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Six Colors

A feed by Jason Snell and Dan Moren


How Apple can build a better video streaming service (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-20 20:19

So, you want to build a streaming service.

At this point, the evidence that Apple is jumping into streaming is incontrovertible. You don’t pony up a boatload of cash for the likes of Steven Spielberg and not build a streaming service. Nor do you just shove that into Apple Music, a platform which has proved to be only half-baked when it comes to streaming video.

No, this kind of $1 billion investment seems to call for a major revision to infrastructure as well. This is a serious investment, and so of course Apple’s going to want to be serious about how it builds a service. So, let’s take a look at what’s critical in such an endeavor.

How to set up your iPhone for disaster alerts (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-20 17:23, modified at 17:24

This week I’ve been in Chicago for a conference, and people keep coming up to me to ask if I’ve been impacted by the horrible fires ravaging the Bay Area this month. Fortunately, beyond all the smoke in the air making it hard to breathe outside, my family has been unscathed. But just a couple dozen miles to the north, whole neighborhoods have burned and people have lost their lives.

One story that stuck with me last week was about the president of Sonoma State University and her husband, who narrowly escaped the fire when they were awakened by their home smoke alarm and discovered that their entire neighborhood was on fire.

As everyone gets smartphones and drops their land lines, it’s become increasingly complicated to get the word out when an emergency strikes. Emergency authorities have the ability to make mass calls to land lines in a geographic area, but it’s harder to collect information about cellphones.

(Podcast) Rebound 158: Are You Saying My Paper Bag is No Good?

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-19 14:08

Once again, Dan and John are left to fumble their own way while Lex is off doing something or other. So they discuss the new Movies Anywhere service, the news that Wi-Fi encryption was compromised, and of course, kids today and their smartphones. Plus, John has a pro tip for anybody looking to get rid of an old CRT display: lift from the knees.

(Podcast) Clockwise #211: Don't Want People to See All My Trees

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-18 17:33, modified at 17:34

This week, on the 30-minute show where we’re bound to accidentally activate a voice assistant at least once, emoji maestro Jeremy Burge and CNN’s Heather Kelly join Dan and Mikah to discuss securing your most intimate photos with machine learning, our dalliances with other desktop platforms, whether we even really need real cameras anymore, and how we deal with the walled garden of voice assistants.

Cardhop: It's like Fantastical for your contacts

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-18 15:16, modified at 15:20

Entirely new Mac apps don’t arrive that often. But today marks the arrival of Cardhop from Flexibits, the maker of Fantastical. Cardhop is the answer to the question, “What if there was a Fantastical for managing contacts?” Cardhop is now available direct from Flexibits or in the Mac App Store for an introductory price of $15, and will regularly sell for $20.

I love Fantastical on my Mac and iPhone, and have come to use its hotkey-driven drop-down interface as my primary way to view and update my personal calendars. Cardhop uses the same idea: There’s a drop-down menu, activated by a customizable keyboard shortcut, into which you can type information to find a contact, add a contact, or kick off an action (send an email, send a tweet). By default the drop-down interface shows you recent contacts and upcoming birthdays, rather than the top of a long alphabetized list.

This is an app that’s probably overkill for most casual Mac users, but it’s tailor made for anyone who wants quick access to data in their Mac address book. (I often use LaunchBar for this, but the advantage of CardHop is that its interface is focused on actions you can do with contact entries, as opposed to LaunchBar’s more one-size-fits-all approach.)

Of course, if you’re someone who’s looking for a heavy-duty contacts manager with lots of additional features, it’s worth considering the $50 BusyContacts.

'There's no i in keyboard'

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-17 19:46, modified on 2017-10-18 02:00

Stephen Hackett’s MacBook Pro keyboard is busted:

A couple of weeks ago, its i key started feeling a little sticky. This keyboard does not boast large amount of travel, but this key was barely moving at all when pressed…. One of the tiny arms that the key cap clips onto is broken. My nearly $2,000 laptop that I bought less than a year ago is now missing a key.

I’m here in Chicago at the Release Notes conference with Stephen1. His MacBook Pro keyboard has a huge shiny square where the i key once was.

We can feel free to disagree about whether Apple’s new laptop keyboard design with drastically reduced key travel is pleasant to type on or not—I don’t like the feel of the keyboard at all, but I recognize that reasonable people will differ.

But like them or not, these keyboards seem to be easily broken. I can’t tell you how many people I know who have reported some problem with the keyboard that has required a visit to the Apple Store. Casey Johnston has a similar horror story at The Outline, involving a spacebar that may have been screwed up by a piece of dust.

I think Apple made a mistake in creating an ultra-low-travel keyboard and sticking it on every laptop it makes. But it would be easier to accept that decision if the design hadn’t also proved to be unreliable.

  1. I wrote his headline! ↩

Get ready to go...Solo

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-17 16:52

The Untitled Han Solo Movie is no longer untitled. Ron Howard announced the film’s name in a short Twitter video today.

Hey, works for me.

Wi-Fi encryption has been compromised

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-16 15:19, modified at 19:06

You’re going to be seeing a lot of news today about a vulnerability reported in Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA), the encryption scheme used to protect wireless networks. Ars Technica has a good technical breakdown of the flaw, dubbed KRACK, which affects pretty much all major platforms including, potentially, iOS and macOS.

I say “potentially” only because Apple hasn’t yet officially confirmed that the most current versions of its OSes are at risk. Other vendors, like Microsoft and Google, have acknowledged the vulnerability and are moving to release updates—Microsoft today for Windows and Google next month for Pixel devices, though other Android devices are potentially still at risk.

Protecting clients is only part of the solution, however; many wireless routers and access points will likely also need firmware updates to fully protect against the flaw. That said, it’s probably a bigger immediate security concern to protect mobile devices that are likely to be out in public and connecting to a variety of Wi-Fi networks. In order to exploit your home network, somebody would still need to use a device in physical proximity to your home—by no means impossible, but also not particularly probable.

This isn’t the first time that Wi-Fi security has been breached. The previous standard, WEP, was officially deprecated back in 2004 after significant vulnerabilities were detailed (though it does remain available on many products even today). The seriousness of the KRACK flaw is even more significant given how much more prevalent Wi-Fi devices and networks are today than in 2004.

The long and short of it is that this is a critical vulnerability: as soon as updates are available for your devices, you should absolutely apply them.

Updated at 12:51pm Eastern with a more reasonable headline.

Update at 3:05pm Eastern: iMore’s Rene Ritchie says Apple told him the KRACK vulnerabilities are patched in the current betas of iOS, tvOS, watchOS, and macOS.

(Sponsor) A Practical Guide to Networking, Privacy, & Security in iOS 11

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-13 21:35, modified at 21:38

My thanks to Glenn Fleishman for sponsoring Six Colors this week in conjunction with the release of his book, A Practical Guide to Networking, Privacy, & Security in iOS 11.

The book takes all the most common questions that Glenn regularly receives and distills them into straightforward advice and illustrated step-by-step directions.

For instance, the revised Control Center has a lot better access to networking options, like Personal Hotspot, and provides labels that tell you more about the state of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other options. But do you know how to access the extended panel, and how to decipher them? iOS 11 added third-party SMS message filtering, but do you feel comfortable with a company receiving and analyzing your unsolicited third-party texts, even if it’s anonymous? Apple updated how account recovery works with two-factor authentication for an iCloud account—but do you know how to set up your devices and backups in case you lose everything?

Glenn’s book covers all that and a lot more: AirDrop, AirPlay, Personal Hotspot, Wi-Fi Calling, Safari content-blocking extensions and the new built-in third-party tracking cookie blocker, Find My iPhone/iPad, Bluetooth pairing, Wi-Fi troubleshooting…well, it’s a long list, and you can download an excerpt here with the full table of contents and a sample chapter.

Six Colors readers get a special discount: 25% off the cover price with coupon code SIXCOLORS through November 5, 2017. Buy the book here, and enter that code during checkout. For a single price, you get the 182-page book in three DRM-free formats: PDF, EPUB, and MOBI (for Kindle). You receive free updates to the iOS 11 edition as part of the purchase, too. (If you’d like a print copy, you can order one at Amazon via this link.)

If you need a reference guide that lets you quickly figure out how a feature works or how to set up anything related to networking, privacy, or security, snag a copy of Glenn’s book.

Apple HomePod: 3 lingering questions (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-13 13:11

Smart speakers are here, and they’re not going away anytime soon. In the last month or so alone, Amazon has rolled out an entirely new lineup of its Echo devices while Google has supplemented its standard Google Home with both a smaller and larger version. Even Microsoft has gotten into the game, with a Cortana-based smart speaker from Harman Kardon, and multiroom audio purveyor Sonos has announced an Alexa-based model of one of its speakers shipping later this month.

And in all that time, Apple has sat quietly, saying nothing more about its upcoming HomePod than was announced at this summer’s Worldwide Developers Conference. The company didn’t so much as mention its smart speaker during its event last month, though to be fair it had little time with the occasion packed full of iPhones as it was.

That means that with only a couple months left before the HomePod is out on the market, there are still more than a few questions about Apple’s smart speaker play.

BBEdit 12: Here's to a million more

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-12 22:46, modified at 22:47

No longer do I need to go to Excel just to format tab-delimited text.

Have I written more than a million words in Bare Bones Software’s BBEdit? I probably passed that mark a while ago, but who’s counting? It’s been my primary writing tool for the last 20-plus years, and it’s still going strong. Today marks the arrival of version 12, with a bunch of new features and changes—Bare Bones Software says more than a hundred of them. “Almost every line of code has been touched,” according to BBEdit author Rich Siegel.

In keeping with the style of the times, BBEdit now uses a dark theme—light text on a dark background—by default. These kids today, with their dark themes! Fortunately, old complainers like me can switch back to the light theme or build a custom theme of their own. (I’ve been using a slightly modified set of text colors in BBEdit for ages now.)

I do a lot of text and data formatting in BBEdit, and one of the great additions in this version is a Columns editing command, that enables quick processing of comma- and tab-delimited text ranges—you can cut, copy, delete, and rearrange columns. You might think that sounds like an esoteric feature, but I’ve probably pasted a tab-delimited text block from BBEdit into Microsoft Excel purely for column management hundreds of times at this point. Now I don’t have to. (Though I’d love it if BBEdit would add support for even more functions on columnar data, like sorting and maybe even styling.)

Back at IDG, I built an AppleScript script that I’d pass around inside a BBEdit package that would take a Markdown file and format in some very particular ways for the quirks of our content-management system and site design. Embedded in that script, as well, were a bunch of text replacements based on our house style—replacing “web site” with “website”, for example. BBEdit 12 includes a feature like that, too—it’s a tool called Canonize that batch searches-and-replaces text strings.

With this version I’ve also embraced the concept of auto-insertion of delimiters, such as parentheses and brackets, that are used in both programming and text-markup languages. It took some time, but I’m gradually getting used to having my pairs of characters auto-complete, and I can also select some text and type one character to have the entire selection surrounded by the paired characters.

Basically, it’s the BBEdit upgrade I’d expect—one that adds a raft of new features, bug fixes, and under-the-hood changes to lay the groundwork for future features and compatibility with future versions of macOS. Existing users can upgrade from BBEdit 11 for $30, or from an earlier version for $40. If you’ve never bought BBEdit, it’s $50—cheap! I remember when BBEdit cost more than a hundred bucks. But then, I’ve been using it for two decades and millions of words.

A Practical Guide to Networking, Privacy, & Security in iOS 11

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-12 20:37, modified on 2017-10-13 21:35

Hi, this is Glenn Fleishman. Most of the email I get about iOS isn’t about apps or the camera or backups. Nearly all of it is about setting up networking features, understanding and configuring privacy options, and making sure that unwanted people can’t break into a reader’s iCloud account or, if they steal their iPhone or iPad, unlock it.

My latest ebook, A Practical Guide to Networking, Privacy, & Security in iOS 11, takes all the most common questions that I regularly receive and distills them into straightforward advice, and illustrated step-by-step directions. While iOS 11 seems to be a slight update from iOS 10 in many ways, features in those three main areas I cover in my updated book meant hundreds of changes large and small.

For instance, the revised Control Center has a lot better access to networking options, like Personal Hotspot, and provides labels that tell you more about the state of Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other options. But do you know how to access the extended panel, and how to decipher them? iOS 11 added third-party SMS message filtering, but do you feel comfortable with a company receiving and analyzing your unsolicited third-party texts, even if it’s anonymous? Apple updated how account recovery works with two-factor authentication for an iCloud account—but do you know how to set up your devices and backups in case you lose everything?

My book covers all that and a lot more: AirDrop, AirPlay, Personal Hotspot, Wi-Fi Calling, Safari content-blocking extensions and the new built-in third-party tracking cookie blocker, Find My iPhone/iPad, Bluetooth pairing, Wi-Fi troubleshooting…well, it’s a long list, and you can download an excerpt here with the full table of contents and a sample chapter.

Six Colors readers get a special discount: 25% off the cover price with coupon code SIXCOLORS through November 5, 2017. Buy the book here, and enter that code during checkout. For a single price, you get the 182-page book in three DRM-free formats: PDF, EPUB, and MOBI (for Kindle). You receive free updates to the iOS 11 edition as part of the purchase, too. For instance, Face ID is covered using what we know now, but I plan to update the book with more details after the iPhone X ships. Sign up for the book-specific mailing list mentioned on the welcome page to get notified of updates. (If you’d like a print copy, you can order one at Amazon via this link.)

If you need a reference guide that lets you quickly figure out how a feature works or how to set up anything related to networking, privacy, or security, snag a copy of my book.

(Podcast) Rebound 157: Have You Considered Leeching?

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-12 14:34, modified at 14:35

With Lex away, Dan and John get the opportunity to talk about the new trailer for The Last Jedi. We also dissect Twitter’s choice to go to 280 characters (suffice it to say, we’re not fans), fake news about Google and Apple, and iOS phishing schemes. Plus, a topical discussion of John’s healthcare choices.

Movies Anywhere now goes beyond Disney

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-12 13:21

In the confusing world of digital film purchases, Disney Movies Anywhere has long been the gold standard. With the ability to link your DMA account to retailers like iTunes and Amazon, it meant that you only had to buy a movie once and get access to it on a number of popular services.

Movies Anywhere

Well, the good news is that some sense appears to have finally taken hold in Hollywood. The new Movies Anywhere service is cut from DMA’s cloth but also has the backing of other major studios, including Warner Bros., Universal, Fox, and Sony. But the idea remains the same: buy your digital movie once, and watch it on any of the partners’ services. You can stream it, download it, watch it on your computer, watch it on your tablet, watch it on your set-top box—pretty much anything you’d want to do with a movie.

Look, I don’t buy a whole lot of films these days. I prefer to stream or rent—and as far as studios are concerned, I’m part of the problem. The industry’s previous attempt at a unified digital locker system, the justly maligned Ultraviolet, was a morass of confusion and user hostility. But, as it happens, the last two movies I purchased both happened to be Blu-ray Disney movies1 and DMA made it easy for me to get and watch digital copies the way I wanted to watch them.

I’m no friend to DRM, but if you’re going to protect your content, at least do it in a way that doesn’t impede legitimate users. As a creator, I don’t ever want technology to stop someone who has paid for my work.

Movies Anywhere promises a pretty sizable library, though there are still holdouts—Paramount being the largest, along with other significant players like Lionsgate. But the service is sweetening the pot by offering users a handful of free movies when you link an account.2 (It can also pull in movies you’ve bought on those services, as well as let you migrate your existing DMA account.)

Dare I say, this seems like an indication that Hollywood is finally “getting it” where digital film purchases are concerned. Then again, with the continued encroachment of streaming, digital rentals, and peak TV, maybe they just got desperate.

  1. Thanks to Disney buying up all of our favorite franchises.  ↩

  2. Also, some of those movies are pretty good: The Lego Movie, Big Hero 6, and the recent Ghostbusters remake, among them.  ↩

Ten burning questions about Apple's forthcoming video service

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-11 23:16, modified at 23:18

Apple’s made its first major TV acquisition, as the Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that it’s got a deal with Steven Spielberg and Universal to make a new “Amazing Stories.” This wasn’t an unexpected development, and I wrote a story about the deal yesterday that you should check out.

But even with all that (virtual) ink spilled, there’s still a whole lot more to ponder here. So let me present my current list of unanswered questions about Apple’s foray into video programming.

Is this just another Planet of the Apps or Carpool Karaoke?

It’s an easy joke to make—Planet of the Apps and Carpool Karaoke were examples of Apple dipping its toe in the water, paying for programming they could provide to Apple Music subscribers while getting to know how the TV business works.

