthly email newsletter with exclusive content.

With Mojave, Apple makes changes inside and outside Mac App Store

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-06 04:16, modified on 2018-06-07 16:16

The introduction of macOS Mojave will see Apple make some important changes to how Mac software is secured and analyzed—both inside and outside of the Mac App Store.

If you view software on the Mac as a simple binary—it’s either approved and scanned by Apple or it’s a free-for-all—you’re missing some important nuances. By default, macOS launches apps from the Mac App Store or apps that are cryptographically signed by a developer with its Apple-generated certificate. If an app from outside the Mac App Store isn’t signed, it won’t open (unless you change the security settings or override the check).

But in Mojave, the Mac App Store is getting more expansive. For example, Apps are able to ask for permission to creep out of the restrictive “sandbox” and access files more broadly across your Mac’s hard drive. The severe restrictions of the Mac App Store’s security policies were one of the reasons most frequently cited by developers who decided to bail out on the store and just go back to selling apps directly. It’s no coincidence that two notable developers who abandoned the Mac App Store, Bare Bones and Panic, were highlighted in a slide at the WWDC Keynote: That’s Apple sending a message to developers that the Mac App Store is changing and that they might want to give it a second look. I’d expect Apple to continue in this direction with the Mac App Store in the future.

Mojave also introduces a new set of security measures for apps outside the Mac App Store. The new concept is called “notarizing” apps, which is a way for Apple to digitally mark an app release that’s been signed by a registered Apple developer. To release an app (outside the Mac App Store), developers will upload their app to an Apple server, where it’s automatically scanned for malware. This isn’t anything formal like an App Store review, but it’s meant to catch obvious malware. When an app passes the scan, Apple generates a file that’s provided back to the developer. Developers don’t need to use this approach in Mojave, but down the road it seems like it will replace the current app-signing option for non-App Store apps.

The notarized-apps approach has some notable benefits, like the fact that a single rogue version of an app can be stopped without disabling every single app signed by that developer—a harsh side effect of the current approach to signing apps. But it also adds a delay in the software release, and brings Apple directly into the app release workflow. Any technical breakdown on Apple’s end could get in the way of app updates going out the door.

Still, it’s an interesting contrast: Apple is making it easier for more apps to get into the Mac App Store, while also instituting somewhat tighter security controls on apps that are released outside the store. Anyone who wants to see a slippery slope that ends up in the Mac software experience being entirely locked down will undoubtedly see it here; it’s more likely that this is Apple’s way of balancing the freedom of Mac software distribution with the need to protect Mac users from malware infestations.

As for the Mac App Store, this is great news. While the keynote showed off a fancy new App Store interface, complete with editorial content akin to what’s been on the iOS App Store since the release of iOS 11 last fall, you can’t write engaging marketing material about apps that aren’t allowed in the store. Altering policies and providing new tools for apps to ask permission, thereby returning developers like Panic and Bare Bones to the store, is what it will take to refresh the Mac App Store. And it looks like that’s exactly what’s happening.

(Podcast) Clockwise #244: The Smooshing of Everything

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-05 21:18

Live from WWDC in San Jose, California, it’s the 30-minute tech show that occasionally gets hijacked. This week, Dan is joined by special guest co-host Jason Snell, as well as Myke Hurley and Alex Cox to discuss Apple’s AR ambitions, iOS’s new Screen Time feature, getting iOS in your macOS, and Siri’s new Shortcuts app.

Report: Multiple faces for Face ID, and Face ID for iPad

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-05 15:29, modified at 15:40

A few quick tidbits about Face ID have come out over the past day: First up, a report from 9to5Mac that says Face ID in the iOS 12 beta includes an option to “Set Up An Alternative Appearance.”

While the phrasing of that feature is a little bit odd, the supposition is that it will allow two separate people to access a single device via Face ID. That would fix one of the most annoying issues with Face ID, which is that if you want somebody else to have access to your phone (a partner, for example, or a child) you need to tell them your passcode. 1

This leads directly into another tidbit: developer Guilherme Rambo uncovered the UI for Face ID in the iPad build of iOS 12, lending credence that a tablet with the feature might appear later this year.

And, to bring it all together, people are far more likely to share an iPad than an iPhone, so allowing multiple people to use Face ID on the tablet would be a must.

  1. As someone who’s had less than consistent results with Face ID, I also wonder if this might provide some better way to train it? I’ll be interested to see how Apple describes it.  ↩

Siri Shortcuts: third-party integration by another name?

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-05 00:32, modified at 14:43


More or less since Apple first introduced Siri, users have been clamoring for a way to use third-party apps with Apple’s voice assistant. Apple, though, has been slow to move in that direction: while the company has blessed certain apps with the ability to hook into Siri, they’ve largely left it as a first-party affair.

But, with the advent of Siri Shortcuts, iOS 12 changes that.

Shortcuts are essentially workflows. (And to anybody who used the iOS app Workflow, which Apple bought up last year, I mean that literally: the Shortcuts interface in many places looks like it’s been lifted directly from that app.)

But what Shortcuts empowers could in some cases be even more useful than letting third-party developers have access to a Siri API. Because Shortcuts puts Siri customization into the hands of users, with both positive and negative impacts.

The good

The power and flexibility of Shortcuts is definitely its biggest selling point. Users being able to define not only their own series of actions to be triggered but also how those actions are triggered is the rare concession from Apple that one size does not fit all.

The “how” is particularly important, because it means users don’t have to learn an arcane way to have Siri carry out an action in a third-party app. (Amazon, for example, first implemented a “Alexa, ask third-party-app to do this thing” syntax for its voice assistant, and is now trying to eliminate what’s proved to be a cumbersome construction.)

Much of the Shortcuts feature also brings to mind Automator, Apple’s attempt to deliver powerful automation features to all Mac users. But Automator never quite took off with the average user, since it was still somewhat complicated, and oftentimes devolved into the user needing to know more about scripting than most wanted to learn. Hopefully Shortcuts will prove easy enough that even non-technical iOS users will be able to reap the benefits.

To that end, I’ll call out another plus to Shortcuts: Siri’s proactive, predictive nature. Because Siri can figure out where you might benefit from automation, it can suggest creating shortcuts and expose the option to add actions to Siri from within apps (with developer support). That means that it’ll actually be able to surface this feature in such a way that people might use it.

The bad

But Siri Shortcuts isn’t without its downsides. Most significantly, from what we can tell, the interactions are shallow: these are, after all, shortcuts, not truly third-party app integration. So if you want to interact in any way that exceeds the purview of your predefined shortcut, you’re out of luck.

Along those lines, it’s unclear how much functionality third-party apps will offer (or be able to offer) for use in Shortcuts. You may want to, for example, use a Shortcut to post a tweet in Tweetbot, when only reading a tweet is supported.

To a larger point: you’re beholden to what third-party developers decide to implement in their app—and, moreover, what Apple lets them implement. (Of course, much the same could be said of any third-party with Siri too.)

Finally, Shortcuts still requires some degree of do-it-yourself in order to put into practice. You can’t just start speaking to Siri out of the box and have it know what you mean. We’re still at the dog-training stage here: Siri can understand when you issue a certain command like, “travel plans” or “heading home”, just as your dog knows how to sit and fetch. But it doesn’t really know the meaning behind those commands, nor will it pick them up without some sort of explicit action on your part.

The long and shortcut of it

Overall, I think there’s more upside than downside to Shortcuts. For many users who just want to be able to use Siri for more than they can today, Shortcuts might very well be enough to satisfy them.

Even for those of us who still hold out hope for deeper third-party app integration, Shortcuts is a move in the right direction, and may help with some of the frustration over Siri’s slow embrace of other apps. Or it may very well just stoke the fires and make us ever more eager for the real deal to finally appear.

The small details of iOS 12, macOS Mojave, and more

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-04 21:46, modified on 2018-06-07 06:58

While it may have seemed like Apple went deep into its upcoming platform updates, there’s only so much time the company can spend onstage, so by necessity, not everything makes the cut.

So I always like to comb through Apple’s product web pages to turn up interesting tidbits and features that the company didn’t talk about during its keynote presentation. So here’s my pretty thorough list of features Apple mentions on its website for these platform updates. Did I miss anything? Let me know!

iOS 12

Automatic strong passwords. Apple says that Safari will now automatically create and save strong passwords in apps and websites, as well as flagging passwords that are reused. I’m curious how this differs from the current situation, where you can specifically tell iOS to generate a password. I’m also wondering if the company has changed its password-generation algorithms, based on the latest data about creating strong passwords. But frankly, I welcome any opportunity to encourage people to use better passwords.

Security code AutoFill. A feature I was just thinking about the other day, when my mother complained that sometimes those one-time security codes go by too fast. Now those codes will pop up as an AutoFill option, making filling them in that much faster.

More Siri features. Siri Shortcuts dominated the attention at the keynote, but it looks like the virtual assistant has learned a few new tricks, including food-related questions like how many calories or how much fat something has, and even the ability to look up a password. (Hopefully only when you’ve authenticated yourself.) Translation now supports more than 40 language pairs.

Battery info. Apple says you can now get battery info for the last 10 days in addition to the last 24 hours, which should help people get a better handle on what might be eating up their battery life.

Device support. Since the company specifically planted a flag about improving performance on older devices, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that iOS 12 will run on the same devices as iOS 11, all the way back to the iPhone 5s, iPad mini 2, and sixth-generation iPod touch.

Wink detection. In addition to being able to detect when you stick out your tongue, Animoji can now tell when you wink. (Before it generally just registered them as a blink.)

Animoji length. Recording clips with Animoji now has a 30-second limit, as opposed to the current 10 second limit.

App strip redesigned. The company’s tweaked the design on the App Strip in Messages, to take up less space.

AR linked to a location. Not only can you create an AR object that can be viewed by multiple people, but you can anchor it to a location, so it can be seen by anybody who goes to that place. Augmented reality geocaching anybody?

Photo places search. Anybody who’s tried to find photos from a specific location have probably run into issues with it not being quite granular enough. Now Apple says you can search generic terms, like “Japanese restaurant” as well as specific location names and events, like WWDC 2018.

RAW photo editing. The iPad Pro can edit RAW photos; iPads and iPhones can import and manage them.

Better portrait mode. Apple says it’s tweaked portrait mode’s algorithm to help better differentiate between the subject and the background.

Password sharing. Apple says it’s made it easier to share passwords between nearby devices. I imagine this works much like the current iOS feature that lets you share Wi-Fi passwords with known devices, but hopefully this will save a lot of time inputting passwords on Apple TVs.

Password management API. Fascinating: Third-party password management apps (think 1Password) can now let you access their vaults for filling in passwords in Safari, right from the QuickType bar.

iPad gestures. Apple says you can now swipe up on the Dock to get to the home screen, and swipe down from the top right corner to summon Control Center.

New dictionaries & thesaurus. New dictionaries for Arabic and English, Hindi and English, and Hebrew, plus—at long last!—an English language thesaurus.

watchOS 5

Hiking support. Just doing a walk is a little bit different from a hike, so good to see Workouts now supports the later, including tracking your elevation in real time.

Cadence tracking. Your running work can now track steps per minute, to help you figure out your optimal cadence.

Device compatibility. Sorry, Series 0 Apple Watch owners: no watchOS 5 for you—you’ll need at least a Series 1 or better. *looks mournfully at his original Apple Watch*

macOS Mojave

Time-shifting desktop. You can set your desktop to change throughout the day, shifting to Dark Mode at night, and even changing your desktop picture to match.

Customizable metadata. In addition to exposing way more of the metadata for a file, you can also choose which info you want to see, customizing the view for your needs.

QuickLook supports audio/video trimming. The new Quick Actions are for more than just photos and PDFs.

Custom save location for screenshots. Screenshots is one of those features that’s gotten almost no attention in the history of macOS/OS X/Mac OS X, so it’s nice to see it get some love here. Among the other improvements to Apple’s screenshots is the ability to set a custom save location.

Strong passwords/auditing. The same password-related features as iOS 12.

Favicons in tabs. Several eagle-eyed folks picked this up during the presentation, but yes, it’s official: favicons have arrived for tabs in Safari!

Mail improvements. Mail now has better support for entering emoji, including an emoji button. And Mail also suggests what folder you might want to file a selected message in.

Siri support for HomeKit. In addition to the Home app coming to the Mac, you can now control your HomeKit accessories via Siri on your Mac.

New language options. Including UK English, Australian English, Canadian French, and Traditional Chinese for Hong Kong. There are also better maps for China, a romanized keyboard input for Japanese, and an Indian English voice for Siri.

tvOS 12

Automatic TV remote in Control Center. As soon as you connect an iPhone or iPad to your Apple TV, the Apple TV Remote icon shows up in Control Center. (Instead of you having to manually turn it on.)

Shared passwords. As mentioned, you can autofill your passwords from your iOS devices.

Annnnd that’s about it for the Apple TV, which definitely got the short end of the stick this time around.

Live from WWDC 2018

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-04 16:05, modified at 16:06

Welcome to our coverage of WWDC week! Jason is at the event and Dan is nearby. We’ll be here covering the show all week, starting with the keynote. We’ll post observations on our sixcolorsevent Twitter account, embedded below.

The way to San Jose

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-02 00:03, modified at 00:08

The line outside last year’s WWDC keynote.

And we’re off. Dan and I are both making our way to San Jose for WWDC. It’s a bit of a longer journey for Dan, who has to fly out here. All I have to do is drive ninety minutes down the freeway to San Jose on Sunday night.

I’ll be at the WWDC Keynote Monday morning, posting items on the sixcolorsevent Twitter account, so be sure to follow along. Right after I’ll be doing a special post-Keynote edition of Upgrade with Myke Hurley. And stay tuned later in the week. Dan and I will be on a special WWDC-week episode of Clockwise, I’ll be doing a WWDC wrap on Download, I will be appearing at Relay FM’s live event on Wednesday evening (it’ll be posted in the Connected podcast feed), and of course I’ll be writing stuff here and elsewhere. (And everything I write elsewhere will also be linked here.)

It’ll be a busy week! See you on the other side.

WWDC 2018: What Apple's Big Show Means to You (Tom's Guide)

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-01 17:18

You might have heard that Apple is holding a big event soon — its annual Worldwide Developer Conference, or WWDC, in San Jose, Calif. And yes, there will be numerous announcements at a keynote address given on Monday morning (June 4) to open the event. But if you’re not an Apple developer (and you probably aren’t), what does the event mean for you?

What to expect when you're expecting WWDC (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2018-06-01 13:30, modified at 16:54

Here we go: WWDC is imminent. The premiere event on Apple's summer--if not yearly--calendar is a time for us to learn what's in store for Apple's software platforms over the next 12 months. Last week, I ran down some features I've been hoping to see in a macOS update. This time around, I thought I'd collect some thoughts on what I hope for in the rest of Apple's platforms, from the big to the small.

WWDC 2018: Four trends Apple is most likely to showcase (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-31 19:15

Every Apple media event is an opportunity for Apple to tell a story. The stories it chooses to tell give us some indication about what the company thinks of itself, where it’s going, and how it wants to be judged. When Apple CEO Tim Cook has waved goodbye and walked off stage, it’s useful to consider the impression he’s left you with and the big ideas Apple has tried to communicate over the previous couple of hours.

After more than 20 years of going to Apple developer conferences, you’d think that I’d have this down cold, but the fact is that Apple is always changing, and every time you think you’ve got its playbook figured out, it changes again. Regardless, here are some big ideas and trends that I think are the most likely ones for Apple to use on stage next Monday at the WWDC 2018 keynote.

(Podcast) Rebound 189: Nobody Lets Me Name Anything

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-31 14:30

This week, on the podcast that’s laying down real money bets, we discuss the arrival of iOS 11.4 and AirPlay 2, Dan explains why the furor over the Echo eavesdropping story is a little overblown, John wonders about what could be happening with cloud storage, and James tells us about his inability to play chess in virtual reality. Plus we, naturally, speculate about what next week’s WWDC will bring.

A look into the sports broadcasts of 2028

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-30 23:14, modified at 23:25

Richard Deitsch writing for The Athletic (subscription required):

You have decided to watch tonight’s game from Guerrero’s perspective, which has been dubbed Vladdy Cam by ESPN+, Sportsnet, Facebook and the YES Network, all of whom own the rights to show the game…. Viewers at home can experience what it is like from Guerrero Jr.’s perspective when Severino dials up his dazzling slider, or the angle Guerrero Jr. takes at third base on a blast from Yankees star shortstop Gleyber Torres. You can also hear what Guerrero Jr. has to say during the game, especially if you speak Spanish, which is why baseball broadcasts have been on a 30-second delay for a couple of years now.

Deitsch is right in suggesting that changes in camera technology (and wireless technology) will probably lead to the biggest changes in how sports are depicted on television. Beyond body-mounted cameras, I have to think that miniaturized cameras on the field and above the field—yep, drone cameras—will bring viewers even closer to the game.

I also expect far more augmented overlays than we see even today. Baseball broadcasts are starting to adopt live 3-D strike-zone overlays, but that’s just the start; across all sports, advanced technology will allow the games to be enhanced through data overlays and visualization approaches that will make going to the live game almost quaint. (Even now, it’s weird to go to a football game and not see the yellow first-down stripe, which is added to every broadcast.)

It’s also funny to think how television portrayals of sports can change the sports themselves. Ubiquitous display of 3-D strike zones on television have made even the most casual baseball fan aware of precisely where every pitch is thrown, and when the umpires make a bad call. The idea that a computer would call balls and strikes in a game once seemed utterly outlandish, but today the commissioner said the technology is basically accurate enough (another subscription-only Athletic story) and it’s just a matter of a negotiation with the umpires.

It does make me wonder how sports leagues will make people want to keep going out to games, though. But so far, they’ve found ways to make the in-home and in-stadium experiences work for fans—even though they seem to be diverging fast from one another.

(Podcast) Clockwise #243: Under the Steps of a Drunken Giant

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-30 17:40

This week, on the 30-minute show that’s mostly improv, Dan and Mikah are joined by superstars Christina Warren and Rene Ritchie to discuss how we edit our photos for sharing, the future of Snapchat’s platform play, what macOS features we’d like to see Apple announce next week, and whether we still use that crazy little thing called email. Plus, who will be at WWDC?

Hello, stereo paired HomePods

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-29 18:48

I have had two HomePods in my house for a while now, one of them ready to be deployed the moment that Apple launched support for stereo pairs, which it did this morning. After I updated my iPhone to iOS 11.4, I was able to update both HomePods via the Home app. (If you’ve got more than one HomePod on your network, the app will conveniently ask if you’d like to update just one HomePod, or all of them.)

Once the update had occurred, a new option to pair my speakers appeared in the HomePod settings. I picked my two HomePods and it asked me to assign each of them to a side—left and right. Mine are across from each other in the middle of a long room, so I had to decide on the proper perspective. (I went with the direction as heard from the kitchen.)

Once that was done, I was free to play music in stereo from two HomePods. The volume is impressive—one HomePod did an okay job of filling my living room, but two HomePods can do it with no trouble. Stereo separation was clear, as I ran through a bunch of aggressive stereo mixes (The Beatles!), live albums (“Peter Gabriel Plays Live”—take that, “Hell Freezes Over”), and a collection of other tracks I’m familiar with. It all sounded good.

At the current price the HomePod is awfully pricey to be deployed in a stereo pair—for half price you can pair two Sonos One speakers—but it does sound very good. And in proper stereo, something that one HomePod—for all Apple’s talk of creating a “3-D sound field”—could not achieve alone.

HomePod update brings AirPlay 2 and more, plus additional countries

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-29 14:41, modified at 15:11

Update, 11:09a.m. Eastern: The story is, unsurprisingly back. I’ve updated the rest of this post.

Update: As of 10:44a.m. Eastern, the story is no longer on BuzzFeed’s site, leading me to believe that it may have been published prematurely. We’ll keep an eye out.

BuzzFeed’s Nicole Nguyen reports the AirPlay 2 update for HomePod has arrived, and that Apple’s smart speaker will start shipping in Canada, France, and Germany on June 18. Reports suggest that the HomePod will also get support for calendar information with this update.

Other updates, including iOS 11.4, should be coming down the pipe later today, in advance of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference next week. The Verge also reports that in addition to AirPlay 2, iOS 11.4 will also feature the long-awaited Messages in the Cloud feature; both of those were announced at last year’s WWDC.

This also might be clearing the decks for WWDC, meaning that we won’t get any additional HomePod announcements at the event.

(Podcast) Upgrade #195: The WWDC Keynote Draft 2018

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-28 19:59, modified at 20:05

It’s time for our third annual predictions of what will happen on stage at Apple’s developer conference keynote! Jason and Myke compete for points by drafting picking 20 different items they expect will get a mention next week. Will there be new hardware, or will it all be about operating systems? Will your hosts shy away from picking items that have burned them during past WWDC drafts? All will be revealed.

'Star': Apple's next... something?

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-25 23:57, modified on 2018-05-26 18:10

The ever-resourceful Guilherme Rambo at 9to5Mac reports on early rumors of Apple testing a different sort of product:

Apple is now working on a new device, codenamed Star….. There’s not much information on what the device could possibly be, but we do know that it has a touch screen, a sim card slot, GPS, compass, is water resistant and it also runs EFI. EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) is the boot system used by Macs, which leads us to believe that the Star project could potentially be the first ARM-based Mac, with a ship date as soon as 2020….

The new device also is classified as a brand new device family and runs a derivative of iOS. Device families are categories that describe characteristics of different iOS devices. For instance, iPads and iPhones have different device families (2 and 1, respectively). ARM processors already support LTE and GPS, which means that the ARM Macs could be more different from the current Intel-based Macs than we initially thought.

This is more blind-men-and-an-elephant stuff, but the idea that Apple is testing a product that mixes things we think of as traditionally Mac with things that are traditionally iOS is intriguing. Then again, the Touch Bar MacBook Pros and iMac Pros also have components that were once considered “traditionally iOS”. Were it not for the report of EFI support, I’d say this was probably an iOS laptop, but who knows? Is it something else entirely? Or is it a weird test product fated never to see the light of day?

I don’t know, but I feel like in five years we’re going to look back on our current era and realize that Apple was laying the foundations for major changes.