But that approach ended on June 16, when Apple hired respected TV industry execs Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht to run its video efforts. Jokes about Planet of the Apps are four months out of date. Apple hiring Van Amburg and Erlicht was the moment everything changed, because you don’t hire those guys (and they’ve since brought even more talent into Apple’s L.A. branch) unless you are absolutely serious about programming your own streaming service.

The training wheels are off. The Wall Street Journal says that Apple’s TV efforts have a $1 billion annual budget to start. That’s a fraction of the $7 billion Netflix expects to spend in the next year, but… baby steps.

Is this all going to be in Apple Music?

Apple’s already got a subscription-based digital media service up and running, and it’s Apple Music. That’s where its premium video content has gone so far, so it’s fair to ask if Apple’s TV efforts will simply be added to the existing Apple Music subscription. It would certainly be cleaner and easier if Apple kept adding things to Apple Music and continued trying to grow the Apple Music subscriber base.

But I’m skeptical about this, because Apple’s got a stated goal of growing services revenue, and most of its competitors in the video and music spaces offer individual services, not a single combined one. (Google is reportedly rolling Google Play Music and YouTube Red together into a single service, which would be a combined subscription service. Amazon offers Prime members a limited catalog of streaming music, but you have to pay an additional monthly fee to get access to the whole catalog.)

Throwing original TV series and movies into Apple Music also confuses the brand. Is Apple ready to blow up the Apple Music name and replace it with something new? How would Apple sell a TV-and-music streaming service combo to people who already have a music service they like? Could Apple price a two-for-one service competitively, given all the media costs?

If it’s not Apple Music, would there be a bundle?

If Apple doesn’t roll its video content into Apple Music, it might do well to offer users a discount if they subscribe to both of them. That might be a way to encourage people to go all-in on the Apple ecosystem without forcing everyone to subscribe to a single service.

Even more intriguing is the idea that Apple might create an uber-bundle, something more like Amazon Prime. I have a hard time envisioning exactly what would go in that service: video and music, okay, but what else would Apple have to offer to club members? Free shipping on store orders? Genius Bar priority? Discounts on AppleCare? The ability to jump to the head of the line for pre-orders?

This seems like a wild idea that’s unlikely to happen, but I’d be shocked if Apple executives hadn’t at least debated the merits of going all-in on a membership and loyalty program rather than just offering individual subscription plans.

What would Apple’s video service cost?

Going rate for most video services is $10 per month, so I’d expect Apple to offer something in that ballpark. Apple Music shows that Apple understands what the going rate for streaming services is, and is inclined to follow it.

What would be on Apple’s video service?

If Apple’s video team does indeed have a $1 billion budget, they can buy a lot. That’s 20 original series at a cost of roughly $50 million per season, or 10 original series with half a billion left over to buy a catalog of other content—old TV shows and movies—to fill in the service and provide better value.

My gut feeling is that Apple will be taking the HBO approach with this service, offering a dozen original series and a curated collection of films and classic TV shows. If Apple wants to be Netflix it will need to ramp up its content budget way beyond $1 billion. Like I said, baby steps. A billion dollars of baby steps.

Would Apple buy a streaming service?

Apple bought Beats and turned Beats Music into Apple Music. Could it do the same with an existing streaming service, as a way to quickly acquire a streaming infrastructure and a collection of content deals? Tim Goodman, my TV Talk Machine podcast partner and chief TV critic at the Hollywood Reporter, seems to think so.

There are numerous video streaming services out there—more, it seems, with every day—and so there are certainly companies that could be bought if Apple wanted to take a quick leap. Goodman thinks Hulu, which is currently owned by major media companies including three TV networks, might be a good target. It’s popular, with a large subscriber base and a big catalog, and it’s an open question about whether its owners really love it.

I think it’s unlikely that Apple would spend $25 billion to buy Hulu. (If Apple had wanted to buy an existing service with its own programming, it wouldn’t have needed to hire Van Amburg and Erlicht.) But it’s not impossible.

Would anyone subscribe to an Apple streaming service?

People are already getting streaming-service fatigue. Netflix, Amazon Prime, HBO Now, Hulu, Acorn, BritBox, and CBS All Access are already here, and many more new subscription services have been announced. Apple would be another one. How many $10 services do we need?

The truth is, we are about to enter an era where there are perhaps dozens of these $10/month streaming services. And no, there’s almost no way that the market will be able to support them all. Some will fail, some will consolidate… and some will end up profitable by serving a massive audience (Netflix) or a profitable niche (like Shudder, which specializes in horror).

The ultimate goal is to be left standing as one of the successful video services. You can’t win if you don’t play—so Apple is going to play, and play to win. In the end, it seems like it has the cash to invest to make it to the end of the game.

What would this service be called?

Wow, I have no idea on this one. Two really good names — Apple TV and Apple Watch — are already taken. (Apple could get away with calling it Apple TV if it wanted, but it would be confusing.) Apple Play? Apple Stream? Apple Broadcast? Apple Live? Apple Direct? Apple Screen?

Your guess is as good as mine. Better, probably.

Where will this service be available?

A big question is, will Apple try to maximize the subscription revenue of a TV service by making it available on devices not made by Apple? iTunes is accessible on Windows PCs, and Apple Music is on Android. Would an Apple video service appear on Amazon Fire TV or Roku?

It’s hard to imagine that, isn’t it? I have to believe that while Apple wants to maximize its subscription revenue, it wants to do so by increasing the average revenue it generates from its existing hardware customers. That means you’d need to buy an Apple TV to see, er, “Apple TV.” (Of course they’ll offer a free trial when you activate the box.)

That approach would limit the potential audience for Apple’s TV efforts, but I’m not sure that would matter to Apple. It would trade some level of subscription sales for sales of Apple TV boxes. Not everyone will rush out and buy an Apple TV once Apple launches this service, but if there’s a buzzworthy show from a major writer, director, or star, you know that Apple will sell a bunch of Apple TV boxes. And if you’d rather watch on your iPad or iPhone, sure, that will work too.

When will this service launch?

TV takes a long time to make. A very, very long time, from concept to writing to casting to set design to production to post-production. Van Amburg and Erlicht will undoubtedly be active in buying projects this fall and winter, but unless Apple goes out and buys an existing streaming service, it’s hard to imagine that there will be enough programming to populate a paid service before the second half of 2018.

Apple could launch the service with a smaller amount of content and an extended free trial, as it did with Apple Music. That would allow the service to launch before the entire catalog is populated. In the next few months we’re going to hear about all sorts of deals like the one with Spielberg—but the service itself will take a bit longer to come together.

(Podcast) Clockwise #210: Sweet, Sweet Caffeine

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-11 18:34

This week, on the 30-minute tech show that packs an hour’s worth of content, Dan and Mikah are joined by Kelly Guimont and Phil Nickinson to discuss Tim Cook’s mention of AR glasses, our thoughts on diversity and inclusion in tech, how we approach ergonomics, and what we do to cope with overwhelming social media.

Now you can take your waterproof Kindle Oasis to an oasis

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-11 13:47, modified at 15:53

Kindle Oasis

Amazon’s updated its high-end Kindle Oasis with a larger screen, bigger battery, and—perhaps most significantly—a waterproof design.

Rated at IPX8, the new Kindle Oasis will survive immersed in up to two meters of fresh water for up to 60 minutes. So if you really need to read underwater while you’re in the tub, I guess you’re in luck?

Unlike the previous Oasis, which used an external cover to boost its battery life, the new model boasts a battery that lasts for “weeks.” But it’s also larger than the previous model, with a 7-inch, 300 ppi display, instead of the 6-inch display from last year’s. It’s still got that wedge-shaped design, with a thin edge of 3.4 mm, but it’s a bit heavier than its predecessor: 6.8 oz versus 4.6 oz.1

Amazon’s also added Audible support to the Oasis, though it doesn’t sport any internal speakers. Instead you can use Bluetooth to stream Audible books to connected headphones or speakers—or, at least, you’ll be able to when Amazon releases a software update after the Oasis ships. Owners of 8th-generation Kindles and the original Oasis will also get Audible support with a free over-the-air update “in the coming months.”

The new Oasis starts a bit cheaper—just $250 for its base Wi-Fi-only model with 8GB of storage “special offers” (read: ads). Amazon’s also offering a 32GB storage tier for another $30 and without special offers for $20 on top of that. If you want cellular, you’ll need to get the top of the line 32GB model without special offers for $350. All models are available for pre-order now and ship on October 31.2

  1. However, adding the battery cover to the previous model brought it up to 8.4 oz, so it’s still lighter than that.  ↩

  2. And, hey, if you’re looking for a book to go along with your new Kindle, might I humbly suggest one for you?  ↩

Tim Cook talks AR, social issues

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-11 02:08

Andrew Griffin at The Independent has an interview with Tim Cook, in which the Apple CEO makes some interesting comments about future AR hardware:

“There are rumours and stuff about companies working on those – we obviously don’t talk about what we’re working on,” Cook says. (Patents have shown that Apple is at least looking into such wearables, and reports have suggested that the ARKit introduction on the iPhone is partly a way to help build that interest and ecosystem.)

“But today I can tell you the technology itself doesn’t exist to do that in a quality way. The display technology required, as well as putting enough stuff around your face – there’s huge challenges with that.

“The field of view, the quality of the display itself, it’s not there yet,” he says. And as with all of its products, Apple will only ship something if it feels it can do it “in a quality way”.

This is essentially exactly what I’d expect Cook to say were Apple working on such a device. It doesn’t mean that device will ever show up—and it certainly means that it wouldn’t show up anytime soon—but I believe pretty strongly that with all this investment into augmented reality, Apple knows that the smartphone isn’t ultimately the most friendly platform for it.

Spielberg's 'Amazing Stories' is just the first of Apple's major TV deals (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-10 21:48

It was inevitable that Apple would begin signing big-name talent and major franchises to its forthcoming push into original video. Inevitable from the moment it hired two respected television industry executives, Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht.

Under Eddy Cue, Apple was able to experiment with shows like “Planet of the Apps” and “Carpool Karaoke”. But Van Amburg and Erlicht spent years at Sony developing prestige, big-budget scripted programming—and they were not hired at Apple to do anything else. The only question was which big name would be the first to sign a big-money deal to develop programming specifically for Apple.

Now we have our answer: it’s Steven Spielberg, who (as reported by the Wall Street Journal) is reviving his ’80s anthology series “Amazing Stories” for Apple. Spielberg is expected to be an executive producer (and American Gods and Star Trek Discovery creator Bryan Fuller is attached as showrunner), and the show will be produced for Apple by his Amblin Television and Comcast’s NBCUniversal. The Journal reports that the deal is for 10 episodes at a budget of more than $5 million per episode.

This is just the first of what’s sure to be a hail of announcements this fall and winter. This $50 million investment is a drop in the bucket. The Journal earlier reported that Apple’s expected to have $1 billion to spend on original content this year. That’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $7 billion Netflix is expected to spend next year, but a billion dollars buys an awful lot of programming.

Review: Twitterrific returns to the Mac, via iOS

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-10 18:16, modified at 18:20

I started using Twitter because of Twitterrific for Mac. When the Iconfactory first released the app, I signed up for a Twitter account and started chatting with my friends. That was ten years ago. Twitter has changed, mobile devices reign supreme, and Twitterrific for Mac stopped being updated many years ago. But as of Tuesday, it’s back, with a new version 5.0 funded by a successful Kickstarter.

This new Twitterrific for Mac is basically a 1.0 product, based on the code base of Twitterrific for iOS, an app that’s been continually updated during the span when the old Mac version had fallen entirely by the wayside. Using the iOS code base is what allows the new Mac version to exist at all, but it does lead to the occasional interface oddity.

On iOS, I use Twitterrific exclusively—don’t email me, Tweetbotists—but on the Mac I switched to the official Twitter app a few years ago. It’s not a great app, but it’s better since it stopped being abandonware. For the past few weeks, I’ve been using Twitterrific for Mac extensively, and I’ve found that it can mostly replace Twitter for Mac for me—but there are a few places where it definitely falls short. (Most of this can be placed at the feet of Twitter, which limits the access third-party apps have to Twitter’s rich data soup, while giving its own app full access.)

As an iOS user, there are features of Twitterrific for Mac that I take for granted, because they exist on iOS: The interface is colorful, with different colors for different sorts of Tweets. It’s customizable, with several different fonts and font sizes available. And there are some nice Mac-only developments, like the ability to open multiple windows with different accounts or aspects of your timeline. (It sort of makes me want the ability to view a couple of timelines when using Twitterrific on my iPad Pro in landscape view, I have to admit…)

This is essentially a 1.0 product, and there are several features of the iOS version of Twitterrific that are just absent here: You can’t manage lists, or set up muffles or mutes on people or keywords or hashtags. (The good news is, Twitterrific for Mac will sync muffles and mutes from iOS and honor them… you just can’t edit them on the Mac side.) The Today view, Twitterrific’s attempt to emulate the secret weapon of Twitter’s native app (the Notifications tab, which shows you who is retweeting and favoriting your posts) is also absent.

There are also several places where the app just doesn’t seem quite properly adapted to the Mac. Text sizes seem a little too large, even when I scale them down, especially when it comes to window headers. I frequently get frustrated that I can’t bring up a reply list by double clicking anywhere in a tweet—if you get too close to the text of the tweet, it thinks I’m selecting a single word of that tweet. (I’m never doing that.)

Because iOS relies on touch interaction, it has no real concept of hovering over something with your cursor—something that happens on the Mac all the time. Since Twitterrific hides the interaction icons on each tweet until you select a tweet, I have to click to select the Tweet, then click to reply. I’m okay with Twitterrific hiding the icons, but maybe when I move my cursor over the tweet, they should appear? It would save me a click every single time.

Back in the old days, I used to customize the color scheme of Twitterrific for Mac, which was a huge pain—you had to open the application bundle and edit a text file. Fortunately, Iconfactory has built theme editing right into the Twitterrific for Mac app, including support for importing and exporting settings. The Theme tab is a hidden feature you can activate by holding down the Option key while opening the app’s Preferences window. It’s not a friendly interface by any means, but that’s just fine—it let me tweak my settings and create a set of colors that was much more pleasing to me.

Overall, I’m happy with how Twitterrific for Mac is progressing. Right now I suspect its target audience is people who use Twitterrific on iOS and want their familiarity to cross over to their Macs. (I’m in that group!) I’m not sure it is quite ready to appeal to users of the official Twitter app or most other Mac Twitter apps, but with continued polish and addition of a few missing features, it could be in short order. But even today, it’s a more complete app than I expected when I backed the Kickstarter, and I’m happy to have it back on my Mac.

(Podcast) Upgrade #162: The Spider Is a Metaphor

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-09 18:33, modified at 18:35

This week on Upgrade, Jason’s iMac gets a unwelcome visitor and he ponders an upgrade—but is the iMac Pro overkill, or a wise investment? Also, an influx of new emoji are coming to iOS and macOS in the near future, which is more important than you’d think.

Apple's relaxing its third-party standards—and that's a good thing (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-06 13:13

Apple hasn’t always been a company that plays well with others. More often, it seems to enter into grudging arrangements with others—Motorola’s involvement in the ill-fated ROKR phone comes to mind—or form tenuous relationships that act as stopgaps until Cupertino can afford to cut the other party loose. (See, most recently, the company’s abandonment of Imagination, which up until then had made the GPUs for most of iOS devices.)

But in cases where the company is trying to encourage others to buy into Apple’s ecosystem, it’s been somewhat more welcoming—as long as it’s clear that Apple is the big dog in that relationship. The company has notoriously high standards, and it expects other firms to meet them if they want in.

Recently, however, Apple seems to be relaxing strictures on some of its technology platforms, seemingly with the intent of making it easier for third parties to develop products that work with Apple’s own. This bodes well for the future of those technologies—because without third-party investment, they’d likely be lying fallow.

Apple won't reveal Apple Watch sales figures, but it's not alone (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-05 15:44

You, dear reader, are clearly someone who pays attention to what Apple is doing. So here’s a quick quiz: How many Apple Watches did Apple sell during its last financial quarter?

If you answered, you were guessing. Apple doesn’t disclose how many Apple Watches it sells, either by units or dollars. Unlike the iPhone, iPad, and Mac, which the company does break out, the Apple Watch is rolled into an Other Products category that also contains Apple TV and various other stuff.

Apple says it has competitive reasons for not disclosing actual sales figure, but it still wants to boast about how well Apple Watches are selling. Which leads Apple to play a game that’s common among tech and tech-related companies: providing superlatives without details.