Update: Mark Gurman says this is garbled information related to Apple’s low-cost LCD iPhone.

The story behind the Echo eavesdropping story

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-25 13:48, modified at 17:26

The story of an Amazon Echo sending a private conversation to a woman’s contacts has been making the rounds since it showed up in a local news story earlier this week.

Amazon’s statement on the matter says that this was a case of a false positive phrase triggering an Echo feature that lets you send voice messages to your contacts. (iOS has a similar feature built in to Messages, albeit not voice activated.) Usually, this requires a few steps worth of confirmation, which again, could be falsely triggered by overhearing a conversation. It’s extremely unlikely, but given the number of requests and number of devices out there, even a one-in-a-million incident is going to happen, you know, one in a million times.

What I suspect happened, as some other sites have speculated, is that the confirmation query was issued on a device that wasn’t in the room the people were in. (Or the volume was down on the responding device.)

The reason I believe this is the case is because my apartment, which is fairly small, has two Echo devices: one in the kitchen, one in the office. The living room is between these two, with doorways to both. The end result? Both Echos can hear you from pretty much anywhere in the house.

And frequently the wrong Echo responds. I’ve had the one in the office respond when I’m standing in the kitchen. I’ve had timers meant for one get triggered on the other. Sometimes one device seems to be stuck and not listening, and the other picks up the slack a little too enthusiastically.

Amazon badly needs to improve the algorithm for figuring out which Echo you’re talking to, and maybe this is the impetus they need. It’s not an easy problem: Apple has a similar issue with the HomePod, and it’s generally ended up with it intercepting any “Hey Siri” query unless you’re, say, using your unlocked phone.

The other point, as John Gruber makes, is that disabling Alexa’s messaging and calling features requires the asinine step of calling Amazon, unless you have FreeTime—the parental restrictions mode—enabled. That’s absolutely ridiculous: you should be able to disable it from the app regardless. I’m hopeful that change will be imminent as a result of this.

It may also need to improve the confirmation system. Perhaps the Echo should make sure to respond at an audible volume to queries it thinks it hears, despite the volume setting. (Or that should be an option, if you’re concerned about it.)

Some of these are problems common to all voice assistants. I’ve had Siri mishear things as wake cues and transcribe a whole bunch of a conversation, but to be fair, it’s often more gibberish-y thanks to the reliability of speech-to-text. And it certainly isn’t about to send audio of my conversation to anyone.

This is tech that needs to be refined, for sure. But I also think that assuming these devices are responsibly developed, they aren’t inherently privacy risks.

Different users are going to have different levels of comfort with the tech they let into their homes and lives. For consumers who just don’t like the idea of microphones in their house, well, the Echo or the Google Home or the HomePod is probably not the device for them.

But breathlessly reporting incidents like this does us all a disservice by providing clickbait headlines that don’t tell the whole story.

macOS 10.14: Improvements that Apple’s Mac operating system could use (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-25 12:00

It’s that time of the year when we pull out our prognosticating hats—you were issued yours, right?—and try to imagine what Apple might announce a couple of weeks hence when they take the stage at this year’s Worldwide Developers Conference.

The main event at WWDC is generally the future of Apple’s software platforms, most crucially macOS and iOS. So, with that in mind, it’s time to whip out that old standby: features that Apple’s platforms still need.

This week we’ll start with macOS, which just celebrated an important milestone, as the current generation of macOS (formerly OS X and Mac OS X) has now been shipping as long as the classic Mac OS was when Mac OS X first arrived on the scene. Seems like only yesterday, doesn’t it?

After 17-plus years, it’s gotten harder to come up with features that macOS still needs: our Macs are amazingly capable devices. And rumor has it that this year may be more in the vein of a Snow Leopard-style maintenance release than chock-a-block with new features. Still, there are a few areas that Apple could stand to focus some much-needed attention.

Go Play: Pocket-Run Pool

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-24 22:46, modified at 23:03

Every iOS game Zach Gage releases is cause for excitement. What a run: Typeshift, Really Bad Chess, and Flipflop Solitaire are all excellent. His latest is Pocket-Run Pool, and as someone who’s never really liked pool, I am surprised just how fun it is.

The aiming and shooting mechanisms are solid—swipe to aim, tap the arrows, and then swipe from bottom to top to shoot. The faster you swipe, the harder you shoot. The sounds are solid—pool table sound effects and loungey background music. The graphics are impeccable—a simple 2-D art style with some adorable 3-D flourishes. And of course, in addition to the basic solo game there’s strong Game Center support, with ongoing tournaments, so you can match your best scores against the rest of the world.

But why tell you about Pocket-Run Pool when I can show you? Check out the video below.

Pocket-Run Pool is free on the App Store with a $4 in-app purchase to unlock everything.

(Podcast) Download #56: President of Netflix

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-24 18:14

Elon Musk reacts badly to media criticism of Tesla’s products and practices; The Obamas get a production deal with Netflix; Comcast tries to snipe Disney in a bid for Fox; and cities move to tax their local tech giants. This week’s Download is totally GDPR compliant.

(Podcast) Rebound 188: A Power Move

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-24 15:40

On the latest installment of the irreverent tech show that isn’t afraid to tell it like it is, Lex joins Dan live in his office! John is still a robot voice on the other end of a call, though. We discuss the FBI’s counting skills, updates to some of our favorite apps and the conflicted feelings we have, and Lex’s new movie-watching regimen.

Apple signs deal with VW for self-driving vans on campus

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-24 12:19

Jack Nicas, reporting for The New York Times:

Instead, Apple has signed a deal with Volkswagen to turn some of the carmaker’s new T6 Transporter vans into Apple’s self-driving shuttles for employees — a project that is behind schedule and consuming nearly all of the Apple car team’s attention, said three people familiar with the project.

Apple’s work on self-driving cars has been a matter of much speculation in and out of the tech community for the last several years. It’s been hard to imagine Apple going full-fledged into the car business, in the same way that there was a lot of skepticism that the company might build a TV set.

At the same time, though, given all the work clearly being done on self-driving technology, the fact that it might ultimately end up only in shuttles on Apple’s own campuses seems, if true, anti-climactic.

The Times article lists several other deals that Apple attempted to make but which never came to fruition, including partnerships with BMW and Mercedes-Benz, and seems to suggest that the project has greatly diminished in scope since its inception.

Granted, these Volkswagen vans may simply prove more of a regrouping effort than a surrender. But at this point it still seems as though any consumer product is probably many years away, if it indeed ever materializes at all.

(Podcast) Clockwise #242: A Sock For Everything

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-23 18:13

This week, on the 30-minute show that condenses all the tech news you need, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Kelly Guimont and Michael Cowling to discuss how we listen to music, why there’s always doom and gloom around WWDC, privacy downloads, and the cross-platform improvements we’d like to see from Apple. And, as a bonus, the summer blockbusters we’re looking forward to.

iOS 12: Geeky features iOS needs (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-23 16:16, modified at 16:17

If June is for Apple’s annual Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC), then May is for stories speculating about what will be announced at WWDC. My favorite genre of these stories is the iOS feature wish list, which Macworld has been publishing since… well, since before it was even called iOS.

Yes, this is going to be one of those stories, but with a twist. Rather than providing feature requests of the crowd-pleasing variety, instead I’m going to advocate for some nerdy features that won’t be used by more than a fraction of iPhone and iPad users. Despite that, they’re still important—at least to me.

Today Mac OS X is as old as the Classic Mac OS

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-23 16:05, modified on 2018-05-24 00:59

Here’s a bit of numerology for you. Today marks 17 years, one month, and 29 days since Mac OS X 10.0 was released on March 24, 2001. That’s a strangely odd number—6,269 days—but it also happens to be the exact length of time between January 24, 1984 (the launch of the original Macintosh) and March 24, 2001.

In other words, today the Mac’s second operating system era, powered by Mac OS X (now macOS) has been in existence as long as the first era was.

Now, there are plenty of caveats: There was a Mac OS X public beta. The funeral for Mac OS 9 wasn’t held until 2002. Classic Mode continued to function within Mac OS X until it was removed in Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard.

Still, it’s a milestone. And it makes me wonder what comes next for the Mac. I doubt we will see a seismic transition to a new Mac OS—it’s more likely that we will see waves of change that gradually turn what we think of as the Mac into something different, influenced by the success of iOS.

Perhaps the time is right. Apple makes Mac chip transitions every dozen years or so, and another one may be on the way. All of this has happened before, and all of this will probably happen again.

Sal Soghoian Watch: podcasts and boot camps

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-23 15:49, modified at 15:55

Sal Soghoian was the champion of user automation at Apple for years, but he left the company in 2016 and hosted a conference on the topic last summer.

Today brings two Sal-related news items of note:

  • He’s on the current episode of the Mac Admins podcast, hosted by Tom Bridge, Pepijn Bruienne, Diana Birsan, and Charles Edge, discussing a wide range of topics, including an effective defense of the Terminal.

  • He just announced that the next iteration of his CMD-D conference will be an automation boot camp in October in Atlanta, Georgia, designed for people who are new to macOS automation.

Sal deeply cares about the people who use Apple’s technology to get work done, and it shows in everything he says and does. Even though he’s not inside Apple anymore, I’m glad he’s still contributing to the community. (And wouldn’t it be nice if there was something, anything, about user automation at WWDC this year?)

FBI accidentally inflated number of phones it can't unlock

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-23 13:03

The Washington Post:

The FBI has repeatedly provided grossly inflated statistics to Congress and the public about the extent of problems posed by encrypted cellphones, claiming investigators were locked out of nearly 7,800 devices connected to crimes last year when the correct number was much smaller, probably between 1,000 and 2,000, The Washington Post has learned.


This number was used as fuel for the debate over encrypting phones, even though the point is less about quantity of devices than about the inherent issues with providing a back door (or what proponents like to call “responsible” encryption, as though the creation of loopholes for decrypting the phones of private citizens can be considered “responsible”).

“The FBI’s initial assessment is that programming errors resulted in significant over-counting of mobile devices reported,” the FBI said in a statement Tuesday. The bureau said the problem stemmed from the use of three distinct databases that led to repeated counting of phones. Tests of the methodology conducted in April 2016 failed to detect the flaw, according to people familiar with the work.

Oh, yeah, these are definitely the people you want to listen to about technology.

1Password 7 for Mac revamps interface, adds Touch ID support, more

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-22 17:42, modified on 2018-05-23 15:38

AgileBits’s popular password vault tool 1Password has been updated for the Mac, with a revamped UI, the ability to check and see if your passwords have been compromised in a security breach, Secure Enclave support on supported MacBook Pros, and the ability to drag-and-drop your credentials into apps as well as your browser.

It’s a big update, for sure, and the first paid update for the program in five years. While you can still buy a standalone license for $50 1, AgileBits is seriously pushing a $3/month subscription plan that also includes some exclusive features like secure backup (including the ability to retrieve deleted passwords for up to a year), free access to apps on a variety of platforms, secure syncing via 1Password’s online servers, multi-factor security support, and more. (If you’ve already got a 1Password membership, version 7 doesn’t cost you anything extra.) If you’re on the fence, you can try it for free for 30 days.

I’ve been using 1Password for years, and it’s hard to imagine setting up a Mac without it. Having a password manager is critical in this day and age when so much of our security lives by how good our passwords are.

Updated at 2:22PM ET to clarify subscription benefits.

  1. An introductory price that will eventually go up to $65.  ↩

Media invites for WWDC 2018 are out

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-22 17:01, modified at 17:03

What was already assumed is now official: The WWDC 2018 keynote will be Monday, June 4, at 10 a.m. Pacific. Media members (including yours truly) received their invitations this morning.

See you in San Jose in two weeks! (And if you won’t be there, I’ll be doing the usual writing-podcasting-liveblogging thing to bring the event to you.)

Castro 3 arrives on the App Store

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-21 22:51, modified at 22:53

Castro, an attractive iOS podcast app with a really cool triage-based interface approach, has been updated to version three. Ryan Christoffel has the details at MacStories:

Castro 3 addresses nearly all of those “one missing feature” requests in a single release. Trim Silence is Castro’s take on Overcast’s Smart Speed; full chapter support is now present, as is a new Apple Watch app; the player screen has been fully redesigned; Mix to Mono improves stereo mixes that are hard to hear; and finally, there are excellent new per-podcast controls in a variety of areas.

Chapters and Trim Silence are huge steps forward; the app has also been repriced. Previously it was a paid app, but now it’s free with a subscription option that unlocks a bunch of the new features.

(Podcast) Upgrade #194: Game of Jenga with Drivers

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-21 19:20, modified at 19:21

This week on Upgrade: Myke just built a gaming PC, which prompts us to discuss the current state of the art of Windows and macOS, as well as a broader discussion of living a multi-ecosystem lifestyle.

7 iPhone Features I'd Like to See in iOS 12 (Tom's Guide)

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-21 16:03, modified at 16:04

Rumor has it that iOS 12, due to be announced at Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference on June 4, will have a reduced scope as Apple tries to focus on improved security and reliability. Still, hope springs eternal — and for those of us who are dreaming of new iPhone features, this is prime hoping season. So, before my hopes get dashed, here’s a wish list of items I’d like to see when Apple announces the next version of iOS in a few weeks.

How Apple’s big picture ventures get small for the consumer (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-18 12:48

Sometimes it’s fun to think big.

Apple as a company usually focuses on products: things that it builds that consumers will end up using. Smartphones, computers, tablets, and so on. While other tech companies sometimes put forth their moonshots—big, costly ideas intended to reshape the world, but which rarely do—Apple generally seems content to operate by pushing the envelope on the here and now.

But that doesn’t mean that the company hasn’t got larger ambitions: it just doesn’t talk about them. In many cases, that’s probably because those ideas haven’t yet reached the point of becoming discrete products that the company can create and ship. When you’re taking on a large idea, especially one in an entrenched industry, it can be tough to distill that big idea down to the atomic level of a product.

(Podcast) Rebound 187: Sittin' Here With a Bunch of Jazz

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-17 14:40

This week, on the tech show that’s sometimes three, sometimes two people, Dan and John do a rundown of iPhone SE 2 rumors (including a bet), class action lawsuits about Apple’s keyboards, cloud storage pricing, self-driving cars, and way, way more about keyboards. Also, John’s collection of vintage storage media and Dan’s extensive backup regimen.

Microsoft launches Xbox Adaptive Controller, designed for accessibility

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-17 12:40

Xbox Adapative Controller

Ars Technica’s Sam Machkovech takes a deep dive into Microsoft’s launch of a new controller designed for gamers with disabilities:

The operative word is “adaptive.” XAC’s potential truly begins with its back-side strip. There, you’ll find a whopping 19 ports, all 3.5mm jacks. No, this isn’t a giant middle finger to the headphone-jack haters at Apple and Google. Rather, these ports see Microsoft connecting with, and loudly celebrating, what has long been an open secret in the world of gaming peripherals: the community of add-on devices designed for limited-mobility gamers.

Oversized buttons, finger switches, blowing tubes, foot pedals, and other specialized inputs have long been built for gamers who can’t hold onto or efficiently use average controllers (gamepads, keyboards, mice). Recent speeches from company heads like CEO Satya Nadella and Xbox chief Phil Spencer have paid lip service to “inclusivity” in computing and gaming, but this device, the XAC, aims to do the trick by connecting niche add-ons to standard Microsoft hardware.

This is both an impressive bit of hardware and a significant commitment from a company the size of Microsoft. Time, research, and money have all clearly been plowed into the development of this controller as part of the company’s overall strategy to make gaming more accessible.

Apple’s long touted accessibility as a big part of its platform, and it’s good to see the rest of the tech industry doing their part as well.

(Podcast) Clockwise #241: I'm a Mostly Terrible Person

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-16 17:13

This week, on the 30-minute tech podcast that’s always allegro, Dan and Mikah are joined by Shelly Brisbin and John Voorhees to discuss DirecTV’s new cloud DVR feature, the one thing we’d like to see in an iPhone SE 2, whether the tablet market is big enough for Apple and Microsoft, and how we’d like Apple to improve notifications in iOS 12. Plus, Mikah can’t resist spreading the meme that’s sweeping the Internet.

Give your old Mac software eternal life (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-16 16:20, modified at 16:22

It’s been a long time coming, but having your Mac tell you that some of your apps will stop working brings some immediacy to the issue: If there’s a 32-bit Mac app you rely on to get work done, and it’s no longer being updated, on forthcoming versions of macOS it will only work with compromises, and ultimately it won’t work at all.

Don’t fear the death of your old software, my friends. Your current long-in-the-tooth favorites, and old friends you said goodbye to years ago, can live on and still be useful, thanks to the miraculous digital afterlife known as virtualization.

Tapbots releases Tweetbot 3 for Mac

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-15 19:27


Tapbots released Tweetbot 3 for macOS this afternoon, three years after its last major release, Tweetbot 2. This update features an overhauled UI, a dark mode, and an easier way to preview media. John Voorhees at MacStories has a really in-depth overview of everything that’s new.

My feelings on the update are more mixed. Tweetbot has been my client of choice on the Mac for several years now, and I’ve grown attached to its way of doing things. Tweetbot 3 feels largely very similar but makes a number of smaller changes that are going to take some time getting used to.

For example, the client now shows buttons for replying, retweeting, liking, etc. on every single tweet, rather than simply the tweet that’s selected or that you mouse over. It feels more cluttered to me, though I can see the argument that the features are less hidden than before. Likewise, the retweet indicator for tweets has moved from the bottom to the top, which is a bit jarring.

I had hoped that an update to the Mac version of Tweetbot would add the same Stats view that has long been in the iOS client, but no dice here in version 3, to my disappointment. Furthermore, the Activity and Mentions views are now both sub-sections of the Notifications view, mimicking Twitter’s web interface, which makes them harder to access, and impossible to navigate via the keyboard.

Tweetbot 3 does improve the app’s column management: you can simply drag near the bottom of window to create a second column, or drag back to remove an existing column. It’s a handy feature, but as someone who uses columns only once every few months, it doesn’t do much for me. And though dark mode is attractive, I wish the title bar would change to a darker color as well. 1

Of course, the big disappointment here belongs not to Tapbots, but to Twitter itself, which still keeps certain features to itself instead of sharing with third-party developers. Polls, group direct messages, and Twitter bookmarks are all absent here—though, if you ask me, that’s a fair trade for a simple chronological timeline that’s ad-free.

Despite it being 2018, I’m sure there will be some fuss that Tweetbot 3 is a brand new $10 purchase from the Mac App Store, regardless of whether or not you own a previous version of the app. I’m not one to begrudge developers their income, especially as Tweebot 2 was a free update from the original Tweetbot. Shelling out $10 every six years or so is more than reasonable to me.

Though I’m not sold on all of Tweetbot 3’s changes yet, I figure I’ll spend a while using the new app before I decide whether it’ll truly become my new Twitter client of choice.

  1. I also miss the square icon. I’m going to be spending some extra time hunting in the Dock for the next week or so, I’m sure.  ↩

ZTE: Sanctions breaker, job creator?

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-15 17:00, modified at 17:01

The story of Chinese phone maker ZTE, which last month was banned from using American components or operating in America for seven years, was already strange. Despite international sanctions, ZTE sold electronics to Iran and North Korea. That was bad, so ZTE was punished, and in a settlement ZTE agreed to pay $1.19 billion in fines and would reprimand ZTE staff and executives who participated in the sales and cancel their bonuses. But ZTE was allowed to continue to sell technology in the United States.

In yet another example that it’s always the cover-up that gets you, it turns out that ZTE didn’t actually reprimand employees or cancel their bonuses. So the U.S. Commerce Department restored the punishments that had been suspended in the settlement. Given the importance of Qualcomm processors and Google services to its phone business, this left ZTE on the brink of collapse.

You probably already know what happened next: the President of the United States tweeted that “too many jobs in China [would be] lost” if ZTE went under, and instructed the Commerce Department to “get it done” regarding getting ZTE back in business.

Paul Mozur and Raymond Zhong in the New York Times:

The overture appeared to be off-key for an administration that has been reliably strident on what it has called unfair Chinese trade practices. Mr. Trump’s concern in his tweet about Chinese jobs — which echoed Beijing’s talking point on the issue — also runs counter to his vows to restore American jobs lost to China.

“Given his pressure on Beijing on trade, I don’t understand his concern for Chinese jobs” in the tweet, said Adam Segal, a technology and security expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. It “goes against the steady stream of security warnings about ZTE,” he added.

There’s a lot mixed up in this story—ongoing trade-war saber rattling between the U.S. and China, the invalidation by the President of the Iran nuclear deal that restores the sanctions that ZTE violated in selling technology to Iran, concerns over Chinese influence over technological and networking infrastructures that led to the rejection of the Broadcom-Qualcomm merger 1, and even the posturing over the forthcoming summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

Still, it’s quite a thing to wake up one morning and see a president who has repeatedly talked about a fear of American jobs being lost to China and was critical of the lifting of sanctions on Iran suddenly declare that Chinese jobs need to be saved at a company that not only ignored the sanctions on Iran, but violated its own settlement agreement in order to reward the employees who broke those sanctions.

  1. Qualcomm’s stock was up on report that its trading partner might survive. ↩

(Podcast) Upgrade #193: This is Stephen Hackett's Fault

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-14 19:02

This week on Upgrade: The 25th anniversary of BBEdit and a visit with a friend lead Jason to take a deep dive into Mac history, Google shows a disappointing lack of forethought in its AI demo, and the future of TV is apparently Apple’s TV app.

NES and SNES Classic back, to be available through the end of the year

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-14 13:40

The Verge’s Sam Byford:

Nintendo has announced the date for its re-release of its re-release of the NES, the NES Classic Edition. The console, which sold out immediately upon its debut in November 2016, will return to store shelves on June 29th, and Nintendo expects it — along with the SNES Classic Edition — to be available through the end of the year,

If you missed your chance to get one, you’ll have another, as promised. But I’m still hoping for an N64 Classic one of these days.

BBEdit turns 25 (or 26, who's counting?)

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-11 22:33, modified at 22:39

Six years ago I was in a Berlin hotel room when I wrote about the 20th anniversary of the first release of BBEdit, the program I still use most often to write most of my stuff. Now it’s somehow time for the 25th anniversary of the app—or, more accurately, the 25th anniversary of the first commercial release of BBEdit, version 2.5. (The previous year Rich Siegel released a free version, which was the anniversary I was celebrating back in 2012.)