Apple Watch Series 3 review: The start of something big

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-05 15:30, modified on 2017-10-10 18:20


Three years in, the Apple Watch is still the Apple Watch.

This wasn’t a foregone conclusion. When Apple introduced the Apple Watch in the fall of 2014 (it didn’t ship until spring 2015), it was unclear how often we’d see new models, and whether the design of the original Apple Watch would be replaced immediately or be maintained for several years.

But here we are in late 2017, and while the Apple Watch has seen some major internal improvements over the years, Series 3 looks just like the original model. (There will undoubtedly be a time when Apple breaks with the design style—and people who have invested in Apple Watch bands will be supremely sad—but three-plus years is a pretty decent run.)

Those internal improvements, though…. The Apple Watch Series 3 is noticeably faster than the Series 2 (let alone the original model), making the interface much more responsive and reducing annoying wait times. In a glanceable device like the Apple Watch, there is perhaps no greater sin than forcing the user to stare at a spinning animation while… nothing… happens. That happens a lot less on the Series 3 watch, and the waits (when they appear) are much more brief. Siri also tends to come up faster, though there are still frustrating random pauses where I’m not allowed to talk to Siri. With Apple Watch Series 3, Siri can talk back to you, which is a good addition—the last thing I need to do is stare intently at my wrist for longer than I need to.

Last year, the Apple Watch Series 2 added standalone GPS capability, which was good, but with the Series 3 it has reached its ideal form with the addition of cellular networking. Just as we arrive at the era where our smartphones are the be-all, end-all of personal technology, along comes a device that allows you to sidestep the obligation we all feel to carry our phones with us just in case someone needs us (or we need someone).

Is that freedom worth the $10 per month I’m paying my cellular carrier? For a lot of people the answer is going to be no—and that’s okay. People resisted the cost of the first wave of smartphone data plans, too… but over time the market and our needs adjusted and synced up. I really do believe that in the future we’ll all have a collection of these devices and paying for them will seem normal (and not outrageous). Today, it’s a feature that will appeal more to people who really benefit from not toting their phone around, mostly active people like runners and bikers and swimmers.

Both the Apple Watch hardware and software have evolved a lot in the past three years, but it’s clear that the hardware development has seriously outpaced the software side. One of the big features Apple is promoting with the Series 3—streaming Apple Music over cellular—doesn’t actually work yet. Apple says it’s coming soon, but in the meantime Apple has set up automatic syncing of music you play often and Apple Music’s auto-generated personalized playlists. Overnight, when your watch is connected and charging, that music will get loaded on your watch. It’s a nice feature (and syncing music to the Apple Watch has come a long way from the janky early days), but it’s not quite the feature that was promised.

I also had some stability issues with my Apple Watch Series 3, though they seem to have worked themselves out after a few days. The first time I went out for a bike ride with only my Apple Watch and a set of AirPods, the watch rebooted twice and spontaneously lost connection with my AirPods a third time. My guess is that the watch was left in a weird state after restoring it from the backup of my previous watch, but that had happened nearly 24 hours prior. Later that day, I got a bunch of permissions requests from the watch (i.e., do you want to allow location tracking), and all of a sudden the watch began to behave normally. I haven’t had a problem since.

Another challenge for watchOS is that the watch was originally conceived as a device with a closely tethered iPhone as a buddy. Many (perhaps most) watchOS apps are still reliant on communicating with their iPhone app on the iPhone, which limits their utility when away from the iPhone. Over time, apps will be updated to take advantage of cellular networking, but today there are a limited number that are truly functional when you’re out running, miles from your iPhone. watchOS needs to be improved to allow developers to create more powerful watch apps, because users will expect more from the device when they’re relying on it as their only connection to the world.

I’m also baffled by how little cellular status has been integrated into the Apple Watch’s faces. There’s a new face, Explorer, that will show dots to subtly indicate that you’re on cellular—but those dots are only available on that face. Why not on my favorite face, Utility? No idea. Every watch face should have a network status complication available. It feels like integrating cellular functionality into watch faces was an afterthought, to be honest.

I don’t want to imply that watchOS isn’t advancing at all—it is, and watchOS on Apple Watch Series 3 is the best Apple Watch experience yet. I love the fact that the apps I most need access to—fitness and audio apps as well as whatever other apps I’ve been using lately—generally stay right on top of the interface, so I don’t have to re-launch them every few minutes when I want to make a quick adjustment. watchOS 4 lets me view my apps in an alphabetical list instead of playing a pattern-matching game in a honeycomb of tiny circles, for which I’m grateful. (You have to force-touch on the app view in order to select list view, so it’s not a very discoverable feature, but at least it’s there.)

Most importantly, watchOS seems to have fully embraced the fact that scrolling (via the Digital Crown) is the primary way to interact with the watch interface. Tapping the side button brings up a new dock, redesigned for the second straight year, that’s stacked vertically so that it makes sense that you can scroll through it via the Digital Crown. There are a few side-to-side swipes still in the interface, but much more of it is about scrolling up and down. Good call.

The Apple Watch Series 3 is an improvement on the previous model, which was itself a major improvement on the original. While adding cellular connectivity isn’t a must-have feature for everyone, for a lot of people it will be reason enough to upgrade (or buy an Apple Watch in the first place). I wish the Apple Watch software was better able to take advantage of cellular connectivity, but for the first time in ages I can leave my phone at home and know that I’m still reachable and can reach out if I need to. This is the start of something big.

(Podcast) Rebound 156: Have We Started Recording?

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-05 14:32

On the latest episode of the irreverent tech podcast with only the most loosely defined boundaries, Dan and John are joined by special guest James Thomson to talk about the ups and downs of the Mac’s remote security measures, what the deal is with the overpriced Apple TV and its much cheaper competition, and the issues with wireless charging. Also, James dishes exclusively about his pivot to game developer.

(Podcast) Clockwise #209: Fancy Carbs

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-04 17:06

This week on the 30-minute tech podcast that talks the talk and ticks the tock, Dan and Mikah are joined by Joe Rosensteel and Christa Mrgan to discuss the Google Pixel’s notch-less design vs. the iPhone X, the justification (or lack thereof) for the Apple TV’s high price point, the fiddly tech we just can’t live without, and iOS 11’s Notes app.

Sonos One (singular sensation) and other news from today's event

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-04 15:48

When it comes to multi-room audio, Sonos is still the gold standard. But the company has lagged behind on the smart speaker revolution, promising only that integration with assistants like Amazon’s Alexa would come in due time.

Today, that due time got a lot closer. At an event in New York City, the company made a variety of announcements about its product line and clearly positioned its devices as the only home speakers you’ll need. Let’s break down what’s new.

Sonos One

Sonos One

Sonos’s entry into the smart speaker market, the Sonos One, is essentially a Sonos Play:1 with six integrated far-field microphones and Alexa built-in. The top of the device has also been redesigned with touch sensitive playback controls. At $199, the One costs exactly the same as a Play:1, and it not only boasts all the features of Alexa, but also all the features of a Sonos.

This is a healthy competitor to the revamped Echo line, offering better sound for only a bit more money. Off the top of my head, the only feature the One seems to be missing from the standard Echo is the ability to work as Bluetooth speaker; stacked up against the Echo Plus, it also lacks the built-in smart home hub, though it can still talk to smart home devices over your local network.

At the moment—and with the understanding that this doesn’t ship until October 24 and I certainly haven’t seen it firsthand—this would seem like the smart speaker to recommend to those who want great sound quality and multi-room audio. It’s also $150 cheaper than Apple’s forthcoming HomePod. For those not convinced by the Amazon ecosystem, Alexa won’t be the only voice assistant option available; Sonos says Google Assistant is coming next year.

Echo and Sonos public beta

So, what if you don’t want to invest in a new speaker and you already have a Sonos and an Echo? Good news! The long-promised Echo and Sonos integration will be available starting today as a public beta.

I guess I can say at this point that I’ve been testing this feature as part of the private beta for a few months now, and it’s pretty great. It works much as you’d expect, letting you play tracks, adjust volume, and so on. I’ve had generally pretty good results. Controlling your Sonos speakers with your voice is super useful, and frankly you’re not going to want to go back to the app if you don’t have to.

AirPlay 2 coming to Sonos

One of the advantages of Apple’s upcoming HomePod (at least until we can put it up against a Sonos and do a real comparison of audio quality) is integration with the rest of the Apple ecosystem via AirPlay 2.

Well, not anymore. Sonos also announced that AirPlay 2 will be coming to Sonos devices in 2018, letting you play audio from iOS devices on your Sonos speakers and letting you use Siri to control music on Sonos speakers.

My question is whether or not I’ll then be able to use a pair of Sonos speakers as stereo speakers for my Apple TV, because…that is potentially interesting. Apple suggests you can do so with the HomePod using AirPlay 2, so in theory the same should be possible with other AirPlay 2 speakers? We’ll have to see.

Assorted other news

Direct Control: Later this year you’ll be able to directly control your Sonos speakers from certain apps like Pandora and Tidal; other apps, like Audible and iHeartRadio will come next year.

Developer APIs: A “Works with Sonos” program will let partners and developers build software (and hardware?) that integrates with Sonos. Logitech and Samsung’s SmartThings are on the list, which bodes well for using Sonos speakers in connected home environments.

All in all, this is a big push by Sonos to become a major force in the market, going beyond its original multi-room audio roots. Casting a wide net to work with many different services and vendors certainly positions the device and the company to potentially become the de facto audio company in the connected home. But there’s significant competition from Amazon, Google (which has its own event coming later today), and, of course, Apple. It’s going to be an exciting holiday season.

Philips Hue switches and sensors now work in iOS's Home app...mostly

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-03 15:48

Smart home devices are still a morass of different apps and standards, so when I get a chance to consolidate, I jump at it. Thus, this morning’s update to the Philips Hue iOS app and firmware, which lets you configure your Hue switches and sensors from iOS’s own Home app, seemed like a great opportunity to simplify my setup.

But, as it so often turns out, the results were kind of mixed.

Siri Temperature

Consolidation is a plus here—I like having all my devices accessible in a single app, rather than having to run around to multiple apps and try to remember where I set all my rules.1 There are a couple other nice touches in the Home app integration as well: for example, now that I have my Hue motion sensor in the Home app—and it displays as three separate sensors, which…okay—it tells me the temperature and light level in my office. I can even ask Siri what the temperature in the office is, which is pretty cool.

However, the downsides to this integration are more apparent. Apple’s automation features are still pretty rudimentary, and the app takes a blunt instrument approach to handling some of the specific features of these devices.

First off, as nice as it is that the Home app can display both light and temperature sensor data from the motion sensor, there is no way—as far as I can tell—to automate based on that information. You can’t create an action to trigger on a certain temperature or light level…which is exactly what I’ve been doing. Instead, Apple only lets you trigger automation based on the motion part of the sensor. I get that it’s the most obvious use case, but hey, if we have all this other information, we should be able to use it, right?


More annoying, however, is Apple’s treatment of some of the Hue switches. I can’t complain about the Tap Switch, which is easy to configure and use in the Home app, but the Hue dimmer switch is treated, to its detriment, exactly the same as the Tap Switch. This is a bummer, because the dimmer switch’s default configuration in the Hue app is pretty good: in addition to On and Off buttons, there are two dimmer buttons—one lowers the light level incrementally with each press, the other raises the light level. But in the Home app, you can’t configure those the same way—instead, each button has to perform only a single discrete action on a press. So you could set the dimmer buttons to, say, 75 percent and 50 percent brightness, respectively, but there’s no way to get the finer grained control that the Hue app offers.

Likewise, the Philips app lets you configure the dimmer switch to toggle between multiple scenes/actions depending on how many times you press the On button. (It supports up to five presses, which I always thought was a bit excessive, but I now kind of miss.) The Home app only supports an action for a single press—though it does specifically say it’s a single press, which makes me wonder if multiple presses might be supported in the future.

I’m going to try and switch control of the dimmer switches back to the Hue app (although the Home app doesn’t make it readily apparent how to remove control of devices) until Apple’s home control gets a little more nuance. As it is, the company’s smart home support seems to be improving by fits and starts. I’m glad that iOS 11 added more capabilities to the Home app, and it’s a positive that Apple has somewhat relaxed its HomeKit standards to make it easier for third parties to integrate their products. But in the truest Apple fashion, it seems to make top-down decisions about how people will use smart home technology; it sure doesn’t feel like the company is necessarily casting a wide net for how people actually use these devices.

  1. As it happens, the Hue app update will also now display routines created by other apps and that is a godsend.  ↩

Rescuing Shared Links from Safari 11

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-03 01:06, modified at 01:14

For a long time, Apple gave Safari users the ability to subscribe to RSS feeds and read them from within the Safari sidebar. Few people knew about this feature, and even fewer used it. With the new Safari 11, that feature—called Shared Links—has been removed entirely. But if you’re a user of Shared Links, what are you to do? You can move to a different RSS reader…. but how do you save your subscriptions in a format so you can migrate them?

This was the question my friend (and former Macworld colleague) Scholle McFarland posed to me the other week. We knew where the Shared Link file was stored on macOS (as a .plist file), but how to easily convert it into an OPML file? Our Google searches came up with a bunch of utilities from more than a decade ago, when the file lived in a different location.

I thought this might be a job for Dr. Drang, the Internet’s favorite text-munging scripting snowman. And so I asked Dr. Drang if he had a solution and, wouldn’t you know it, he had a bunch of work he was trying to avoid and so he solved the problem. Drang wrote a python script to do the job, and then I wrapped his script inside an Automator action in order to make it a double-clickable app. Teamwork!

I don’t know how many people still care about Shared Links, but with any luck those people will find Dr. Drang’s blog post on the subject rather than those outmoded utilities from 2005.

(Podcast) Upgrade 161: I Look at My Phone and the Money Leaves

Permalink - Posted on 2017-10-02 23:27, modified at 23:28

This week on Upgrade, Myke and Jason have taken delivery of the Apple TV 4K and have some initial thoughts, Apple gives us a deeper dive into how Face ID works, and Amazon introduces many Echos and gets in a fight with YouTube. Plus, this entire description now fits in a tweet… if you’re special.

(Sponsor) Carbon Copy Cloner 5

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-30 21:34, modified on 2017-10-06 15:47

This week, Six Colors is sponsored by Bombich Software and the new Carbon Copy Cloner 5.

Carbon Copy Cloner 5 is an upgrade to the bootable backup software for macOS. With CCC, you can create a bootable duplicate of your Mac’s hard drive on an external drive with ease—meaning that if your drive dies, you’re up and running in moments with an identical replacement. It’s also great for migration between systems, testing out beta software, and all sorts of other uses.

This particular upgrade features scheduled task grouping and sorting, guided setup and restore, task history trend charts, a health check for backups, advanced file filtering, and includes hundreds of improvements and fixes.

Echo users can now call phone numbers in North America free

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-29 21:45

This slipped by in my wrap up of this week’s Amazon event, but The Verge’s Chris Welch caught it:

In case you missed the announcement during Amazon’s very busy hardware event earlier this week, the Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Show have all gained the ability to place voice calls to numbers in the United States, Canada, and Mexico for free. If you want to receive calls from regular numbers, you’ll need the new $35 Connect box that Amazon unveiled on Wednesday, which also allows you to use your home telephone number for Echo calls and dial emergency services like 911 or premium rate / international numbers.

I just tested this out, both by giving Alexa my cell phone number, and by saying “call Dan Moren’s mobile” and both worked just fine. So, that’s pretty handy if you need to make a phone call and your hands are full.

Needs repair: A 5K iMac with spider retention issues

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-29 16:27, modified at 17:46

One of the first products I reviewed when I started Six Colors was the 27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display. Apple shipped me one to review and after using it for a few days I realized I needed to buy one of my own. And for the last three years, the iMac I bought has floated above my desk and been my tool to write innumerable articles and edit innumerable podcasts.

As I wrote back in 2014, the screen on the 5K iMac is spectacular. So sharp, so clear, so close to the surface. Though the glass and the LCD aren’t laminated together (like on so many modern iOS devices), they are a single unit, so the implication is that the glass and the LCD panel are so close they’re almost touching.

So close. Almost. But not quite. Which I know, because earlier this week I turned on my iMac to record the Upgrade podcast and saw this:

Yep. That’s a teeny, tiny spider, wedged between the screen and the glass1. 1600 pixels from the right edge of the screen, 840 pixels down. The size of one of the red/yellow/green stoplight buttons on the left side of my window’s title bars. A 20-by-20 pixel area covered by the body of a spider.