I probably started using BBEdit at MacUser in the mid-1990s, thanks to the influence of a “prince of insufficient light”, Stephan Somogyi. I’ve been using it ever since. At this point that means I’ve been a user for 88 percent of BBEdit’s lifetime, which may still make me a new user.

I’ve probably written millions of words using it. I’ve sorted and pattern-matched thousands more. It made the transition from Classic Mac OS to OS X, from 68000 to PowerPC to Intel, and kept winning awards and finding loyal customers along the way. Just the other day I found a souvenir from the astounding 10th anniversary of BBEdit—now itself a collectors item! In fact, I wrote most of this post in BBEdit 2 on an emulator on my iMac Pro, all thanks to me unearthing that CD. And coincidentally, I spent a couple of hours yesterday doing some heavy lifting of large text files—sorting, collating, and running grep search-and-replace operations—so I was already appreciating the versatility of BBEdit when the anniversary was pointed out to me.

Anyway, what I’m saying is that BBEdit keeps going strong.

The iMac’s lasting legacy (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-11 12:29

Plenty has already been said about the 20th anniversary of the iMac, the computer that played an instrumental role in bringing Apple back from the brink. But the legacy of the Bondi Blue iMac is still with us in many ways today—not just in the computer that shares its name, but in an overriding philosophy that Apple continues to exemplify across its product line.

If you wanted an indication of how Apple would be doing business in 2018, you could do worse than cast back two decades and look at the decisions that it made when it produced that first iMac. (A machine that itself took a page directly out of Apple’s own playbook for the original Macintosh back in 1984.) The line is anything but subtle.

(Podcast) Rebound 186: I Enjoy Setting Up Routers

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-10 14:30

This week may have seemed slow at times, but it really heats up when we start talking networking hardware. We discuss Apple’s patent for a round watch face and why SOMEONE isn’t wearing their Apple Watch anymore. Then, some reminiscences about the 20-year-old iMac, and Apple’s discontinuation of the AirPort line. Finally, a quick wrist check before we go.

Bloomberg: Apple to start selling third-party subscriptions via TV app

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-09 21:05

Lucas Shaw, Gerry Smith, and Mark Gurman at Bloomberg talk to the ever popular “people familiar with the matter”:

For the first time, Apple plans to begin selling subscriptions to certain video services directly via its TV app, rather than asking users to subscribe to them through apps individually downloaded from the App Store, according to people familiar with the matter.

Apple has let you purchase subscriptions for many video streaming services via your iTunes account for a while now, so this is kind of the next logical step.

But it also speaks to a larger challenge: Apple’s spent a lot of time and effort trying to figure out how to do video subscriptions over the last few decades, and it’s hit obstacle after obstacle. In some ways, this latest approach would seem to be the path of least resistance—it’s pretty close to what Amazon offers.

I’m on record as thinking the TV app is a good idea, though it at times feels not quite fully baked. (The thumbnails that appear on the top have no episode titles, and resuming playback where you left off is at the whim of the app.) I’m not sure that subscriptions would improve it, but they’ll definitely surface the option in a more logical way than having to hunt them down through the App Store—and it’s a plus for all the services who want more users, too. So everybody possibly wins?

(Podcast) Clockwise #240: Just the Downfall of Humanity

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-09 18:06

This week, on the 30-minute tech show that (spoiler) sometimes has more material than fits in 30 minutes, Dan and Mikah are joined by podcast superstars Stephen Hackett and Aleen Simms to discuss Google’s new creepy/cool AI phone calls, the iMac turning 20, Apple’s USB-disabling security move, and app developers’ revenue percentage.

Plus, don’t miss the bonus topic on theme parks that we couldn’t quite fit into the main episode.

The iMac arrived 'Just in Time'

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-09 17:24, modified at 17:26

This is a simply amazing piece by Horace Deidu about the history of computing and the iMac’s place in it:

The iMac is a historically significant machine. It allowed Apple to start on a new trajectory…. iMac’s design screamed “consumer product” which went from signaling inferiority to superiority. It set a standard for novelty, creativity and dynamism in the category that was considered second-rate….

The question for today is what is the new iMac? What is the enabler for change? It’s not easy to spot. It is not the thing of the future but it points to the future.

Come for the insightful analysis, but be sure to linger over the mind-blowing charts.

'Hi, this is a Google assistant'

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-09 17:19, modified at 17:23

Drew Harwell at the Washington Post:

The technology, debuted at Google’s I/O developer conference, could be a huge convenience for anyone who hates picking up the phone. But it is also raising some thorny questions about the ethics of using a machine to copy a person’s voice, carry out commands - and potentially deceive the unsuspecting listener on the other side…

“We want to be clear about the intent of the call so businesses understand the context,” Google engineers said. “We’ll be experimenting with the right approach over the coming months.”

Disclosure sure seems like the right approach here. One of the things about the demo that was distasteful is that it felt like a high-tech prank call, a Google-powered “Crank Yankers”: We were, at some level, meant to laugh at the people on the other end of the line for being fooled into thinking they were talking to a real human being, thanks to the inserted “ums” and sentences ending in uptalk. They were the butt of a joke, made by one of the most powerful companies in the world.

On the phone, nobody knows you're a robot

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-09 17:10, modified at 17:31

The Verge’s Natt Garun has some thoughts about Google Duplex, a service previewed yesterday that uses Google’s voice-assistant technology to talk to real people in order to book services on your behalf:

The demo was stunning, both because of how human this next-level chatbot sounded and how dystopian the world would be with our robot imposters flooding the phone lines. But as I walked out of the conference yesterday, I couldn’t stop thinking about the person on the other end of the line. When did human service workers become Google’s to experiment on?

There’s an awful lot to process about Google Duplex. It’s a remarkable tech demo, though I retain a great deal of skepticism about how well it would actually work in practice. But after the first squees of delight at how surprisingly well the software interfaced with the real human being on the other end of the line, a disquiet settled in.

Does Google think it’s ethical for computers to pretend to be people? Is it right that service workers are now expected to navigate the strange behavior of computer software posing as a human being as a part of their job? Is it appropriate for Google to use any means possible to bash its way into the one small portion of the world’s economy that has not yet been taken over by an IP-connected API endpoint? Are minimum-wage restaurant workers the new edge in Edge Computing? Is the inability to book haircut appointments via a web form worth the attention of Google’s technical prowess?

It was a great demo that showed off just how brilliant Google is at technology… and how bad it is at not being creepy.

(There’s another good piece at The Verge by James Vincent about this issue.)

iMac at 20: The reaction after the 1998 iMac introduction (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-09 15:15, modified at 15:16

I was working at home when I got the message: The entire Macworld editorial staff needed to gather in a conference room in a couple of hours. Apple had announced something huge and we needed to react immediately.

Exporting MP3 files from Ferrite Recording Studio

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-08 00:08, modified at 15:01

Back before all the MP3 patents expired, my favorite iOS podcast editing app, Ferrite Recording Studio, couldn’t export MP3 files. Instead, I tried various alternative methods, including using the Auphonic service and various other iOS apps that didn’t seem to care so much about potential outstanding patents.

The good news is, the patents lapsed and Ferrite now supports MP3 exporting. Not only can you set it to export at various MP3 quality levels—bit rate, stereo or mono, and CBR (most compatible) or VBR, but you can enter MP3 tags and show art, and even optionally embed chapter markers with links and custom art. There’s even an automatic volume adjustment feature that will level the volume of your file so that everyone sounds like they’re speaking at the same volume.

Here! Let me show you a video.

If you want a great, low-cost, full-featured editing app for podcasts, I can’t recommend Ferrite Recording Studio enough.

(Podcast) Upgrade #192: People Like Colors and Fun

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-07 19:22, modified at 19:23

This week on Upgrade: The 20th anniversary of the iMac prompts a discussion of how it changed Apple and continues to define how Apple designs products, Jason has a theory about why so many people thought iPhone X sales were crashing when they weren’t, and Upstream ponders the Arrested Development “remix edition.”

iPhones Rumors: What you might find (or miss) in the next iPhone (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-07 14:24

The old Apple adage says it’s never too early to start speculating about the new iPhone. Here we are in May, a month still to go before Apple’s next major announcements at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference, and already, the rumors are flying fast and furious about the company’s next unveiling after that.

So, as I like to do on occasion, it’s time to round up a few of the most prominent rumors about Apple’s next iPhone and consider how they might affect Apple’s smartphone line. And because every good roundup should have a theme, let’s call this one “included (or not).”

The original iMac: 20 years since Apple changed its fate

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-06 13:54, modified on 2018-05-07 18:17

The original iMac. (Photo courtesy Stephen Hackett.)

20 years ago today, Steve Jobs (the interim CEO of Apple) stood on the same stage from which he introduced the original Macintosh, and spent the first half-hour of his presentation trying to convince the world that Apple was no longer failing.

There were charts about employee retention. There were signs of promising Mac sales. There were the recently announced Power Mac G3 and PowerBook G3, models that had a little more flair than previous ones. There was a lot of talk about how the PowerPC processors in the Mac product line were way better than the competition, Intel’s Pentium II.

But after all of that justification for Apple’s continued existence, Jobs pulled a sheet off of the product that would truly turn around Apple’s fortunes once and for all. With the sweep of an arm, Jobs unveiled the iMac and Apple went from being a troubled maker of oddball products to a tech company on the rise, for 20 years and counting.

It’s hard to believe today that a Steve Jobs product presentation would be met with indifference, but there was a huge amount of skepticism about Apple’s product announcements back in early 1998. Though there were definitely signs that the company was turning it around, I also recall being summoned to Apple product events where nothing much at all was announced. Regardless, only the editor in chief of Macworld, Andy Gore, even bothered to go to the announcement at the Flint Center that day.

As soon as the event ended, I got a phone call—I was working at home that day—and was told to immediately get in to the office, for an all-hands-on-deck meeting, because Apple had announced a new computer that was going to change everything. I have to give Andy credit—the moment he saw the iMac he knew it was going to be huge. We tore up our magazine issue in the matter of about a day in order to get first word about the iMac out to people in the days before instant Apple news was a thing.

In the late 90s the perception was that the Mac was a weird, incompatible device, popular in corporate design departments and portions of education and pretty much nowhere else. And that was not a mistaken perception. In the 80s and 90s a lot of home-computer sales were driven by the idea that you could use your PC to bring work home. That computer at work was almost certainly a PC running DOS or Windows.

But with the rise of the Internet, someone at Apple realized that there was suddenly a huge opportunity to sell people an appliance to let them get online. That was the core idea of the Jeff Goldbum-narrated “There’s No Step Three” TV ad: Plug in the iMac, plug in a phone line, and that’s it—you’re on the Internet. That concept put the “i” prefix in Apple’s product dictionary, where it remains to this day.

Apple’s bold choice to rip out all of the Mac’s traditional ports—Mac serial, Apple Desktop Bus, and SCSI—and replace it with the USB standard that was just starting to emerge in the PC world, was also helpful. It made all of us longtime Mac users cringe—you think the iPhone losing its headphone jack was tough?—but in a stroke it made the iMac compatible with a huge range of peripherals previously only designed to be used on PCs, and it made accessory manufacturers happy because with a low amount of effort the stuff they were making for PCs could now also be sold to new iMac users.