Look, I work in a garage. There are spiders around, and though I try to keep it all clean, it’s far from a pristine environment. We have lots of spiders outside the house, and a few get in from time to time. I’ve seen a spider crawling across my iMac display before, on the outside. But this spider apparently crawled in a vent and somehow found its way into the space between the iMac’s display and its attached glass front.

So, what am I to do? I’m going to take my iMac to a local Mac repair shop to see if there’s any way for them to blow out the spider, but failing that, it will be a screen replacement. Yes, replacing a 5K screen… all because of a tiny spider.

You may be saying to yourself, how bad is it, really? Can’t you live with a spider in your display at all times? The answer, after one week, is… no, I don’t think I can. Not if I can avoid it.

Anyway, 5K iMac, it’s been a good run. Yeah, you started showing signs of image retention issues earlier this year, but that’s been manageable. And even if I am sorely tempted to upgrade to an iMac Pro later this year, I don’t want this amazing, fast computer to go to waste—I want to sell it or hand it down to a family member. And that means the spider’s got to go, if I can find a way to get it out of there.

Why Apple is probably working on a heads-up display (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-29 12:57

Every once in a while, I like to get pie-in-the-sky here. Cast my net way out at what the future might hold, what big changes might be around the corner. Obviously, it’s hard to predict with any certainty what Apple’s moves might be next year, much less several years down the road, but sometimes if you peer very closely at what the company is doing, you start to see some interesting confluences.

Recently, I’ve become convinced that Apple is working on some sort of wireless heads-up display—call them smart glasses, or smart goggles, if you must. It’s not a product that I think is coming anytime soon; the technology required to deliver the device that Apple would surely like to produce is still some ways off. But looking at many of the technologies that Apple has been devoting a lot of time and energy to in the past few years, it’s not hard to see a glimmer, if you will, in the company’s eye.

Feed Sponsor: Carbon Copy Cloner 5

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-28 22:27, modified on 2017-10-06 15:47

This week, Six Colors is sponsored by Bombich Software and the new Carbon Copy Cloner 5.

Carbon Copy Cloner 5 is an upgrade to the bootable backup software for macOS. With CCC, you can create a bootable duplicate of your Mac’s hard drive on an external drive with ease—meaning that if your drive dies, you’re up and running in moments with an identical replacement. It’s also great for migration between systems, testing out beta software, and all sorts of other uses.

This particular upgrade features scheduled task grouping and sorting, guided setup and restore, task history trend charts, a health check for backups, advanced file filtering, and includes hundreds of improvements and fixes.

How Apple is managing the iPhone buying dilemma (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-28 16:38, modified at 16:39

So here are the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus, in stores at last. But this time things are a little bit different—the hardest of the hard-core iPhone buyers are sitting out Apple’s annual roll-out of the latest iterative improvement to the iPhone. Of course, that’s because the iPhone X—a cutting-edge model that offers more than iterative improvement—is looming on the horizon.

This leaves Apple, the iPhone, and the people who buy it in a fall unlike any we’ve seen in some time. And in surveying people I know—hard-core Apple fans and casual iPhone users alike—I’ve been surprised at how different people are reacting to the different buying choices Apple is offering this time around.

(Podcast) Rebound 155: It's No Leopard

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-28 15:16

This week, on the irreverent tech show that sometimes talks about tech, we discuss a field full of bad options for Apple’s TV ambitions, our underwhelming take on High Sierra, and how the short supply of iPhone X sensors might hurt us…and America. Also, Lex tries to sell Dan and John on adding favicons to Safari without Apple’s help. They don’t buy it.

Spot and Catch Fire (TV): A round-up of yesterday's Amazon announcements

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-28 14:38

I was called for jury duty yesterday, so I ended up missing the majority of the surprise Amazon event. But, like the wicked, there is no rest for technology journalists, so last night and this morning, I’ve been reading through details of Amazon’s announcements. And so, friends, I offer you a few thoughts on the company’s newest hardware announcements.

Amazon Fire TV 4K


At just $70 with 4K and HDR support, Amazon’s new flagship set-top box is a pretty strong contender in the market—not least of all because it’s more than $100 cheaper than the Apple TV 4K.

Okay, that comes with a caveat. Amazon’s box supports only the HDR-10 standard, while Apple’s supports both HDR-10 and Dolby Vision. But the Fire TV supports Dolby Atmos, which the Apple TV 4K currently doesn’t, though an update is reportedly coming. And that’s on top of the Fire TV’s other existing benefits, like voice control from Echo devices and a decent remote.

The new Fire TV has also been redesigned to use a Chromecast-like “dangle” form factor rather than the flat box sitting on your entertainment center. Oh, and there’s a $15 Ethernet adapter that works with the new Fire TV or the most recent Fire TV Stick, which you’re probably going to need in order to take advantage of streaming 4K content. (Which Amazon has recently lowered its prices on.)

Personally, I’m not in the target audience for this box, as I don’t have a 4K HDR TV. But unless I had a TV model that only supported Dolby Vision, I’d be hard-pressed to figure out why to spend more than twice as much to buy an Apple TV 4K instead.

(Two TV-related announcements I expected yesterday but didn’t get: 1) Despite the Apple TV 4K now being listed on Amazon, Amazon did not release or even announce a release date for the Prime Video app for the Apple TV. It’s likely imminent—it’s been promised for this year—but yesterday would have seemed like a natural time to do it. 2) AFTV News broke the news of this new Fire TV 4K model a couple weeks ago, at which time it also detailed a device that seemed like a merged Echo and Fire TV. That product didn’t appear this week, which raises the question of whether it’s likely to show up before the end of the year or is still in early enough development that it won’t be announced until 2018.)

Echo Plus

On the face of it, the new Echo Plus looks more or less identical to the original Echo (with the exception that it now comes in silver as well as white and black). At first glance, I found details on this device unclear, as several sites/people on Twitter reported it had a “smartphone hub”, which confused the hell out of me until I realized that it was actually a “smart home hub.”

Even that took me a while to decipher until I got to Amazon’s actual specs and realized that meant the Echo Plus has a built-in Zigbee radio. Zigbee, in case you aren’t up on your jargon, is a very low-power wireless protocol that a lot of smart home devices use. Generally Zigbee devices require a bridge that allows them to be connected to your home network. If you have Philips Hue bulbs, for example, you’ll be all too familiar with the little white box that requires an Ethernet connection.


Building Zigbee support directly into the Echo is a smart move, since so much of what Amazon has positioned the device for is a smart home assistant. Apple has mostly chosen to ignore Zigbee directly and instead rely on devices that use Wi-Fi, which are often more expensive and more power-hungry—but can offer potentially better security.1 It does, however, support devices that can bridge into the network, such as the Hue bulbs.

Amazon’s also making the smart move of optionally bundling the $150 Echo Plus with a single Hue bulb for no extra cost, to give customers an example of what the Echo Plus is capable of. Yep, you got it: the first one’s free.

Other than the Zigbee support, Amazon has said that the Echo Plus boasts improved sound (including Dolby processing) and better far-field microphones for speech recognition2, but whether that’s true is going to have to wait until the reviews come out. There’s also, finally, an audio output jack on the Echo Plus, negating one of the last remaining advantages of the low-priced Echo Dot.

The Plus isn’t necessarily a huge improvement, but the integration of the smart hub is a plus and, well, I ordered one if only to free up an Ethernet port on my router from that Philips Hue hub. Next step, an IR transmitter to get rid of my Harmony Hub?


Amazon has also created a new model to take the standard Echo moniker, positioning it in between the Dot and the Plus. The new Echo is smaller, closer to the size of Amazon’s ignominious Tap portable speaker. Like the Dot, it opts for volume buttons on the top instead of a ring like the Echo Plus, and it ditches the plastic exterior in favor of fabric and faux-wood options.


The Echo has most of the same features as the original model, albeit with the same Dolby audio processing as the Plus. It should offer better sound than the measly quality of the Dot, though probably not as good as the Echo/Echo Plus, and it also has a 3.5mm jack for audio output.

Its main improvements seems to be its new design, which aims to help it blend in more to the environment—and, unsurprisingly, make it look more like the Google Home and Apple’s forthcoming Home Pod.

At $100, it’s well positioned as the “default” option for those who want a device that plays audio passably well, looks good, and has most of the features that people are looking for in a smart speaker. It also doesn’t hurt that its cheaper than the competition’s offerings (at least until Google releases whatever it has up its sleeve). And Amazon is pushing hard on its multi-room audio support, offering a 3-pack of the devices for a $50 discount.

Echo Spot

What an odd little device. Basically, the $130 Echo Spot looks like the Echo Show had a baby with an alarm clock. It’s got a small 2.5-inch round screen that seems to use the same somewhat underwhelming interface as the Show, a speaker, and a camera. It also, unlike the Show, features an analog clock face.

Amazon’s billing it as a way to watch videos—not from YouTube—as well make video calls and pull up feeds from connected video cameras.


God bless Amazon for throwing out every single form factor and seeing what people might buy. I am not sure if this will be more or less attractive to people who thought the Show was ugly, or whether there are a lot of people itching for a smart speaker in an alarm clock, but my house has a moratorium on smart speakers in the bedroom—and I imagine I’m not alone.

I could replace the Echo Show in the kitchen with this—it’s certainly much more compact and would handle many of the same functions, but I also listen to a decent amount of music and other audio on the Show, and I’m not sure the Spot’s internal speakers would cut it. Attaching external speakers is an option, certainly, but then it’d probably take up more space than the Show did in the first place.

Then again, at $100 less than the Show, it might be something that appeals to those who want to dip their toes in the “speaker with a screen” department.

Echo Connect


A $35 device that connects to your landline and lets you make and receive hands-free phone calls from your Echo. It would have seemed more efficient to me if Amazon could have used some sort of VoIP software to make calls out, but I guess the advantage of the Connect is that it works with your existing phone number. If you still have a landline.

I’m sure there’s a segment of the population that has a use for this, and perhaps it’ll be a niche hit there. But I can’t help but think landlines are dwindling and this may be only a stop-gap solution.

  1. And they should, because, for one thing, Wi-Fi has much longer range than Zigbee, which is intended to be used in line-of-sight environments.  ↩

  2. Frankly, I already worry the mics might be too good. I frequently have the Echo in my office respond when I’m trying to use the Echo Show in my kitchen, which is utterly befuddling. Amazon needs to improve its software detection of which device you’re actually trying to use. ↩

20 Essential iPhone 8 Tips and Tricks (Tom's Guide)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-27 23:45, modified at 23:46

The iPhone 8 and 8 Plus may not seem all that different from 2016’s iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, especially with the radically new iPhone X waiting in the wings. But Apple did make some pretty significant changes to this year’s phones, from improved cameras to the ability to charge your new phones wireless. Throw in iOS 11 and all of its new features, and your phone boasts a lot of newfound capabilities. Here’s a guide to all the features you should explore to find out just what the iPhone 8 can do.

Twitter piloting 280-character tweets

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-26 21:09

Twitter product manager Aliza Rosen in a post on the company’s blog:

We want every person around the world to easily express themselves on Twitter, so we’re doing something new: we’re going to try out a longer limit, 280 characters, in languages impacted by cramming (which is all except Japanese, Chinese, and Korean).

It was really only a matter of time. I always appreciated Twitter’s forcing of brevity—there were definitely times I didn’t tweet something because it didn’t fit into 140 characters and you know what? The world didn’t end. It probably makes sense for them to update for the times, now that we’re not all using SMS to submit our tweets (as was the source of the original character limit), but it is going to mean losing some of the charm of what made Twitter what it was.1

  1. And these days it doesn’t have much charm to spare.  ↩

(Podcast) Clockwise #208: Even Mantis Shrimps Can't See It

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-26 17:32, modified at 17:33

This week, on the 30-minute tech show that can distill complex science like no one else, Dan and Mikah are joined by Lisa Schmeiser and Alex Cox to discuss what it would take to sell us on an Apple television, how we’d explain quantum computing in a tweet, our feelings on Apple ditching Bing for Google, and what 32-bit games we’re sad to lose in iOS 11.

Apple TV 4K teardown

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-26 14:27

Another day, another Apple product teardown by the iFixit folks. This time it’s the Apple TV 4K that goes under the knife. What do we learn? The new box must run hot—it’s got a hefty fan in it. But with the exception of components soldered to the logic board, it’s actually fairly repairable.

Stephen Hackett reviews macOS High Sierra

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-26 13:42

You could read a lot of High Sierra reviews, but I really liked our friend and Six Colors Magazine contributor Stephen Hackett’s at 512 Pixels. It’s thorough without being ponderous and picks out more than a few details I wasn’t aware of. If you’re looking to find out what’s new in the latest version of macOS, it’s a great resource.

macOS High Sierra: Photos (Six Colors)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-26 00:43, modified at 00:44

One of the major areas of improvement in macOS High Sierra is to the Photos app, which is only a couple of years old and has plenty of room to grow. I literally wrote the book on Photos, so it’s been interesting to watch Apple’s replacement for iPhoto as it has grown and changed. Here’s a look at the changes and new features in Photos for Mac on macOS High Sierra.

(This story has been updated for the final version of High Sierra in place here at Six Colors.)

(Podcast) Upgrade #160: A Helipad on Your Table

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-26 00:42, modified at 00:43

This week on Upgrade, Jason and Myke discuss the new iPhone 8 and 8 Plus and the Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular, plus there’s a little bit about macOS High Sierra. And then Myke at the Movies is back with “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”

macOS High Sierra: A mostly under-the-hood update

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-25 17:10, modified at 17:12

If you were a Mac user eight years ago you may remember Snow Leopard. It was the follow-up release to Mac OS X Leopard, and as Apple explained at the time, the focus was on under-the-hood improvements that would lead to a better, brighter future for the Mac, but be largely invisible to the upgrading user.

In the end, Snow Leopard did offer a bunch of user-interface changes (if you knew where to look), but it was definitely more about laying a new foundation. Apple has tried this same technique with other half-step updates in the past few years—Mountain Lion followed Lion and El Capitan followed Yosemite. But today’s release of macOS 10.13 High Sierra is the most Snow Leopardy of any macOS release in the last eight years. (Snow Leopards do not actually live in the high Sierras, for the record.)

High Sierra is truly a follow-on release to Sierra that offers a bunch of under-the-hood changes that will impact the Mac experience for developers today and for users in a while. But in terms of major new features that will transform your everyday Mac experience, there just isn’t much.

In fact, the biggest user change in High Sierra is probably Photos, which gets some major interface changes and file-compatibility features. By default, Apple’s most recent iOS devices begin taking pictures and videos in entirely new file formats when they’re updated to iOS 11—and if you want full compatibility with Photos and iCloud Photo Library, you’ll either need to update your Mac to High Sierra or change a setting on all your iOS 11 devices in order to force the devices to revert to the old file formats.

A new filesystem for some

The single biggest change in High Sierra is implementation of the new Apple File System (APFS). With this release, all Macs with flash-only internal storage will have those drives upgraded to Apple’s new filesystem format. (Users of spinning discs and Fusion Drives will remain on HFS+.)

In the long run APFS has huge potential to make the Mac better. Partition management is much easier in APFS, and disk partitions can share space, so you don’t have to lock your partitions into specific sizes. Snapshot and revision features have the potential to make Time Machine (and other backup software) far more efficient someday. APFS makes duplicating files in the Finder nearly instantaneous… by pointing at the existing copy of the file data on disk until you modify it, at which point the new file is written to disk.

Most important, perhaps, is that APFS is a filesystem written for an era of flash-storage devices, rather than spinning disks. APFS is much smarter (and faster) at flash storage than HFS+ could be.

But changing the filesystem has ramifications for compatibility. If you make a backup utility you may find that APFS is undocumented and choose to tread lightly and with great care.

If you have a flash-only Mac, upgrading to High Sierra means you’ll get APFS. It’s a big leap. I have a hard time believing Apple would make the leap if it weren’t confident about its implementation—and APFS has been powering iOS devices for many months now—but if you rely on disk-cloning utilities or do other funny things with your disk, maybe it’s worth letting others dip their toes in first.

Other changes under the hood

High Sierra features Metal 2, which is the latest version of Apple’s graphics framework. Apple says that this will lead the Mac to be that much more of a graphics powerhouse for games and other purposes, which is great. This feels more relevant for the next generation of Mac hardware, or perhaps for this year’s crop, than for older systems.

Similarly, High Sierra adds support for VR headsets and development tools. The Mac has been behind in this area for quite a while, and it’s good to see that Apple’s finally trying to lay a foundation for VR development on the Mac. Again, though, this will require the latest and greatest hardware—the most recent iMacs, and the forthcoming iMac Pro and Mac Pro.

High Sierra rolls in support for Swift 4, the latest version of Apple’s new programming language and compiler. It’s a good sign that Swift development is progressing, but this is similarly not a feature that most users will notice or care about—though they may reap the results of more apps written in Swift, eventually.

Changes to Safari

High Sierra includes Safari 11, the latest version of Apple’s built-in web browser. As is standard, the latest Safari is also available for the two previous versions of macOS, El Capitan and Sierra. So while this is a feature that rolls out with High Sierra, it also doesn’t require the upgrade to the new version.

Safari 11 features more tracking protections, in order to thwart trackers that try to build a personal profile of you and then follow you around the web. Pages that automatically play video are now prevented from doing that by default; if there’s a site you’d like to autoplay video from, you can add it in Safari’s Settings. And if you’re a fan of Safari Reader, which simplifies webpages to their base text to make them more readable, you can set Reader to turn on automatically on all stories, or on stories for specific websites.

There are a bunch of changes to WebKit, the open-source web platform that powers Safari, as well. A lot of these changes will improve Safari compatibility with complex web apps, but for you to see the benefits, the developers of those web apps will need time to check the new Safari out and support it.

Among the new features in WebKit is support for the multimedia features known as WebRTC, which have been supported by Firefox and Chrome for some time now. These features can let browsers act as full real-time multimedia communicators (think Skype and Google Hangouts) without any plug-ins.

Unfortunately, what I’ve heard from some developers is that the shipping version of WebRTC on macOS High Sierra and iOS 11 is buggy, which means that they can’t yet support Safari in their apps. There are specifically issues with managing and maintaining consistent audio inputs. Also, despite mentioning the Opus audio codec early on, Apple’s support may be missing—one developers I talked to suggested that he can’t find any support for the Opus codec for playback, which would be a dealbreaker.

Other visible improvements

Beyond the changes in Safari and Photos, you’ll find a few other apps with refreshed features in High Sierra. Mail search has been improved, and Mail now uses a compressed format for storing messages, which results in a disk-space savings.

Siri’s been updated with new Apple Music integration called Personal DJ, which lets you issue commands like “play some Alternative next.” Unfortunately, there’s still no sign that Siri on the Mac will ever be able to connect to anything on the Mac beyond the basics introduced last year. There’s no integration with Automator or scripting of any kind. It’s a missed opportunity.

Spotlight gets a new flight-status feature, so you can type an airline flight code and get a flight tracker right within the Siri window. Notes has been updated for iOS 11 compatibility, so you can see handwritten and scanned items, as well as support for tables.

In many ways, the most important macOS feature these days is compatibility with the latest iOS release. Macs running High Sierra support new iCloud features, such as family iCloud space sharing and the ability to share files saved on iCloud Drive with others.

There are also a few minor updates to the Touch Bar in High Sierra, including an easier way to adjust brightness and volume with a single gesture from Control Strip. But it’s a bit disappointing that there aren’t more changes to the Touch Bar, which has been out for a year now. Third-party utilities still have no access to Control Strip, which would have the potential to make the Touch Bar more useful across apps.

So should you update?

As impressed as I was with all the updates in iOS 11, I’m lukewarm about High Sierra. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s definitely in the spirit of Snow Leopard. The update is something Apple needs to do in order to lay technical groundwork for the future, but technical groundwork is not a motivator for users to update their systems and risk incompatibilities.

Let’s be realistic: In the end, you will need to update to High Sierra, because it will provide you with the latest security updates and features that your apps will demand. But in the short term, until developers better come to grips with the new filesystem and we’ve waited to see if there are bugs or security flaws that could bite this release, I think it’s wise for most users to keep their finger off the upgrade button for High Sierra.

The time will come when you need to ascend to High Sierra. But you may want to wait at the base camp for a few weeks or months until hardier souls tell you it’s okay to make the journey.

ARKit goes to the ballpark with MLB At Bat

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-25 11:00, modified on 2017-09-22 22:27

Apple showed Major League Baseball Advanced Media’s take on augmented reality on stage at its media event earlier this month, but AR is always better in person, when you can see the reality that’s been augmented. That’s why last week MLBAM and Apple invited me (and a bunch of other tech and sports journalists) to the ballpark to check out the future of augmented reality at sporting events.

The technology is still in the early days—MLB says that it won’t reach the hands of consumers until a new version of the MLB At Bat app reaches devices for the beginning of the 2018 season. But it’s definitely on the way, powered by iOS 11’s ARKit technologies and MLB’s rich trove of Statcast data.

If you don’t know about Statcast, here’s the deal: Every major-league ballpark is equipped with imaging equipment that allows MLB to measure, at a rate of 60 frames per second, the position of every player on the field, as well as the location of the ball. It’s a technological revolution that is allowing teams and researchers alike to understand aspects of baseball that were previously thought to be unmeasurable, because they go beyond traditional stats that simply measure the outcomes of individual plays.

That data is available in real time—and it’s being tapped by the MLB At Bat app to power its augmented-reality view. Sitting at AT&T Park in San Francisco, we were able to look at an iPad pointed at the field and see floating icons with pictures of each player on the field—and the icons that moved as the players moved. Tapping on the shortstop’s icon added a colored shape indicating his fielding range, the area where he’d be expected to stop a ball and make an out. When a runner took a lead, the app could display the length of his lead.

Early in the game, Joe Panik of the Giants lined a triple to the wall in right-center field. After the play was over, the app drew the arc of the ball’s path on the screen, as well as the trajectory of the return throw by the outfielder. All the information was overlaid on the live camera view of AT&T Park thanks to Apple’s ARKit technology.

The truth is, Statcast is a fire hose. The challenge for the MLB At Bat app developers is to figure out what sorts of data are interesting and useful to someone at the ballpark—and how to deliver it to them in a way that’s easy to use and understand. Also, an alert when a foul ball is coming your direction so you can look up from your phone might be nice.

MLB’s other challenge will be making sure that its augmented-reality views will work in every conceivable section of every ballpark. It turns out that aligning the app to the field itself isn’t that hard — baseball diamonds are blessedly symmetrical, even if stadiums aren’t. The challenge is that different seats can have very different points of view. If you’re behind home plate, you’ll get a very different view than if you’re sitting atop the Green Monster at Fenway Park. So far they’ve tested the app in Oakland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, but it’ll need to be checked out at every location.

I have to wonder if perhaps there are some augmented-reality applications for this technology that go beyond people at the ballpark. Imagine erecting a virtual ballpark on your dining-room table and being able to play back game events. All the technology to do that exists today, too—it’s just a matter of figuring out the right way to build it. But there’s no doubt that, once again, MLB’s apps will be pushing these new technologies to the limit.

How Star Trek serves as inspiration for AI, mobile tech, and healthcare innovations (TechRepublic)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-22 23:06

From the moment it came on the air in 1966, Star Trek was influential. Children of the Space Age watched in awe at the optimistic vision of a future where humans are the masters of space and science and technology. With Star Trek: Discovery set to premiere on Sunday and perhaps influence a new generation, it’s worth considering this franchise’s outsized impact on our real and imagined technological futures.

Dropbox app updated for iOS 11... and Files

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-22 22:43, modified at 22:54

Dragging and dropping an image from Mail (left) directly into a shared folder in my Dropbox (right).

App updates aren’t always big news, but today’s Dropbox for iOS update is. That’s because the app has been updated to fully support Files, the new file-management app that’s a core part of iOS 11.

Dropbox was never an enthusiastic supporter of previous iOS filing features, but the appearance of the Dropbox logo on slides at WWDC in June gave me hope that the relationship had completely turned the corner. And here’s the result: Dropbox appears to have entirely implemented support for Files, so I can drag files into and out of Dropbox natively, just as easily as I can from iCloud Drive. (I even dragged a few files out of iCloud Drive and into Dropbox, for fun. The files weren’t properly syncing with my iCloud Drive on my Mac, but guess what? When I moved them to Dropbox they synced instantly.)

For those of us who rely on Dropbox and use our iPads for work, this makes good on the promise of the Files app. I can’t wait to use it.

iTunes rentals extend to 48 hours

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-22 22:38, modified on 2017-09-23 00:24

At last—at long, long, long last—Apple’s U.S. iTunes movie rental window has expanded from 24 to 48 hours in length, a feature offered by many of its competitors but, frustratingly, not Apple:

You have 30 days to start watching a movie after you rent it. After you start watching the movie, you have 48 hours to finish it. You can watch the movie as often as you like until it expires.

When my kids were of a certain age, my wife and I had maybe 90 minutes per night to watch TV together before we had to go to bed ourselves. There were almost no movies we could finish in that period. (And the ones that are that short are generally kids’ movies!) While watching a movie in two sittings is not ideal, it’s certainly better than never seeing any movies ever.

What I’m saying is, a 48-hour rental window is good and I don’t know why it took this long but I’m glad it’s finally here.

iFixit tears down the iPhone 8

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-22 20:26

It’s not an Apple product launch until iFixit has done its requisite teardown. Interesting tidbits: the iPhone 8’s glass back apparently makes it even tougher to access, Philips screws have made a comeback, and the Qi wireless charging coil looks pretty cool.

The iPhone's Home button is gone: What's next to go? (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-22 15:26

Apple’s never been a company to dwell on the past. In the last year alone, it’s killed off the ability to sync apps to your iOS device via iTunes, the headphone jack on the iPhone 7, and the Home button on the iPhone X. Even the venerable iPod line has (mostly) been put out to pasture.

These all come from a place of ambition: the company isn’t shy about kicking convention to the curb if it thinks it can replace the old with something new and better. (Admittedly, not everyone always agrees that what’s new is better, but Apple doesn’t spend a lot of time soliciting opinions.)

So in the spirit of Apple’s merciless machete, I started thinking: what other long-running conventions of the company’s mobile platform might be due for an overhaul? Nothing lasts forever, after all. So here are a couple areas of iOS that seem like they’re ripe for a rethink.

(Podcast) Rebound 154: I Would Take That Bullet For You Guys

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-21 19:45, modified at 19:46

RELEASE ALL THE APPLE THINGS! Dan, John, and Lex discuss their favorite features of the newly released iOS 11 and watchOS 4, as well as what needs some work. In a surprise twist, Lex makes a confession about Twitter, and John reveals his surprising past as a dairy farmer. Somehow, this is not actually a joke.

The Verge's Apple TV 4K review is a mixed bag

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-21 13:28, modified at 13:49

Nilay Patel’s Apple TV 4K review at The Verge is pretty nerdy and gets at some hard truths:

For Apple to justify the Apple TV 4K’s $179 price tag against the apps already built into your TV and those very popular cheap streaming sticks, it needs to offer a perfect utopia of the best technical capabilities, a complete content catalog, and a simplified interface. I know a lot of video nerds, and all of them were hoping the Apple TV 4K would be the One True Box. That’s what Apple does: it rolls in and confidently fixes complicated tech problems with elegant solutions.

The Apple TV 4K does not do that. Worse, its attempts to solve the thorny technical problems of home theaters are less flexible and sometimes not as good as other, cheaper boxes. If you buy one of the most expensive TV products on the market, you shouldn’t have to think about whether you’re getting access to a complete content library, the best audio and video quality possible, and YouTube in 4K. You should get it all, and never think about it again. It should light up all of the lights.

Apple’s charging a premium price here—and that’s fine, if it’s also delivering a premium product. But from Patel’s review it’s clear that Apple has made some very Apple-like choices that are more about where Apple wishes the state of the art was rather than where it is. This isn’t skating to where the puck will be so much as it is whiffing on the puck altogether.

It’s not altogether Apple’s fault: Disney still hasn’t signed on to provide 4K HDR videos through iTunes and YouTube, for example, uses Google’s 4K codec, which the Apple TV doesn’t support. But as soon as you have to use the word “codec”, people’s eyes are probably glazing over. Most folks expect that buying a 4K device means they get 4K. Period.

The main selling point of the Apple TV 4K over the fourth-generation Apple TV is the support 4K and HDR, which are still kind of high-end features right now, and if it’s not appealing to the high-end portion of the market that is investing in them, well, who exactly is this product for?

iOS 11: HEVC, HEIF, and what you need to know about these new video and photo formats (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-21 03:10, modified at 03:11

Up until now, iOS devices have captured video in the MPEG-4/H.264 format, and still photos in JPEG. But with iOS 11 (on recent hardware), Apple is breaking with tradition and switching to a new set of formats that promise dramatic decreases in file size—albeit at the cost of some added complexity in terms of file compatibility.

OS 11: How the one-handed and QuickType keyboards work (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-21 03:09, modified at 03:10

What defines iOS more than its software keyboard? It’s the thing that made the original iPhone different from all the other phones with their keyboards of plastic buttons. When we enter text into our iPhones (and our iPads), it’s generally via the standard iOS keyboard. And in iOS 11, there are a few notable improvements to that keyboard.

iOS 11: How the new Maps app and Do Not Disturb While Driving work (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-21 03:08, modified at 03:09

The smartphone has changed the world in a lot of ways, but it’s eradicated the paper map. Our phones are our maps, so much so that it’s hard to imagine life without them. In iOS 11, Apple upgraded the Maps app in a bunch of ways that improve the overall experience, and once you’ve got access to them, you won’t want to go back to the way it was before.

To be fair, a lot of the new Maps features are playing catch-up with Google Maps and Waze. But the fact is that Apple’s default apps have tremendous audiences—millions of people who would never think of looking for an alternative to the app that came with their phones.

(Podcast) Clockwise #207: The 'C' Stands for Caveman

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-20 19:00, modified at 19:01

This week, on the 30-minute tech podcast that will never see 31, Dan and Mikah are joined by Megan Morrone and Anže Tomić to discuss our smartphone buying decisions, apps that rely on anonymity, our experiences with AR so far, and what big features our favorite products and platforms are missing.

iOS 11: How Control Center works (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-19 23:38

Control Center in iOS 11 is different. Really different. And when you upgrade from iOS 10, it will take some getting used to. But as someone who has been using it for a few months now, let me declare: It’s better. The new Control Center is simultaneously simpler and more powerful. And best of all, you can customize it to do what you want—and hide most of what you don’t care about.

It's iOS 11 and watchOS 4 day!

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-19 16:15, modified at 16:25

Hello, readers. It’s that day. The day when you finally get your hands on iOS 11 after…

Let’s be real. You’re a Six Colors reader. You probably installed the first developer beta. Or the second. Or maybe you waited until the public beta. But you’ve probably been using iOS 11 all summer.

Even if you have, though, this is the day when our loved ones—the less technologically focused in our lives—will be getting the new operating system. So it still feels like a milestone, even if it’s hard for some of us to even remember what it was like to run iOS 10.

I wrote a review of iOS 11 for Macworld, which just posted this morning, that breaks down the highlights. If you want more, I’ll just wave the Italian flag and tell you to have at it.

The short version is: iPad users should update to iOS 11, because the multitasking changes and addition of drag-and-drop are awesome. iPhone users, well, there’s still great stuff there—Do Not Disturb When Driving is going to make the world safer—but it’s a bit less of a world-shaker. Still, Apple makes it awfully hard not to update your devices, and there are lots of good reasons—compatibility, security, and functionality—to make the move. If you pay for iCloud storage space, for example, you should get your family on iOS 11 so you can share that space and they can stop bugging you about why their iOS backups fail because they’ve run out of Apple’s laughably small 5GB of free iCloud space.

On the Apple Watch side, it’s watchOS 4 today. It’s a relatively subtle update, but there are still some nice features, as Serenity Caldwell details in her review at iMore. You probably haven’t installed this one yet, since Apple limits distribution of watchOS betas since there’s no way to reset the device at home if something goes horribly wrong. I installed the final version last week and while it took forever, it’s been running smoothly ever since.

iOS 11: How multitasking and the Dock work on the iPad (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-19 15:22, modified at 15:23

With iOS 11, Apple is transforming how multitasking works on iPads. You’ll need to learn new gestures and change how you view the Dock, but overall the changes are a major step forward in making the iPad a more powerful productivity device.

iOS 11: How drag and drop works (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-19 15:21, modified at 15:22

It took two years for the iPhone to get one of the most basic functions of modern productivity: copy and paste. The logical next step was drag and drop, but that’s taken considerably longer to implement. Still, the day is finally here: With iOS 11, Apple has added systemwide support for dragging and dropping data all around the system—with a few major caveats.

iOS 11 review: Apple's most ambitious and impressive upgrade in years (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-19 15:18

It seems like almost every year Apple crows that the latest iOS update is the greatest one yet. Yes, when you incrementally add features and fix bugs, every new version is fundamentally better than the previous one. But iOS 11 is more than that: This is a substantial upgrade that dramatically transforms iPad productivity while offering a host of new features that have the potential to make the world around us both safer and more entertaining than ever before.