It was very clear, in the days after the announcement, that there would be a lot of those new iMac users. The iMac wasn’t a computer for the existing Mac user base (though we all came along as well, in the end), but for a whole new group—this was a true renewal of the promise, made 14 years earlier, that the Mac was a “computer for the rest of us.”

Jason’s car.

That original iMac “Elroy” enclosure was radical in an era where all computers were boxy and beige. It was hugely influential on what was to come—both in freeing designers to be more whimsical, with curves and colors and translucency, and in leading to an infestation of translucent blue plastic stuff in the lives of everyone during the late 90s and early 2000s. If you were a plastics manufacturer, translucency and bright colors immediately went into your brochure—because you haven’t lived until you’ve bought an orange semi-clear clock radio.

In fact, as I wrote this article I realized just how far the iMac’s design legacy has gone. My family owns a bright blue first-generation Nissan Leaf. I realize now that for the last year I’ve been driving around an iMac G3.

The definitive Mac, and beyond

The original iMac was underpowered and underfeatured by the standards of the time—power users cringed at the lack of writeable-media support in an era where we were still moving things around on floppies and Zip disks, USB was slow and FireWire was still on the horizon, and even the iMac’s G3 processor was middling—but at $1299 it was still a great product. It rapidly became the definitive Mac model, the representative of Apple’s revived brand until the iPod eclipsed it four or five years later.

Over the years, the iMac became the mainstream Mac desktop model, both because it became more capable and because Apple’s professional desktop lines (the Power Mac/Mac Pro) became increasingly expensive and targeted at the highest end of the market. In 1998 I was excited by the iMac but wouldn’t be caught dead using one myself (I was a Power Mac person all the way); ten years later the computer we bought for our house was an iMac. And today, the iMac has evolved to encompass a massive range of needs, from a low-cost 21.5-inch model up to the most powerful Mac yet made, the iMac Pro.

The history of the iMac is also a history of all the technologies that have evolved in the computer industry in the past two decades. The iMac design turned flat as soon as LCD displays became mainstream; once computer parts were miniaturized enough for Apple to hide them right behind the screen, the computer disappeared altogether. Over the years the iMac has become thinner and more power efficient, ditched the optical-disc drive, and with the iMac Pro, has even kicked out space for spinning hard drives altogether.

For a while now, most of the Macs Apple sells have been laptops. The iMac no longer defines the Mac, though it does still hold an important place on the desks and tables of its users. Likewise, the Mac itself no longer defines Apple, with the success of the iPhone and other products like the iPad and Apple Watch changing how the company sees itself and how it’s seen by others.

Sitting in the Flint Center in 1998, it would have been impossible to imagine the Apple of 2018. But without that day, and the product that Steve Jobs unveiled on that stage, it’s hard to imagine that Apple would have ever had the chance to become what it is today.

(Hear more about the iMac in this podcast I did with Stephen Hackett, and read much more about it at the excellent 512 Pixels page about the iMac G3.)

How Critics Got the iPhone X 'Panic' Story So Very Wrong (Tom's Guide)

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-03 18:35, modified at 18:37

Apple has always been a company in the spotlight, but the runaway success of the iPhone has made it far more important than it ever was before. Apple generates twice the revenue it generated seven years ago, largely thanks to the iPhone.

But lately there’s been a lot of doubt about the iPhone. The release of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in late 2014 led to three straight quarters where growth surpassed 50 percent. It was huge—but unsustainable. iPhone sales shrunk, then began to grow slowly again. This year the scuttlebutt from industry sources was that the iPhone X was a flop, and that Apple’s status in the Chinese phone market was shaky.

With the release of Apple’s quarterly results on Tuesday, though, Apple and the iPhone are still riding high. The doubts of analysts have been kept at bay, at least temporarily. The fact is, it’s good to be in the smartphone business, and Apple knows it better than anyone. “I think the smartphone is best market for a consumer product company in the history of the world,” Apple CEO Tim Cook said on Tuesday. “It’s a terrific market and we’re proud to be a part of it.”

(Podcast) Download #53: Horizontal Integration of Relationships

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-03 18:33, modified at 18:34

This week on Download: T-Mobile and Sprint take another run at merging together; Facebook releases its standalone VR headset, gets into the dating game, and offers some data opt outs; and the gig economy takes a body blow.

(Podcast) Rebound 185: So Many Results

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-03 14:30

This week, on the irreverent tech show that’s just rife with predictions about Apple financials that have already happened, the crew discusses not only the potential for the company’s latest many and varied results, but the hot topic of cross-platform frameworks and the implication for touchscreen Macs and simplifying development between Apple’s devices. Also keyboards, Lex’s new MacBook, and even Apple’s possible VR/AR project.

(Podcast) Clockwise #239: Clippy Wearing a Stethoscope

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-02 18:50

This week, on the 30-minute show that has a 99-percent on-time rating, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Jeffrey Marsh and Florence Ion to discuss clip-on smartphone cameras, Facebook’s plans to deal with hate speech via AI, how consumer tech can improve our health, and our feelings on smart doorbells and privacy. Plus, everything you want to know about our plants.

5 takeaways from Apple's record second-quarter 2018 results (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-01 23:07, modified at 23:11

We shouldn’t be surprised anymore. It seems like almost every quarter, some report appears that calls into question the ability of Apple to keep on a roll with huge revenue numbers, massive profits, a big pile of cash, and yes, big iPhone sales. And almost every quarter, Apple bats away those reports and reveals numbers that make Wall Street lose its mind.

Well, it happened again. Amid numerous reports that Apple was slashing its purchases of components it uses in the iPhone X, Apple announced… a record financial quarter, with $61.1 billion in revenue. iPhone signs were pretty good, and other parts of the business were even better. Since this federally-mandated disclosure of data (and the accompanying hour-long conference call that Apple CEO Tim Cook and CFO Luca Maestri have with select financial analysts) offers one of our best views into how Apple’s business is doing, it’s worth looking at the most interesting things to come out of Tuesday’s results.

Apple posts record Q2 profit: charts, live tweets

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-01 20:00, modified at 22:01


Apple on Tuesday reported results for its biggest fiscal second quarter ever, with $61.1 billion in revenue. The iPhone X continued to be Apple’s single best selling iPhone model throughout the quarter, and Apple sold 52.2 million iPhones in total, though the average selling price of an iPhone dipped to $728, down from $796 last quarter, potentially indicating reduced demand for iPhone X compared to the rest of the product line after its initial release last quarter.



Review: Koss Porta Pro Wireless are the classic headphones plus Bluetooth

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-01 13:00, modified on 2018-05-03 14:44

Koss Porta Pro Wireless

The removal of the headphone jack on the iPhone 7 and later have presented a pretty significant change to the way many of us listen to audio on our smartphones. As someone who’s never been happy with Apple’s own earbuds, neither its Lightning-based headphones nor the AirPods have appealed. That left me as one of those hold-outs, using Apple’s Lightning-to-headphone adapter to connect to my venerable Koss Porta Pro headphones.

It wasn’t an ideal state of affairs: the adapter’s small and easy to lose, and every time I wanted to plug my headphones into something else—like my MacBook—I had to pull it off and find somewhere to put it. I’ve gradually switched much of my audio listening to Bluetooth: a cheap pair of Bluetooth behind-the-ear headphones for working out, the high-end Bose QC-35s when traveling, and a small pair of earbuds with a BlueAnt bluetooth adapter for when I can’t fall asleep at night.

But those were specific uses that failed to account for the time when I most used my headphones: walking around town, going to the coffee shop and back, and so on. For those I still turned to the Porta Pros, and I was starting to have a hard time imagining how I’d ever replace them.

The good news: I don’t have to. Mostly. As FCC filings last month suggested, Koss has readied a Bluetooth version of the Porta Pro, the aptly named Porta Pro Wireless, and the company generously sent me a pair to check out.

Koss Porta Pro vs. Koss Porta Pro Wireless

At first glance, the Porta Pro Wireless look, well, a lot like the set of Porta Pros I’ve been wearing for years now. 1 The only outward differences are a slightly different shade of blue on the earpiece, minor cosmetic changes on the outside of the earphones, and, well, the whole “wireless” part.

“Wireless” is a slight exaggeration here: there is a wire connecting the left and right earphones, a necessity given the metal headband construction. Two black pods on the wire contain between them the battery, Bluetooth hardware, and control unit. The last has switched sides from the Porta Pro, hanging off the right earphone instead the left, and it’s unsurprisingly a bit bigger, since it also contains the micro-USB port for charging the headphones. There have been some other changes to its functionality, which I’ll get to a bit below.

Koss Porta Pro Wireless control pod

The most impressive thing about the Porta Pro Wireless is the fidelity with which Koss has reproduced the classic Porta Pro look and feel. The construction and fit are virtually identical, from the collapsible design to the adjustable fit on the temples. I’ve long preferred the over-the-head or behind-the-head style of headphone—which probably puts me in the minority in these days of ubiquitous earbuds—and the Porta Pro’s light weight was always a mark in its favor.

The thing I was most worried about was whether the pods on the wires would be uncomfortable, heavy, or get in the way. I was pleased to find that this wasn’t the case. Overall, the Porta Pro Wireless are still lighter than a heavy pair of big over-the-ear headphones like my Bose QC-35s, and I found the pods to be virtually unnoticeable unless I whipped my head to one side. (Personally, I probably wouldn’t wear them while working out, but I don’t wear my wired ones while working out either.) Do they look a little goofy? Sure. I’d obviously love a pair that were simply the headphones, with no wire or pods, but that would probably necessitate bulkier earphones and changing the design.

On the audio quality side, I found the Porta Pro Wireless to be virtually indistinguishable from the Porta Pro. Sound is hugely subjective, and I’ve always liked the Porta Pro’s balance of treble and bass. (This is hardly an exhaustive audio review—if you want that, try The Wirecutter.) I did set up a multi-output audio device on my Mac so I could listen to both simultaneously, switching between which I had on my left and right ears, and to my hearing, it sounded seamless.

Koss Porta Pro vs. Porta Pro Wireless

The one exception to that is that I have occasionally had brief audio drop-outs when my iPhone X was in my back pocket while walking; moving it to my front jacket pocket seems to have fixed the problem, though, and it’s hard to say whether it’s an issue with the headphones, the iPhone, or iOS. I’ve seen similar issues with other Bluetooth headphones, but it’s hard to reproduce.

Bluetooth pairing was simple and fast and, unless I miss my guess, these use the same module as many of my other Bluetooth audio devices. The Porta Pro Wireless’s battery levels do show up in Batteries widget in iOS, and as with most Bluetooth headphones I found power consumption reasonable. When I got the headphones they were at around 90 percent charge; a few hours of listening only dropped them to about 80 percent. (I didn’t have time for an exhaustive battery test, but I saw no reason to worry.)