The hype is justified. iOS 11 is Apple’s most ambitious iOS update in some time.

Apple Pay cash: Not yet

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-18 20:40, modified at 20:42

iOS 11 comes out tomorrow, a fact that Apple reminded everyone of today. But nestled in that announcement is a tidbit I don’t think we’ve heard before:

Coming this fall with an update to iOS 11 and watchOS 4, Apple Pay users will be able to send and receive money from friends and family quickly, easily and securely. Pay and get paid right in Messages, or tell Siri to pay someone, using the credit and debit cards they have in Wallet. When users get paid, they receive the money in their new Apple Pay Cash card in Apple Wallet and can use the money instantly.

As with the arrival of Messages in the Cloud, Apple has apparently decided that discretion is the better part of valor when it comes to a feature that would have a bunch of ugly consequences if it didn’t roll out in a rock-solid way. I’m not thrilled about waiting to send and receive money via Apple Pay, but I’d rather wait than have it ship broken.

(Podcast) Upgrade #159: Retcon Incident

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-18 20:08, modified at 20:09

Our wallets much lighter than last week, this week on Upgrade we discuss what new Apple products we’ve ordered and what we’re still waiting for. We also spend a lot more time dissecting the iPhone X and Face ID, and leave room for plenty of follow-up and #askupgrade.

Teamosa is a smart tea-maker with a Keurig-like plan

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-18 13:03

Regular readers of the site will know that Jason and I are both fervent tea drinkers, so unsurprisingly I’d already seen the Kickstarter for Teamosa by the time reader Ben asked about it.

Here are my quick thoughts: First, I love the idea of a smart tea-brewing apparatus. I’ve been delighted with my Breville Tea Maker (which we colloquially refer to as the “tea robot”1), which handles the whole boiling water/tea brewing process in a single step, keeps the tea warm for up to an hour, and lets you schedule a brewing time in advance. The only other feature I’d like to have, frankly, is the ability to start the process remotely—say, from my phone—rather than at a specific time, but, that’s just icing.

To a certain extent, a rising tide lifts all boats infuses all tea, and having more advanced tea-brewing technology on the market helps push the state of the art forward and inspire competition, which is great.

As for the Teamosa in particular, there are a few things that caught my eye. First is this idea of “ultrasonic extraction,” which the team behind this device says increases antioxidant yield by 20 percent. Antioxidants are, of course, compounds found in tea and other foods and drink that are believed to promote good health, though most studies on that subject have been inconclusive. As to whether ultrasonic extraction is a better way to extract those questionably-beneficial elements, well, I did find a reference in a book called Ultrasound in Food Processing which says it is potentially more efficient, though it primarily references the creation of instant tea, which is, unsurprisingly, about as palatable as instant coffee.2

Long story short: this might increase the amount of possibly beneficial compounds in tea, so certainly don’t go into this expecting magical health benefits.

As far as the tech end of this goes, Teamosa mainly looks like a combination of the Breville tea-maker and a Keurig. You can choose your temperature, brewing time, etc. Teamosa rightfully points out that over-steeping or using water that’s too hot can adversely affect the taste and smell of tea…but any tea drinker worth their oolong probably knows that already. (Hence our careful timers and our little plates for putting our tea infusers on after we remove them.) You can control all of this from a smartphone app, as well; the tea-maker itself has a Wi-Fi chip.

But it’s the Keurig part that makes me raise my eyebrows. Teamosa does support your own tea leaves, but it’s also selling “paper tea capsules” that you pop in and use. Which has its convenience, to be certain—the machine can scan the capsule and automatically detect the correct brewing temperature and time—but it’s also probably more expensive and wasteful than using tea leaves. But, hey, I’m sure it provides the company a source of recurring revenue.

This being a Kickstarter campaign, it comes with the usual degree of risk. The Teamosa is expected to retail for $399, which is $150 more than the already pretty pricey Breville—and it looks smaller, so I doubt it scales to make as much tea as the Breville, either. The early bird backing is offering a machine, some capsules, and a pair of cups for just $239, but it’s not expected to ship for a year, and, of course, you’re buying something sight unseen.

As of this writing, the project has already hit its goal, so my advice would be to wait for it to come to market and see how it actually works. The way you’re making tea right now is the way it’s been done for thousands of years—it’ll hold up for at least one more.

  1. No doubt to the constant frustration of John Siracusa.  ↩

  2. I also turned up an old patent related to ultrasonic extraction of tea leaves, so somebody thought it was effective back in the ’90s.  ↩

(Sponsor) Mountain Duck 2

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-16 18:11, modified at 18:13

My thanks to Mountain Duck from Iterate for sponsoring Six Colors this week.

Mountain Duck lets you mount server and cloud storage as a local disk in the Finder on Mac and the File Explorer on Windows. You can open remote files with any application, and work as if the files are on a local disk. It’s based on the solid open-source foundation of Cyberduck, and supports all major protocols, so you can connect to just about any server or cloud-storage service.

The new Version 2 is a major update, featuring support for client-side encrypted Cryptomator vaults—foolproof client-side encryption for cloud storage mounted on your desktop.

Six Colors readers can get a 20 percent discount this week by using coupon code SIXCOLORS.

SuperDuper! developers dish on APFS

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-15 19:53, modified at 22:30

Dave Nanian, proprietor of Shirt Pocket, which makes the backup utility SuperDuper! has a lot to say about the upcoming APFS file system in macOS High Sierra:

The bad news is I’m not confident enough to say we’re going to release our APFS support day-and-date.

I know this kind of hedging is disappointing. But it’s important to note that Apple still hasn’t released any documentation on the “proper” way to create a bootable APFS volume. An example of what they have in mind was released for the very first time when the High Sierra developer release came out a few months ago, but that’s it. We basically have to make an educated guess about what they want.

Dave suggests caution in upgrading to High Sierra, especially for those using SSDs, since they will be automatically converted to the new file system. Keep an eye out and see what other people’s1 experiences are before taking the leap.

  1. Like me and Jason, for example. Because we’ll be the guinea pigs here.  ↩

PCalc updated for new Apple hardware and... augmented reality?

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-15 16:00, modified at 16:13

A collection of augmented-reality items in my laundry area, inside a calculator. Because, why not?

James Thomson’s venerable calculator app PCalc has been updated today on all its platforms, including iOS and watchOS, MacOS, and yes, tvOS.

My daughter’s doing pre-calculus this year and I have been reminded that I am apparently the go-to math expert in our house due to the year of college calculus I took during the late 1980s. I have forgotten more math than I remember, but wise people like Dr. Drang will tell you that PCalc is the best scientific calculator for Apple platforms.

PCalc has always mixed its massive amount of mathematical functionality with a bit of whimsy. At one point Thomson introduced a feature that would blot out the questionable words you can type using numbers. He’s doggedly figured out ways to create functional calculator interfaces on the Apple Watch and Apple TV, two places you might not expect to need a calculator.

Now there’s PCalc 3.7 on iOS, which features all those great math features you’d expect, plus support for Apple’s latest stuff, including iOS 11 drag and drop (and drag and drop on macOS for the first time too), resizable digits, iPhone X support, and 40 different custom icons.

Then there’s the About screen, which features a complete augmented-reality playground, where you can drop 3D objects into your living room. There’s also a car you can drive around. You heard me. A car.

Keep PCalc weird, I say.

Google Chrome will block autoplay videos next year

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-15 15:02

Mounir Lamouri, a software engineer at Google, posting on the Google Chromium blog:

Starting in Chrome 64, autoplay will be allowed when either the media won’t play sound, or the user has indicated an interest in the media. This will allow autoplay to occur when users want media to play, and respect users’ wishes when they don’t. These changes will also unify desktop and mobile web behavior, making web media development more predictable across platforms and browsers.

Not all users have the same preferences for autoplay media, so Chrome 63 will add a new user option to completely disable audio for individual sites. This site muting option will persist between browsing sessions, allowing users to customize when and where audio will play.

Autoplay video is a bane of the web right now. Advertisers love it, users hate it.1 I honestly cannot think of a more user-hostile experience out there. Safari in High Sierra will block autoplay video, so it’s good to see Google jumping on the bandwagon. Sorry, advertisers—bottom’s about to fall out of this market, and none too soon.

  1. Also, many of the people who produce content for sites that use autoplay video hate it. They’re just powerless to do anything about it.  ↩

Living with long-term risk

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-15 14:55

Security expert Rich Mogull, writing for TidBITS, has a good—if sobering—overview of the long term effects of the Equifax hack:

Until the system changes, there isn’t much you can do beyond a credit freeze, and that comes with some negatives, especially if you need to apply for credit or a job. Perhaps this incident will spur some legislative changes. The odds are high that more than a few politicians are also now exposed, and self-interest is a powerful motivator.

It’s hard to overstate just how damaging this attack is. We haven’t even seen the real effects yet.

3 small announcements that hint at Apple's big future (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-15 12:58

Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference is generally the company’s blueprint for at least the next year, as it shows off improvements to its core platforms. But for the last six years, the company’s fall event has boasted a more tangible realization of that future in the form of a new iPhone.

This year, Apple’s iPhone X made that future overt, with Apple indicating that it was once again skating to where the puck will be. But though that might be the most obvious indication of Apple’s future designs, there were a handful of smaller announcements sprinkled in the keynote that also indicated where the company might be putting its attention in the coming years.

Rogue Amoeba's Fission updates ringtone compatibility for iTunes 12.7

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-14 19:35, modified on 2017-09-19 16:47

Rogue Amoeba CEO Paul Kafasis:

Today, we’re releasing Fission 2.4 with revamped ringtone saving. Using Fission, you can once again save custom tones for use on your iOS device. While the new iTunes makes it much less obvious, it is indeed still possible to load custom tones onto your iOS device, right from your Mac.

Not only does Fission let you make custom ringtones, they’ve got step-by-step instructions for getting them on your iOS device.

An interesting side note: Kafasis points out that GarageBand’s own ringtone-export feature has been broken by the changes to iTunes.

Face ID won't work if you don't stare at it, has a lockout feature

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-14 19:27, modified on 2017-09-15 03:43

Developer Keith Krimbel emailed Craig Federighi some questions about Face ID, and got some actual useful answers!

The news about a lockout feature is really handy—even easier than the “press the side button five times” feature in iOS 11. As for the “not staring at it” idea, well, it’ll be interesting to see how well that works in practice.

Also, good to know that Face ID will work with most sunglasses. (Apparently it will work with hats and even scarves as well? That will certainly be a boon to those of us in the cold climates of the northeast when winter comes.)

(Podcast) Download #21: Like Being in a Star Wars Movie

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-14 18:48, modified at 18:49

It’s Apple’s biggest week of the year. But announcing the iPhone 8 and iPhone X simultaneously is a risky move for the company to make. Also, what’s the value of a cellular-connected Apple Watch, and does Apple’s Apple TV 4K strategy make sense? Jason is joined by Ben Thompson of Stratechery and longtime colleague Shelly Brisbin on this week’s Download.

(Podcast) Rebound 153: I Killed the Smartest Man in the World

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-14 14:30

Buckle in, friends, because this is going to be a big one. Dan, John, and Lex break down the announcements from this week’s Apple event, from the future of the Apple Watch to the most important, puzzling question of the year: which phone are you going to get? Then Lex has a tech question about something not related to Apple, and we try to figure out what the next iPhone might be.

David Pogue on why Face ID really failed

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-14 14:17

Veteran tech journalist David Pogue gets to the bottom of the onstage Face ID failure at Tuesday’s Apple event:

FINAL UPDATE: Tonight, I was able to contact Apple. After examining the logs of the demo iPhone X, they now know exactly what went down. Turns out my first theory in this story was wrong—but my first UPDATE theory above was correct: “People were handling the device for stage demo ahead of time,” says a rep, “and didn’t realize Face ID was trying to authenticate their face. After failing a number of times, because they weren’t Craig, the iPhone did what it was designed to do, which was to require his passcode.” In other words, “Face ID worked as it was designed to.”

So, unsurprisingly, it’s a feature, not a bug.

This does raise some concerns. MacRumors points out that Face ID allows for only two failures rather than the five that Touch ID allows, which could be a testament to how accurate Apple believes the technology to be, but also means that if anybody else—a friend, partner, or a child, for example—picks up your phone and it tries to scan their face, it doesn’t take much before you’re entering your passcode again.

I also haven’t seen confirmed news that Face ID allows only one face to be enrolled, though I have heard from a few different places that that is the case—at least at launch. That’s tricky for those of us who have enrolled our partner’s fingerprint in Touch ID to give them access to our phone, but I imagine it could also, again, be a pain for those who want to let their kids use their phone. If this is the case, hopefully a future update will allow for multiple faces to be enrolled.1

  1. I’ve heard a lot of people suggest the solution to this is “just give the other person your passcode.” Yes, that would work, but the virtue of Touch ID/Face ID is it means I can have a long, complicated passcode that’s more secure because I don’t have to type it as often. Asking someone else to remember my long complicated passcode, well, it’s not so much that it’s a burden as it’s just unlikely they will remember it.  ↩

Feed Sponsor: Mountain Duck 2

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-14 00:10, modified at 00:12

Mountain Duck lets you mount server and cloud storage as a local disk in the Finder on Mac and the File Explorer on Windows. Open remote files with any application, and work just like the files were on a local disk. Based on the solid open-source foundation of Cyberduck, all major protocols are supported to connect to just about any server or cloud storage. S3, Azure, Google Drive, Dropbox, B2, and more are supported.

Mountain Duck 2 is a major update, featuring support for client-side encrypted Cryptomator vaults—foolproof client-side encryption for cloud storage mounted on your desktop.

Get a 20% discount this week using coupon code SIXCOLORS.

A visit to Apple Park

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-13 23:44, modified at 23:47

Apple Park's main building as seen from the Steve Jobs Theater.

Tuesday was a big day. iPhone X. iPhone 8. Apple TV 4K. Apple Watch Series 3. But the biggest product unveil of all? No contest: It was Apple Park.

I’ve told more than one Apple PR person that I could get to Infinite Loop in my sleep. And on some early mornings it’s felt like I almost have. But this time, I bypassed the De Anza Blvd. exit on Interstate 280 South and instead went down another exit, to Wolfe Road. (That’s right, the two campuses are one freeway exit apart. It’s about a 1.5-mile drive between them on surface streets.)

There’s a lot of construction still going on on the periphery of Apple Park. As I drove down Wolfe Road, I noticed that there’s a main entrance at “Apple Park Way” that’s blocked off entirely. On Homestead Road, there are small single-family houses right across the street from Apple Park—or more accurately, from trees and a sidewalk and more trees and a fence and more trees and a berm and then Apple Park. But still, if you wanted to live literally right across the street from Apple Park, you could.

Attendees of the event were asked to park at the new Apple Park Visitor Center, which is at the corner of Tantau and Pruneridge. Beneath the building is a multi-story underground parking garage. The building itself is a glass-walled box that’s very much recognizable as an Apple building. It is, in fact, an unusual sort of Apple Store.

Roughly three-quarters of the building is indeed devoted to Apple Retail: It’s a full-on Apple Store. But like the Apple Store at the Infinite Loop campus, this store has a few special extras, including six colors of Apple Logo and Apple Park t-shirts. Through a pair of glass doors on either side of a divider wall is the other quarter of the building, which is a small cafe complete with coffee bar and wooden tables and chairs, all in the same design style as the Apple Stores themselves.

I wonder what the vibe in the cafe will be? And I wonder if Apple Retail head Angela Ahrendts might use it as an experiment to see if some lessons learned there could be exported to the rest of the Apple Stores around the world. In any event, it looks like if you visit Apple Park, you’ll be able to get a coffee, at least.

Across the street from the Visitors Center was a glass building (yes, they’re apparently all this way at Apple Park) that functions as an entry gate. From there, we went up a gently winding path that took us to the top of the hill that houses the Steve Jobs Theater.

The lobby is an all-glass-walled circle with no visible supports other than the glass itself, which is pretty nifty. It was devoid of furniture when we were there, perhaps out of a concern for crowds. Outside there’s a very nice view across a field to the main Apple Park ring, which is enormous even when seen from a distance. It’s very clearly a newly-planted landscape, however. There are trees and plants placed everywhere, with room for them to grow and spread, and the smell of fertilizer was extremely strong.