Control Pods compared

The other place that I noticed significant differences in the wireless model was in the control pod. It still has three buttons—volume up, play/pause, and volume down—but they’ve been redesigned with a soft rubberized covering rather than hard plastic, which makes them a little larger and easier to press than the wired model. On the wired model, double-clicking the play/pause button would go to the next track, triple-clicking it would go to the previous, and holding it down would invoke Siri. On the wireless model, long presses of the volume up and down buttons go forward or back a track, respectively. But a long press of the play/pause button is what turns the headphones on and off, so it took me a while to discover that double-clicking the play/pause button would bring up Siri. (The small manual spells out the other functions, but for some reason, not that one.)

The Porta Pro Wireless comes with a couple basic accessories: a micro-USB charging cable and a carrying case. The latter is much nicer than the drawstring pouch that accompanied the wired Porta Pro: it’s a small, round, semi-rigid zippered case. Perhaps a little large for a pocket, but easy enough to throw into a bag without too much in the way of concern.

Koss Porta Pro Wireless Carrying Case

Overall, it’s not hard for me to recommend the Porta Pro Wireless to fans of the wired version, especially if you’re as tired of managing dongles as I am. For those looking for a pair of light, compact, over-ear wireless headphones, they feel like a win as well. I’d love to see an even smaller set—hey, if Apple can cram wireless functionality into the AirPods, hopefully a smaller set of these are at least feasible. Perhaps somewhere down the road.

One note on support: I’ve had very good luck with Koss’s warranty support, but the Porta Pro Wireless feature a one-year limited warranty rather than the limited lifetime warranty I’ve had on the wired version of the Porta Pro and other Koss headphones. A company spokesperson told me that’s mainly because they can’t guarantee a battery for life—such is the way of these things.

The wired Koss Porta Pro go for $50—and the version with the mic and remote costs $10 more than that—but they’re often available online for cheaper. Wireless does add a premium: the Bluetooth model costs $80, though I imagine you’ll be able to get them for less. You can certainly find cheaper Bluetooth headphones on the market, but you’ll get commensurately less quality—both in terms of audio and build—than you will here.

  1. I’m actually on my second pair, and one of them I got repaired once as well. So you could say I have a lot of history with these.  ↩

I'm enjoying The Athletic, but it's got lots of room to evolve

Permalink - Posted on 2018-05-01 00:42, modified at 00:49

The Athletic’s front page (for me).

Last fall I subscribed to The Athletic, in my continuing attempts to pay for journalism I want to read. The Athletic is a sports-journalism startup that’s building out coverage in numerous markets across North America, and has hired an awful lot of excellent writers—including numerous people who were previously employed at local newspapers that are hemorrhaging staff.

(Yes, in this New York Times profile the co-founder of The Athletic said he will let newspaper “continuously bleed” as they “suck them dry of their best talent.” He apologized later. The truth is, The Athletic isn’t killing newspapers—it’s pulling survivors out of the wreckage.)

As the site 1 has gotten up to speed this spring with the advent of baseball season, they’ve made numerous new hires and, as someone who used to run a large editorial operation, it’s been interesting to see how they’ve struggled with a massive growth in the amount of content they post on a daily basis.

A month ago, if I had written this piece, I would’ve been a bit more critical of The Athletic’s struggles to organize its content. One of the things I appreciate about the service is that it lets you manage your feed based on your interests. For example, I follow teams (Cal, the Giants, the 49ers), leagues (MLB and NFL), a region (Bay Area), and even writers (Peter Gammons, Joe Posnanski). All of those selections lead to a custom-built front page just for me, based on my interests.

The problem is that The Athletic built itself out as a series of regionally targeted sites, and so it’s been interesting to see how they’ve tried to balance coverage of regional and team issues compared to national reporting. Let me give you a baseball example. As the season was starting, my home page seemed to be crowded with stories detailing the minutiae of various baseball teams across the country. My general interest in baseball seemed to be opting me in to articles I just didn’t want to read about how the Brewers were adjusting their bullpen or the Mets were dealing with an injury.

But in the past month, the service seems to have made adjustments, severely limiting the number of local stories that are allowed to break into the general MLB feed. This is probably happening by changing how content in the service’s content-management system is categorized, but the end result is that I’m seeing baseball stories that someone, somewhere has decided are of national interest, so I won’t see a notebook column about how the Tampa Bay Rays are juggling their roster.

Filtering content is a tricky problem, but of course it’s a combination of the technical and the editorial. The Athletic has a few other interesting challenges that it’s dealing with, most notably how to take a story cycle built for newspaper deadlines and turn it into something different.

If you don’t know, most newspapers have a rolling series of deadlines based on which edition is printing at which time. In addition, there’s the immediate deadline of the web itself. If I take my local San Francisco Chronicle as an example, Giants beat writer Henry Schulman will write a game story as the game progresses, so that the moment the last out is recorded, he can instantly file a story to go on the Chronicle’s web sites and in early editions of the paper. These are the papers that are printed first and distributed to outlying areas. 2 Schulman will later update his story with quotes from players and coaches in the post-game press conference, and that story will override his previous web story and appear in later editions of the paper.

With The Athletic, there are no editions, which theoretically means that Giants writer Andrew Baggarly (formerly of the San Jose Mercury News) can take his time and file a single, complete story about the game. But one could argue that since The Athletic is an all-digital operation, its readers could demand instantaneous game coverage, the moment the game is over.

Right now Baggarly is focusing on writing a complete story, including quotes from the post-game press conference, and dropping that story when he’s ready. I think that’s a fine decision—I end up reading his story about the previous night’s game when I’m eating breakfast in the morning. But it does make me wonder… with an all-digital publication like this, are there different ways that these events could be covered? Should Baggarly file a quick-take piece about the game immediately following its conclusion, some sort of capsule with box score, and follow up with a longer story later? Does the traditional long newspaper “gamer” story make sense anymore at all? It’s worth considering the question.

And what about content and analysis during games? Right now, Athletic writers seem to be content to use Twitter to comment on the games as they’re going on, and that’s probably the right call. Twitter’s the perfect medium for that, and their presence on Twitter also serves as an advertisement for The Athletic. Still, I have to wonder if there might be a way to make my experience of watching a Giants game richer because I’m a subscriber to The Athletic. (One area where The Athletic is trying to leverage its digital presence is in having its writers participate in Q&A sessions and live chats, which are open to subscribers only.)

Finally, there’s the fact that The Athletic is still tangibly an editorial product that has its roots in newspaper journalism. That’s by no means a bad thing, but sometimes I think its writers would sometimes be better off writing shorter pieces as topics occur to them (yes, more like blog posts), rather than wrapping them up into longer columns that cover multiple topics. To be fair, The Athletic has also hired some writers who don’t come from a newspaper background, like former FanGraphs writer Eno Sarris, whose stats-based analysis is excellent. Sarris is also the author of a smart, funny weekly feature called “A beer, a ballgame, and a bag of mail,” in which he’s allowed to veer off topic to mix his beernerdness with his baseballnerdness in some delightful ways. I enjoy the latitude he’s been given.

It’s the very early days for The Athletic, and I expect it will continue to evolve. That’s good, because while I feel that I’m already getting my money’s worth, I get the distinct feeling like this is an organization that could take the best of newspaper, magazine, and blog coverage and create something new that’s a solid blend of all of those things. I hope the site’s editors and writers don’t just replicate the newspaper and stop; there’s potential for a whole lot more.

  1. There are also iPhone and iPad apps, of course. ↩

  2. I grew up a hundred miles from San Francisco, and the editions we got frequently had no stories about the previous night’s Giants game—they were printed too early. ↩

(Podcast) Upgrade #191: Alien Spacecraft Sitting on an End Table

Permalink - Posted on 2018-04-30 23:18

This week on Upgrade the Grim Reaper comes for AirPort, we imagine a future Apple AR/VR headset, and at the very end it’s time for Myke at the Movies to take on “Avengers: Infinity War.”

(Sponsor) PowerPhotos

Permalink - Posted on 2018-04-27 23:04, modified at 23:07

My thanks to Fat Cat Software and PowerPhotos for sponsoring Six Colors this week. PowerPhotos goes well beyond what Apple wants you to do with Photos for Mac. It lets you merge photos across multiple libraries, split libraries in two, merge libraries together, remove duplicated photos, search across multiple libraries, and a lot more.

You can try PowerPhotos today by downloading a free copy from the Fat Cat Software website. Six Colors readers can use offer code SIXCOLORS to receive 20% off a license that will allow you unlimited copying, merging, and duplicate finding.

'Dead Channel'

Permalink - Posted on 2018-04-27 22:57, modified at 23:09

My friend Antony Johnston doesn’t just write comics, novels, and graphic novels that get turned into “Atomic Blonde”. He also writes electronic music as Silencaeon. This week he released a new album. I got a preview a few months ago when he sent me a track called “Wintermute”, and I started laughing… because I realized that the entire album, titled Dead Channel, is an homage to one of my all-time favorite books 1, William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”, which begins with the line:

The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.

The album, which is great to have in the background while you’re focused on your computer screen, whether you’re writing, coding, or hacking into cyberspace while avoiding some nasty black-ice countermeasures, is officially “Music Inspired by William Gibson’s Neuromancer”, and even features an excerpt from the book at a key moment. The whole album, as well as the rest of Antony’s music stuff, is available at Bandcamp.

(For more on “Neuromancer”, check out this episode of the Hugos There podcast featuring my friend Lisa Schmeiser.)

  1. I’ve bought it in paperback, as a Voyager Expanded Book Hypercard stack, and as an e-book in a couple of formats. ↩

Quick Tip: Make Time Machine backups over a network in High Sierra

Permalink - Posted on 2018-04-27 18:22

As Jason mentioned in his AirPort alternatives piece, one of the features you might need to replace when your AirPort goes kaput is the ability to make Time Machine backups over the network.

Before you run out and buy an NAS, though, you might also consider backing up to a drive connected to your Mac. One option is to do what I’ve done and use Time Machine Server via macOS Server and an external USB drive to your Mac (or even use the built-in storage, if you have the room).

However, if you’re running High Sierra (or, presumably, whatever version follows that), this feature is now built into macOS itself. Here’s a walkthrough from Kirk McElhearn about how to enable that feature.

Alternatives to AirPort

Permalink - Posted on 2018-04-27 16:45

The AirPort in happier days.

On Thursday Apple made official what we’ve all known since 2016—it’s out of the business of building Wi-Fi hardware. It made Dan sad.

So what now? When the news broke yesterday I heard from a lot of people who relied on Apple’s AirPort routers, not just for their home wi-fi, but for unique features like wireless audio out and wireless Time Machine backups.

Always ahead of the curve, last year Glenn Fleishman wrote a piece about this at Macworld. I’d also strongly recommend reading the Wirecutter reviews of Wi-Fi routers and mesh networking kits. My friend Marco Arment recommends Ubiquiti networking hardware for true nerds, and Eero for everyone else.

Wirecutter really seems to love Netgear hardware, which I’ve had mixed results with. In fact, I was so unhappy with my Wirecutter-recommended Netgear router that I turned off its wireless features and returned a previous-generation AirPort Extreme base station to service for a while. Later, as part of a podcast sponsorship deal, I got some Eero mesh-networking equipment, which I’ve been using ever since. (Consider this a disclaimer, as Eero continues to be a podcast sponsor of mine.)

Mesh networks can be pricier than just buying a single router, and they are not always available in all territories, but my setup experience was easy, the connection is solid, and all the wireless dead zones in my house have vanished.

What about the Time Capsule? When it launched, it was the definitive way to back up your Macs without plugging in an external hard drive. Very convenient, especially if your primary device is a MacBook! Here’s what I’d say: You’re better off backing up remotely to a cloud-based service like Backblaze, which is The Wirecutter’s pick. A Time Machine backup has the advantage of being fast and on your local network, but if something catastrophic happens to your home or office, you will lose your backup. Backing up to the cloud keeps your data regardless of natural disasters, and has other advantages including being able to retrieve any backed up file from anywhere.

That said, if you want a local backup server, your best option is to buy a NAS, short for network-attached storage. These are essentially giant hard drives with small embedded computers that act as servers when you put them on your local network. Wirecutter has a nice NAS roundup, and you’ll find that many NAS devices support Time Machine. Ideally, a NAS will also be able to back itself up to the cloud.

NAS devices aren’t cheap, but they’re flexible—you can have a large amount of fast, local storage tucked away somewhere in your house to store files that don’t fit on your Mac’s hard drive.

The AirPort Express had the unique ability to act as an AirPlay bridge for audio, connecting your Apple devices to an external device like a set of powered speakers. There are AirPlay adapters out there from other vendors, such as this one from Anewish, but I haven’t tested any of them. If you aren’t going to roam too far from your speaker, you could also buy a Bluetooth adapter that does the same thing. (If you want to use the optical-audio-out feature found on the AirPort Express, I don’t know if there’s a good solution. Find a used AirPort Express or two and keep using them until they die?)

As I wrote yesterday, I’ve got mixed feelings about Apple killing AirPort. Some AirPort hardware I used was really unreliable, but other hardware was long-lived and rock solid. Apple’s setup experience was the best, a major step above the web-page-based configurators often used by other vendors. Things are looking up, though: Many vendors now offer iOS apps that are much friendlier.

Clearly Apple feels that Wi-Fi routers are not an area that Apple needs to focus on, and I think I’d agree. Apple got into the Wi-Fi business in its earliest days because it had to, in order to ensure that there was hardware that worked well with Macs and was easy to set up. While Apple theoretically has all the money and could stay in this category forever, there are probably better areas for Apple to spend its engineering resources. (And no, television executives can’t design routers.)

I’d rather see Apple take on some emerging technology category and make it mainstream by making it more accessible and easy to use, rather than just churn out routers that are more expensive and offer fewer features than those from the hungrier, more nimble competition. Apple long ago did what it needed to do in the world of Wi-Fi; it’s time to move on.

Pour one out for the AirPort line

Permalink - Posted on 2018-04-27 15:52, modified at 16:47

5th Generation AirPort Extreme

I know Jason already posted about the death of the AirPort line, but I wanted to add my two cents, because my love of AirPort routers runs deep.

By the time I acquired my first AirPort Extreme—around the time I moved into my current apartment—I had already run through several wireless routers, dating all the way back to the early days of Wi-Fi in 2000 or so. (A time when Internet didn’t blanket every last millimeter of our everyday lives? Wild!)

In that time I’d had everything from an early model Netgear wireless router that was clearly designed for an industrial setting up through one of the classic Linksys WRT54Gs that we all had at some point—hacked to run DD-WRT firmware, naturally.

What held me back from jumping into the AirPort world at the time was the price premium. As a cost-conscious twenty-something, why spend more than $100 on a router when I could buy something for half the price that ought to work as well?

A fair question, but when I finally took the plunge (after my last router shorted out), I was reminded of the same answer I’d given to all the people who asked why I spent more on a Mac instead of a cheap PC: it just worked better.

In the following years, the AirPort line became my go-to recommendation to those who ran into network issues. I replaced at least two or three different family members’ ISP-provided router with AirPort Expresses, and convinced another to switch to the AirPort Extreme. And in all that time, my same AirPort Extreme (the flat 802.11n model) kept chugging away with hardly a hiccup.

That’s not to say the product line was entirely without flaws. A friend with an original model of the AirPort Express mysteriously lost its audio-playing abilities (that tab in AirPort Utility just disappeared—very strange). Reception in certain portions of my parents’ house was a little weak, and setting up multiple APs was not always the easiest. And, most importantly, Apple seemed content not to update the line, even as the market started to move towards mesh networking.

I get why the decision was made: Apple, huge as it is, has to prioritize. Routers could not have been a big market for the company, especially with commoditization setting in. In the same way that it’s dialing back its Server offerings, Apple is moving away from the finicky tools of infrastructure and focusing more on how people are using its technology.

But I’ll miss the AirPort line. And when it comes time to replace my current model 1—or when I eventually move to a place that’s big enough that mesh networking will actually be beneficial—I’ll probably shed a tear or two. But given the state of the router market these days, I’m confident that there will be more than a few great options, including a few, like eero and Amplifi, with former Apple engineers onboard.

  1. Let’s be clear, I’m not replacing it until then. Your network setup is one place where the “if it ain’t broke” rule applies a thousandfold.  ↩

Apple and the land of low, low prices (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2018-04-27 11:53

Tim Cook likes to remind everybody that Apple doesn’t compete on price, but instead makes the best product possible, and then prices it at what the company thinks it’s worth.

But though the company may not traditionally play in the low-cost markets in which so many of their competitors make their bread-and-butter, that doesn’t mean that Apple hasn’t occasionally aimed to provide lower-cost models to consumers. The iPhone, iPad, and Mac lines have all had their lower-end models with varying degrees of success.

At a time when it often seems that the breakneck pace of technological development has slowed somewhat—at least compared to the last decade or two—it seems worthwhile to take a look at what Apple produces when it focuses on bringing its tech to lower-cost devices, and what the state of those products are today.

Genealogy website may have helped catch a killer

Permalink - Posted on 2018-04-26 22:43, modified at 22:49

Thomas Fuller in the New York Times:

The Golden State Killer raped and murdered victims all across the state of California in an era before Google searches and social media, a time when the police relied on shoe leather, not cellphone records or big data.

But it was technology that got him. The suspect, Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested by the police on Tuesday. Investigators accuse him of committing more than 50 rapes and 12 murders.

Investigators apparently took DNA evidence from crime scenes and plugged it into a DNA-based genealogy website—23andMe or one if its competitors—and found the people who turned up as relatives, using their family trees to close in on the suspect, Joseph James DeAngelo.

Then they followed him around until he left an “abandoned” DNA sample—something containing his DNA—in a public place. The investigators took that DNA sample and ran it against their crime-scene samples, at which point they became convinced they have found a serial killer and rapist who terrorized California in the 70s and early 80s.

I’d never thought of this use of voluntary DNA databases before, but it’s kind of brilliant. A suspect doesn’t have to be in the database; their presence can be inferred by triangulating the relatives who are in the database. I imagine we’ll be seeing several court cases and changes to terms of service if this sort of detective work becomes more widespread.

It's official: Apple discontinues AirPort

Permalink - Posted on 2018-04-26 21:18, modified at 21:21

Apple has released a statement that it’s getting out of the wireless router game:

“We’re discontinuing the Apple AirPort base station products. They will be available through Apple.com, Apple’s retail stores and Apple Authorized Resellers while supplies last.”

Mark Gurman called this one in November 2016, but here’s the official end. Given the vibrant world of wireless networking—powerful multi-band base stations, innovative mesh networks, and the rest—it’s not really necessary for Apple to be in this game.

I’ve had good and bad experiences with AirPort products. A few of them burned out fast rather than fading away. But a couple of them lasted forever and were far more reliable than any third-party replacements I’ve tried. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love Apple to make best-in-class wireless routers and drive the category forward. But there are probably other product categories I’d rather see Apple focus on.

RSS Sponsor: PowerPhotos

Permalink - Posted on 2018-04-26 15:45, modified at 15:46

From the creator of iPhoto Library Manager, PowerPhotos is the ultimate toolbox for working with the new Photos app on your Mac. If you have photos scattered across multiple libraries that you want to merge together, have a library that you want to split up because it’s gotten too large, or just want to get rid of duplicate photos, PowerPhotos can help you get your photo collection back in order.

PowerPhotos allows you to work with multiple Photos libraries and store them wherever you want, including on an external drive or a network drive. Split up your giant library into smaller ones by copying photos and albums with a simple drag and drop, preserving metadata such as descriptions and keywords along the way. Or, if you already have multiple libraries, use PowerPhotos to merge them together while weeding out duplicates along the way. PowerPhotos also features a powerful duplicate photo finder, a browser to let you see your photos without even opening up Photos itself, a multi-library search feature, and more.

Try PowerPhotos today by downloading a free copy from the Fat Cat Software website. Six Colors readers can use offer code SIXCOLORS to receive 20% off a license that will allow you unlimited copying, merging, and duplicate finding.

iOS Plus: Imagining a Mac that runs iOS apps (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2018-04-26 15:44

Inspired by a Bloomberg report that Apple may introduce a way for iOS apps to be converted to run more easily on macOS, a couple of weeks ago I came up with a list of iOS apps that I’d like to see on the Mac.

After Apple’s recent Chicago event to launch the new iPad, Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke to an Australian writer and told him that rumors of merging the Mac and iOS weren’t true. I was maybe ten feet away from them when this happened, and it was a media scrum—not the kind of place where a CEO does anything but restate the existing company line. (In the same conversation Tim Cook literally said “I use everything and I love everything.”) I’m not entirely convinced that Apple’s long-term approach to its platforms is to keep the Mac alive long enough for iOS to evolve so that it’s able to painlessly replace it.

But what if we take Tim Cook at his word? Any Mac-iOS merger would probably be many years from now, so regardless, if the Bloomberg report is true, Apple will be pushing the iOS and macOS app worlds closer together much sooner. What does that mean for the Mac, and how we use our Macs every day?

Resistance is the next Star Wars animated series

Permalink - Posted on 2018-04-26 15:19, modified on 2018-04-27 12:18

Star Wars Resistance

Since the end of Star Wars Rebels earlier this year, there’s been a question about what would fill the vacuum left by the show—and now we know:

StarWars.com is thrilled to announce that production has begun on Star Wars Resistance, an exciting new animated adventure series about Kazuda Xiono, a young pilot recruited by the Resistance and tasked with a top-secret mission to spy on the growing threat of the First Order. It will premiere this fall on Disney Channel in the U.S. and thereafter, on Disney XD and around the world.

Resistance is being helmed by Dave Filoni, who also headed up both Rebels and its predecessor Clone Wars, and is being described as an “anime-inspired” series—a departure from the more 3D animated style of the earlier series—that focuses on ace pilots.

While Resistance’s exact time period isn’t known, it takes place in the gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, and will apparently feature familiar characters like BB-8, Poe Dameron, and Captain Phasma—the latter two of which will be voiced by their film portrayers, Oscar Isaac and Gwendoline Christie. And, given the way Rebels ended, I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if some characters from the earlier series eventually made an appearance as well.

As a big fan of both Rebels and Clone Wars, I have a lot of faith in Filoni’s vision of the Star Wars universe. The previous series have really helped flesh out (in a canonical way, no less) the universe that we’ve otherwise come to see mainly from films. So color me excited for this new show—as though I could be otherwise.