Once they began seating the theater for the event, we were allowed to go down two curved stone staircases that led below ground level. At the bottom of the stairs, we entered the theater itself—from the very top, at the back of the theater. So if you wanted to get down to the stage itself, you’d be walking down another flight of steps.

Steve Jobs Theater.

The Steve Jobs Theater had that new-theater smell, thanks to its thousand leather seats, each with a power outlet in a foot below. I sat in the upper sections, where there were armrests between seats. Down in the flat section at the very bottom of the theater, seats appeared to be more bench-like (or pew-like?), with fold-down arm rests. It’s not as big a space as some of the ones Apple has used for launch events, but it’s still quite big, and it’s entirely controlled by Apple. (I’m happy to report that the leg room in the Steve Jobs Theater is much, much better than at the small Town Hall conference center Apple had previously used for on-campus media events.)

The presentation’s slides and videos were played by a 4K HDR projector, according to Eddy Cue, and the screen looked great—and sounded great, too. It would be, as John Gruber pointed out on Twitter, a great place to see a movie.

At the end of the presentation, the doors at the top of the theater popped open, revealing that there’s a room on that level that can be hidden (via a turning circular divider) from people coming down the stairs from the entry lobby. With that divider spun around, it was a bright, open area containing the hands-on area showing off all the new Apple products that had just been unveiled.

Hands-on area.

Because if you’re Apple and you’re custom-building your own event space, of course you’re going to have a secret hands-on area. How could you not?

Another view of the hands-on area.

The fact is, the Steve Jobs Theater and the entire Apple Park campus are Apple products. Of course they look like Apple Stores. Of course they have custom-designed stone staircases and beautiful wood furniture. When you’re a company that has built its entire identity around design and style, from hardware to software to the contents of retail stores, it’s awfully hard to just build a glass office tower and call it a day. If you’ve ever imagined what an Apple Store would look like if it sprawled over 175 acres, well, it’s called Apple Park.

When all was said and done and seen, I went upstairs and outside and sat down on one of the wood benches that surround the lobby. I wrote a quick article for Macworld while about five different live TV interviews happened behind me. It was warm, much warmer at the top level than it was down in the theater. Then it was time to head down the sloping, curving path, back to the Visitor’s Center.

A panorama of the Apple Park Apple Store.

One of these days I’d like to see the main building at Apple Park. But as Tim Cook suggested Tuesday, it may be a while before everyone’s properly settled in. Maybe I’ll get my chance. But I realize that most people never will. Infinite Loop has become a destination for Apple fans who visit the Bay Area, so much so that Apple has tried to take steps to adjust to that, like adding some customer parking and converting the Company Store into a proper Apple Store.

T-shirts are available, of course.

With Apple Park, Apple has built the assumption that people will want to visit right into its plans. You could call the existence of an Apple Park Visitor Center presumptuous or arrogant, but I think it’s really pragmatic. The visitors are going to come. So Apple has built them a pretty destination… and put it just across the street.

With A11 Bionic, Apple's iPhone takes another big performance step forward (TechRepublic)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-13 21:22

Apple introduced three new iPhones on Tuesday, and while most of the discussion is about the iPhone X, the announcement with perhaps the biggest impact on productivity yesterday is something that’s inside all of these smartphone models: the Apple-designed A11 Bionic processor.

Apple has been designing its own processors for iOS devices for some time now. Part of Apple’s secret sauce is that it controls the processor road map, the operating system, and the phone hardware itself. And as we’ve seen over the last few years, Apple has managed to continue increasing processor and graphics capabilities at a pretty rapid rate.

Packing more power into a phone isn’t just good for bragging rights, nor will it make you prioritize your email faster. But that added processor power enables new features that Apple and app developers will take advantage of—and while games will always make for fun demos, there are also productivity-based applications for new technologies like augmented reality and advanced imaging based on depth-sensing technology.

Cellular frees the Apple Watch Series 3

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-13 21:19, modified on 2017-09-14 05:04


I’ve been surprised by the negative reactions I’ve seen to the idea of embedding cellular connectivity in an Apple Watch. Sure, there are plenty of reasons you might not need it—from the added cost (both of the device and in terms of monthly carrier-access fees) to the desire to leave your phone behind and be truly disconnected from the world.

But for a lot of people, I suspect that having an Internet-connected Apple Watch is going to be freeing. Up until now, the act of leaving the house without your iPhone has also meant dumbing down your Apple Watch. With all connectivity and its iPhone buddy gone, you can still use the Apple Watch, but it’s not nearly as good.

(Now, is watchOS 4 a capable enough operating system to provide apps enough power and flexibility to run independently of an iPhone? Everything I’ve read and heard suggests that it’s still not. This needs to be an area of focus for watchOS 5.)

I take my iPhone with me everywhere I go when I leave the house. It’s how I communicate with my family and friends. I can call for help in case of an emergency. I refuse to be away from home without it, not for a second.

Now picture that world with a cellular Apple Watch Series 3 in the picture. All of a sudden, my Apple Watch is no longer just an accessory that’s always wirelessly tethered to my iPhone. If I’ve got my watch on—and I generally do, all day—I can choose whether it’s worth bringing my phone with me to wherever I’m going.

If I’m going on a run, I’d love to be able to stop having my phone bouncing in my pocket. (I’m never buying one of those arm-band things.) I can walk to the store to buy some milk (with Apple Pay, so I can leave the wallet at home too) without my iPhone. I can walk the dog without my iPhone. And in a future where I’ve got a cellular Apple Watch, I will do those things. My iPhone will no longer be obligatory—and if I don’t think I’ll use it, I’ll leave it behind.

Now, there are a lot of details that need to be filled in with actual use of the Apple Watch Series 3. Is the microphone as good as it sounded from the demonstration stand-up paddleboarder Apple placed on the shores of Lake Tahoe? Will the connectivity with my iMessage account and phone number truly be seamless? Will my watch apps get very confused when they lose connection with my iPhone? How sad will I be when I start paying $10 per month to add my watch to my AT&T wireless plan? And, yeah, will I kill my Apple Watch battery life if I use it for a phone call for more than a few minutes?

We’ll see. But this is a huge step forward for the Apple Watch. The next step is to make sure watchOS and its apps are powerful enough that I don’t end up bringing my iPhone with me anyway—not because of a need for connectivity, but because my watch won’t properly play podcasts or let me participate in a Slack conversation.

(Podcast) Clockwise #206: The Safari Bandwagon

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-13 19:22

This week on the 30-minute show that somehow packs in sixty minutes of content (it’s bigger on the inside), Macworld alums Dan Frakes and Scholle McFarland join Dan and Mikah to discuss much of the Apple event fallout: Are there too many iPhones in the line-up? What’s our most anticipated High Sierra feature? Are we sold on Qi wireless charging? And how much is too much to pay for a smartphone?

Apple bumps prices on higher capacity iPad Pro models

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-13 14:24, modified at 16:32

It’s pretty rare for Apple to raise prices on a product midstream, but that’s just what’s happened with the iPad Pro. As first reported by MacStories, the higher capacity 256GB and 512GB models of the 10.5-inch and 12.9-inch have all gone up by $50: the 256GB 10.5-inch model at $799 (up from $749), the 512GB at $999 (up from $949), the 256B 12.9-inch model at $949 (up from $899), and the 512GB 12.9-inch at $1149 (up from $1099)—cellular models have moved commensurately, maintaining the $130 price gap. The 64GB models of both the 10.5-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro remain the same at $649 and $799, respectively.1

Why the pricing change? Simple: memory is expensive. And it’s not that it wasn’t expensive before, it’s that it’s gotten pricier recently. In Apple’s most recent quarterly earnings call, the company mentioned “a more difficult memory pricing environment this year than a year ago.” NAND flash, which Apple uses for pretty much all of its product lines, is in short supply this year. Everybody needs it, and there’s not enough.

Samsung, which is still one of the major if not the major producer of flash memory, has been attempting to transition to a new “3D” or “Vertical” NAND technology that should allow for higher density and other benefits. However, that transition has apparently run into some challenges that prevent 3D NAND from being manufactured on the needed scale at cost effective prices. This transition has also led to a decline in conventional NAND supply.

This move also brings the pricing of the iPad storage tiers more into line with comparable devices—which is to say, the newly announced iPhones. In each case, jumping from 64GB to 256GB brings a $150 price tag. Older iPhones, like the 7 series, 6s series, and SE, see a $100 price increase when jumping from their lower 32GB capacities to higher 128GB capacities. Both are 4x storage increases, but the floor and ceiling pricing is higher already, due to bigger chips.

Because I was curious, here’s a chart of all the iOS devices Apple sells with their respective storage tiers and prices.

iOS and watchOS device capacity and price chart

  1. Bottom line: I guess I’m glad I bought a 10.5-inch 256GB iPad Pro back in June, because looks like I saved $50? ↩

iTunes 12.7 ditches iOS App Store, app syncing

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-13 12:06, modified at 19:24

Goodbye, App Store

iTunes has become infamous for being a bloated, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink kind of app, and many of us had resigned ourselves to it being that way forever. But Apple’s taken the first steps to slimming down the behemoth with the quiet introduction of iTunes 12.7, which removes both access to the iOS App Store and the ability to sync apps to iOS devices.

Fear not! You can still plug in an iOS device and sync media to the device, as well as transfer files into apps. But after nine years, Apple has made the right call in deciding that we’re all pretty used to installing apps from the App Store on our phones. App syncing was a good idea in the days when cell connections were pretty slow, but with LTE and prevalent Wi-Fi, there’s little reason to sync apps from a Mac. (Plus, plenty of people don’t have a Mac. And iTunes on Windows is still less than popular.)

It might make sense to have the iOS App Store still available on the Mac—perhaps integrated into the Mac App Store app? That could definitely use an overhaul, as it stands. Even if you could simply click Buy on an app to have it downloaded to your iOS device, that would be pretty handy—not to mention for Apple journalists looking to grab links to iOS apps while writing stories on their Macs. *ahem*

The other major casualty is the ringtone store, which Apple points out you can now access via the Sounds section of Settings on iOS. You can still copy ringtones to your iPhone or iPad via iTunes, but you do so by connecting the device and clicking on Tones item in the iTunes sidebar, and then dragging .m4r files in:

Tones section of iTunes

I still think that there are plenty more improvements to be made here. I continue to think device syncing should be in its own app, relegating iTunes strictly to media management, but this is certainly a step in the right direction.

Gartenberg: Apple raises the bar

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-13 02:01, modified on 2017-09-14 17:37

It was a major keynote for Apple. The first one in the new Steve Jobs Theater on the Apple Park campus… a more intimate setting than most of the recent iPhone events. The beauty of the setting almost eclipsed the event. Almost. But not quite.

Despite some very detailed leaks, none really told the story of the day. This was easily one of the biggest Apple product launches in recent memory. So let’s get to it.

Apple Watch. A major upgrade—not in form factor, but in function. The star of the show was the LTE Apple Watch. This is really important. It means users, in theory, can now leave their phone behind and stay connected. They can walk around without anything in their pockets and still take phone calls, deal with messages, and stream music—and those are some of the applications that are enabled by this functionality.

Other competitors—Samsung, for one—have tried this on their own watches, but their feature set and usability have come nowhere close to Apple’s. This might be the smartwatch that truly is for the rest of us. This product is really important to Apple. This is a post-post-PC device.

Apple TV. The current Apple TV is a great product, but hardly delivers the vision that I suspect Apple wants to ship. This new model does take Apple’s vision one step further, with support for 4K and HDR. (By the way, those are terms that are not nearly consumer-friendly enough.)

All that high-quality video is great, but until the content kings get fully onboard, Apple TV will be device number two (at best) on our televisions. And even with improved apps and better games, Apple TV is not a game console replacement, either.

Which brings us to the main course….

iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus. These are amazing phones. Apple has once again raised the bar in terms what a smartphone is. The new form factor is wonderful, adding support for wireless charging. This really feels beyond what an iPhone 7s would deliver. The new augmented-reality demos blew me away. This is Apple’s vision of AR, and it’s real, it works, and it opens up a whole new level of functionality and fun. That is, if developers step up.

But the star of the show was iPhone X. It’s arguably the most beautiful product ever made by Apple and the jewel in Apple’s crown. The aesthetics must be seen to be appreciated. This is something Apple competitors aren’t even close to. If the iPhone 8 raises the bar, iPhone X raises the bar so high it can’t be seen. This is, quite simply, the best smartphone money can buy.

The screen is beautiful. A seamless piece of glass that users interact with in so many new ways. Face ID takes facial recognition and makes it seamless, becoming invisible in use. The new functionality it enables is groundbreaking. No doubt, this is the device that Steve Jobs envisioned more than then ten years ago. I expect the lines to purchase the iPhone X will exceed what we’ve seen before.

Now to the price. Price points are what they are—and the bottom line is that the iPhone X will be aspirational for many. People may go into a store and see an iPhone X but leave with an 8. But implicit in Apple’s message is that all iPhone X technology will be available for the rest of us… someday soon.

To those who say Apple is no longer in the business of innovation, I’d point them at Tuesday’s event. And then I’d probably quote Phil Schiller: “Can’t innovate, my ass.”

[Michael Gartenberg is an independent analyst, former Apple executive, and Contributing Analyst at Six Colors.]

(Podcast) Upgrade #158: New Theater Smell

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-13 01:32, modified at 01:33

This week on Upgrade: Apple unveiled three new iPhones, a new Apple Watch, a 4K Apple TV, and the new Steve Jobs Theater at its September media event. Jason was there and returned home just in time to join with Myke in recapping and analyzing everything that went on at Apple Park.

iPhone X: Hands-on and first impressions with Apple's new iPhone (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-12 21:49

The iPhone X is real, though it won’t be arriving in customers’ hands until November. I got to use one for a few minutes Tuesday at the Steve Jobs Theater after Apple wrapped up its latest media event.

My first impression is that, in many ways, this is the iPhone that Apple has always wanted to build—one where the front face is almost entirely covered by a screen. And what a screen—a bright, colorful OLED display that Apple claims is the best by far that it’s ever put on an iPhone.

Today's Apple event: the little details you might have missed

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-12 20:37, modified on 2017-09-13 14:30

Apple Event

As always, with the deluge of information from an Apple event, some details fall through the cracks. Fortunately, we’re here to sweep them up and collect them in the dustpan of our—you know what, I think this metaphor has gotten out of hand.

Anyway, here are a few things I picked up as I was trawling Apple’s site after today’s announcements. If I come across more, I’ll update this post.

Face ID pays attention: As predicted, Face ID goes beyond just unlocking your phone. Apple’s iPhone X page says because Face ID can tell when you’re paying attention to the phone, it can “also reveal notifications and messages, keep the screen lit when you’re reading, or lower the volume of an alarm or ringer.” As someone who has always had message text displayed on the lock screen, this is a nice middle ground between turning it off for more privacy and security and the convenience of not having to unlock your phone.

Face ID failure on stage: While we’re talking about Face ID, let’s address that failure on stage. There’s an excellent piece at The Verge detailing why the failure is kind of misleading. Like the author, I noticed that it looks a lot like the notice you sometimes get about Touch ID being disabled until you enter your passcode. Which is to say: it’s not a bug, it really is a feature. (But somebody’s probably in trouble for not making sure it was properly prepared for the show anyway.)

NFC with reader mode: Both the iPhone 8/8 Plus and iPhone X specs specifically call out “NFC with reader mode”, whereas the iPhone 7/7 Plus specs say only “NFC.” However, I’m told that the 7/7 Plus can read NFC tags via third-party apps under iOS 11. But might this perhaps enable person-to-person Apple Pay or person-to-vendor Apple Pay using an iOS device and no add-ons?

Apple Pay delayed

Person-to-person Apple Pay delayed? Speaking of person-to-person Apple Pay, it’s been absent from the betas thus far. The iOS 11 preview site now lists it as “Coming this fall,” suggesting it will arrive in a separate update. Maybe along with Messages in the Cloud?

High Sierra ship date

High Sierra ship date: Speaking of things only mentioned on Apple’s website, macOS High Sierra got zero screen time at today’s event, but Apple’s preview page now confirms a September 25th ship date.

iPhone Sizes

iPhone sizes: Curious about how the iPhone sizes stack up? The X is a little bigger than the iPhone 7, and reasonably smaller than the 7 Plus. The 8 and 8 Plus, meanwhile, are only microscopically different from their predecessors—so much so that Apple is billing its cases as working for both.

New Leather folio: Speaking of cases, I believe this $99 iPhone X Leather Folio, which comes in four colors, is a new style that incorporates a wallet design. Apple also confirms that wireless charging works through the case.1

Apple Watch Series 3 exclusives: Two exclusives to the Cellular version of the Apple Watch Series 3: the Explorer face, which shows the cellular signal strength via four dots above the hub of the watch face, and the red dot on Digital Crown, which appears to be for purely stylistic purposes?2

Apple TV Remote redesign

Apple TV remote “redesign”: Yes, Apple heard our complaints about the Siri Remote for the Apple TV and redesigned it…by putting a white circle around the menu button. Seriously. That’s it. (We’re going to have to have a whole different conversation about the pricing. Gah.)

AirPlay 2 on Apple TV: On the topic of Apple TV, Apple’s press release says “Apple TV can control multiple AirPlay 2-compatible speakers as well as your home theater speakers to create the ultimate home music experience.” I’d read that as including HomePods, since they’re the only AirPlay 2 speakers we officially know about? But it’s unclear to me whether both the 4K and current Apple TV will support it. (Oh, and AirPlay 2 is, like Apple Pay, “coming later this year.”) Update: Here’s a handy article with more about AirPlay 2, including third-party companies on speaker compatibility.

So, that’s what I’ve spotted? Have I missed anything? What have you noticed?

  1. It’s wireless—it’d better.  ↩

  2. Though it does take me back to my favorite pre-Apple Watch conspiracy theory.  ↩

Apple iPhone Event blog and photos

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-12 16:25, modified at 20:18

J.J. Abrams to return to Star Wars franchise for Episode IX

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-12 15:25

The Force is reawakening, apparently. After news of Episode IX director Colin Trevorrow’s dismissal last week, Lucasfilm said it would have details on who would replace him, and while many had hoped for a new face, it’s hardly a surprise that the company is going with a proven choice in J.J. Abrams, who will both write and direct the new film.

Abrams wouldn’t have been my first choice, though he’s unquestionably a safe bet. The Force Awakens was a big hit, and despite my quibbles—some of which you can hear about on the recent Not Playing episode that covered the show—I love the movie. But Lucasfilm has shown itself to be conservative when it comes to picking directors, and it seems to be all the more gunshy after having to recently replace the upcoming Han Solo movie’s directors, Chris Miller and Phil Lord, mid-production with veteran director Ron Howard.

As I see it, the pros of bringing Abrams back are obvious: he’s got familiarity with the franchise and the characters, he’s a name director who a lot of people have positive associations with after Episode VII, and, most importantly, he’s a known quantity. There have been reports that he clashed with Lucasfilm head honcho Kathleen Kennedy (in a way that Episode VIII director Rian Johnson has not), but Abrams may have come in with some extra leverage.

Abrams isn’t without his cons though. For one thing, as I said, I have some frustrations with Episode VII, mainly having to do with some storytelling conveniences and liberties taken along the way. More importantly, though, this has solidified the main Star Wars movies into an all-white-male affair, which is disappointing. Just as Episode VII—under Abrams’s hand, to be fair—brought women and people of color into the franchise’s foreground, it seemed like Episode IX would have been a good time to branch out a bit.

But as Lucasfilm is surely looking to bring the trilogy to a satisfying close that ends the franchise on a strong note and positions it well for the future, it’s no surprise that they went with the safe choice.

For more on who I, and several of my fellow Incomparable panelists, would have picked, check out our recent Episode IX director draft podcast.

iPhone Upgrade Program may allow delivery, trade-in by mail this year

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-12 13:29

I noticed the other day—and a few other sites have also picked have also noted—that Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program page now seems to suggest you can have a new phone delivered and then trade in your old phone via mail.

As a customer of the iPhone Upgrade Program since its inauguration, this is a huge improvement in a system that has gotten better every year. For the last couple years, you’ve had to reserve a new phone online and then go into the Apple Store to swap your old phone out. (Listeners of the Six Colors Secret Subscriber podcast will remember last year’s memorable episode recorded live from an Apple Store while waiting for my new phone to activate.)


Here’s the relevant language (pulled from Google’s cache as the iPhone Upgrade Program page is on the Apple Store section of the site, which is currently down ahead of this afternoon’s event). The one exception appears to be those customers on T-Mobile, who will still have to go to an Apple Store.

Going into the Apple Store on iPhone launch day is often a frustrating experience, involving lines, lots of waiting, and running down the battery on your current iPhone from boredom, so I’m happy to skip it this year if possible. Gazelle and similar service have done trade-ins via mail for years now, so I’m sure Apple can handle that process. We’ll find out the exact details later today, but I am sure looking forward to sitting in the comfort of my home and having a box show up on my doorstep.

Nintendo revives NES Classic, bolsters SNES Classic production

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-12 13:00

Kotaku’s Brian Ashcraft:

After disappearing from store shelves, the NES Classic is returning next year. But that’s not all: the Super NES Classic will continue to be shipped through 2018. In Japan, the Super Famicom will still get shipped after October, and the Famicom Mini is going back into production. Hot damn.

Is this an end to the bizarre saga of the NES Classic? Nintendo’s retro console was hard to find last holiday season thanks to insane popularity, but the company announced back in April that it was discontinuing the device, and focusing on the SNES Classic.

Now, it seems, you’ll have your choice of which classic Nintendo game system to buy.1 Or, let’s be honest: buy both.

  1. Perhaps the success of the Switch has helped embolden the company.  ↩

Two iOS 11 security measures will make it harder to get at your data

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-11 18:30, modified at 19:35

At Wired, Andy Greenberg details two changes in iOS 11 that will make it harder for another user—whether it be someone snooping on you, a thief, or law enforcement—to get at the data on your device:

But in iOS 11, iPhones will not only require a tap to trust a new computer, but the phone’s passcode, too. That means even if forensic analysts do seize a phone while it’s unlocked or use its owner’s finger to unlock it, they still need a passcode to offload its data to a program where it can be analyzed wholesale. They can still flip through the data on the phone itself. But if the owner refuses to divulge the passcode, they can’t use forensic tools to access its data in the far more digestible format for analysis known as SQLite.

That’s a good change and an easy one to make. As the article points out, it doesn’t stop someone from getting at your phone if they have your fingerprint—which you can be compelled to give—but it makes it a lot harder to sift through the data.

But wait! That works in conjunction with another iOS 11 feature:

Apple’s developer beta for iOS 11 also reveals a more straightforward protection against searches of a seized iPhone, too, in the form of a new iOS feature called “S.O.S. mode.” Tap the phone’s [sleep/wake] button five times, and it will launch a new lockscreen with options to make an emergency call or offer up the owner’s emergency medical information. But that S.O.S. mode also silently disables TouchID, requiring a passcode to unlock the phone.

Put those two things together and they make it much harder to access the data on your phone.

iPhone Event: The set list isn't the performance

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-11 17:14, modified at 17:28

So huge swaths of tomorrow’s Apple media event appear to have been leaked. It’s happened before—the chrome-arm iMac, the iPhone 4, the body of the original iPad, and many more.

I’m not going to list what we think we know. It’s a lot. Instead, let’s consider what we probably don’t know going into Tuesday.

In terms of raw facts, we don’t know prices and storage tiers. We don’t seem to know if any new iPhone models will support inductive charging via an add-on accessory. Any deals being made with content providers for the new Apple TV are probably still secure. There are probably a few other bits that aren’t gleanable from the complete contents of an iOS 11 firmware package, but it’s not a huge list.

Still, it’s a little like saying that reading a set list is a replacement for attending a concert. The appeal of an Apple product launch is not a product’s spec sheet, it’s the reveal. (If you want to test this, refuse to watch an Apple product launch sometime and limit yourself to the Tech Specs pages. Good luck.)

An Apple product reveal is pure marketing. It’s the opportunity for Apple to tell its story, and yes, it’s trying to convince the media, the world, and you personally to buy what it’s selling. For me, the most interesting thing about an Apple product launch is not what the PC industry used to call the “speeds and feeds”—the specs and prices and other technical details—but the stories Apple tells around the products it’s selling.

Stories are compelling. The famed Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field wasn’t about blazing specs, it was about telling a story that put you and a new Apple product in the center of a miraculous future that had just arrived in the present.

Even if you roll your eyes at that, consider this: The way Apple describes its new products says something about how Apple views those products itself. Which features is it emphasizing? Who is being targeted? When Apple announced the HomePod in June, one of the most notable things about the roll-out was that the company pushed audio quality hard while spending almost no time on Siri. That was notable.

As a product reviewer, I’ve found it incredibly valuable to understand how a company pitches a product. That doesn’t mean that I’ll agree with their attempt, but it lets me understand something about the market the product is meant to serve. Generally, products are best evaluated through the lens of what they’re intended to be—not what we unrealistically wished they were. Not every product is designed for me, and I need to keep that in mind when I’m writing.

There are also the product demos. Sometimes these can be crashingly boring, but sometimes they’re the highlight of the day. Apple is riding high on the hype generated from the ARKit announcement in June, and I expect ARKit to get a big demo that will generate even more hype. What major developers have been spending this entire summer working on augmented-reality apps that will blow us away? I’m sure Apple had a pretty decent group to choose from.

And of course, with the new iPhone X (assuming that’s its name), how does Apple explain the new features and why they’re worth the price? How does Apple contrast the OLED screen in that iPhone with the LCD screens in the other models? How does Face ID work in practice? How does Apple describe the value of 4K and HDR video in rolling out the Apple TV 4K?

Apple is a big enough company that if it wanted to release all its products by press release, it could. It puts on a two-hour show several times a year because it wants to tell the story around the products. Reading a plot synopsis isn’t the same thing as watching the movie. To be sure, there are some people who read plot synopses and consider it good enough—but most of us like to see the story unfold. Placing all the technology in a proper human context (that, not coincidentally, makes those humans desperately want to buy Apple products) is what Apple media events are all about.

And that’s why I’m still excited about tomorrow’s Apple media event—and why you probably should be, too. We probably know most of the songs the band’s going to play, but it’s no replacement for seeing how the band plays them.

The War on Buttons

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-11 16:23, modified at 16:25

Alyssa Bereznak, writing for The Ringer about Apple’s eternal quest for hardware simplicity:

If you want to know how deep Apple’s hate for buttons goes, look no further than the very first iPhone announcement. It was a little more than a decade ago when Steve Jobs—resplendent in a black turtleneck, dad jeans, and white New Balance sneakers—introduced his company’s flagship product by first launching into a tirade against the feature.

In the article I share the single dumbest joke about Steve Jobs wearing turtlenecks, but the design philosophy is real and if there’s no home button on the next iPhone, it’s just one more step along the path.

Amazon's merging the Fire TV with the Echo

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-11 14:32

AFTVnews has the scoop on two new Fire TV models coming from Amazon this year, but it’s the high-end model that’s going to get the attention:1

The second new Fire TV is a cube shaped set-top box that will be Amazon’s new flagship model. It has far-field microphones, a built-in speaker, and an LED light bar that give it the same functionality as an Amazon Echo Dot for hands-free Alexa interaction and control. It also has an IR emitter which allows it to control your television and other A/V equipment.

Given Amazon’s position in the smart speaker market and its pretty successful set-top box, it makes sense it would be the first to try combining these two great flavors into one device. Google and Amazon have both been moving in this direction for a while now—the remaining question is how well it works.

The addition of an IR emitter is a nice thought too. Right now, I use the Harmony Hub to control my A/V setup by voice, but it’s still somewhat limited in what it can control, and it would be nice to have one less random box on the shelf. (Really, it’s always felt like a bit of a stop-gap.)

Controlling your TV setup by voice is here, and it isn’t going away.

(via Joe Steel on Twitter)

  1. Speaking of leaks, this reads to me as a deliberate leak from Amazon, not least of all because it’s a day before Apple announces the 4K Apple TV update it’s rolling out—which has itself already been leaked, and will probably seem a bit underwhelming comparatively.  ↩

Does the iOS 11 firmware leak ruin Apple's big day?

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-11 14:20, modified at 15:31

Apple’s going to have to remove its chief weapon of “surprise” from its arsenal. Friday night saw the leak of the Golden Master version—which is to say what, in ordinary circumstances, would be the final shipping revision—of iOS 11. MacRumors and 9to5Mac were both able to download and install the software, and pretty much all of Apple’s plans for the mobile OS have been laid bare. You can go read all about them there or on developer Steve Troughton-Smith’s Twitter feed—I’m not going to rehash them.

Earlier this year it seemed like whatever Apple had been doing to put an end to leaks had gone pretty well, but with this news following on the heels of leaked HomePod firmware last month, it seems like any attempt Tim Cook once made to double down on secrecy hasn’t really paid off.

The bigger question is: does it matter?

To Apple? I’m sure it upsets the company and its executive team. It certainly steals their thunder for tomorrow’s event. But for all of that, the long-term detriment is low. The majority of people who have read the leaks are probably still going to watch the event anyway; the mainstream media and average potential Apple consumer, well, they probably haven’t even heard about the leak—nor would they necessarily care if they had.

But Apple isn’t in it for the eyeballs: it’s in it for the cold hard cash of selling its products. It’s hard to fathom how a leak could affect that at this point: everybody was going to find out about these features in a few days anyway, at which point they’d be making the same decision about what to buy. (And, of course, there are still lingering questions, like price points.)

I’m sure there are plenty of Apple engineers and other personnel who’ve worked really hard on the final products, and for them, yes, I can understand some disappointment that this didn’t come out in the manner it was intended to. But their products are more than just the hour spent introducing them—it’s about people using them every day for years to come. The tail here is pretty long.

From a purely entertainment standpoint, I can express a little bit of disappointment. I like watching Apple events, if only because it’s one of the few times in this job that there’s still an opportunity for surprise and delight. But no, it’s not quite like having the season finale of Game of Thrones spoiled for me—there, the telling of the story is all there is. Here, there’s plenty left once we get the full story about the products and then, again, when we actually get our hands on them.

So, no, these leaks aren’t the end—they’re just the beginning.

Built to last

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-08 23:13, modified on 2017-09-09 01:03

The other day Michael Tsai pointed out that numerous Mac apps and developers are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year, most notably BBEdit, PCalc, and the Omni Group. (Default Folder’s also been around 29 years, and the Omni Group for 25.)

(Five years ago I wrote this anniversary piece about BBEdit.)

I started writing about Apple 24 years ago, so these apps all have a leg up on me. Still, I clearly remember discovering and using Default Folder in 1991, and I was not very far into my career in tech before someone (probably Stephan Somogyi) sat me down and explained that I needed to use BBEdit whenever possible. I reviewed DragThing, James Thomson’s app that is not a calculator, circa 1995.

Older people like to accuse the modern world of being disposable, as opposed to back in the past, when things were built to last. But most of the software from the 90s is long gone. Surviving this long is extremely rare. It takes a bunch of factors to last as a product. The product has got to be good, it’s got to be financially successful, and then… well, then it’s all about the secret sauce. Some combination of persistence, perseverance, stability, doggedness, stubbornness, and adaptability allows a few hardy souls to survive.

Most of these long-lived pieces of software are inextricably linked with their creators. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Creating, growing, and maintaining software requires a personal commitment—like the ones Rich Siegel, James Thomson, and Jon Gotow have made to BBEdit, PCalc, and Default Folder respectively.

Selfishly, I hope their careers and commitment to their products continue for a long, long time—specifically, as long as I’m using their software! I want Rich to have a happy and long retirement someday—but only when I’m finished using BBEdit, and not a moment sooner.

Why Apple's new iPhones may delight and worry IT pros (TechRepublic)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-08 16:23, modified at 16:24

Apple is set to introduce new iPhone models on Tuesday at a special event on its new campus in Cupertino, CA. Leaks suggest that the new iPhones will include a high-end model that’s dramatically different from any previous model. But what does that mean for the professionals who rely on the iPhone as a key part of their business life?

What's in the new iPhone? Just look at iOS 10 and iOS 11 to find out (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-09-08 15:12

Apple’s a company with a long-term product vision. Next week we’ll see the 2017 iPhones unveiled at the Steve Jobs Theater, but people inside Apple are already working hard on the 2018 model… and probably on the new features that will populate the 2019 and 2020 versions, too.

While the most interesting things to come out of any Apple event are the new product announcements, one of my favorite things about any Apple announcement is how it makes some of Apple’s previous decisions more understandable in hindsight. As outside observers who can’t peer into Apple’s inner workings, we don’t always have the necessary context to understand where the company is going.

But sometimes, if we’re fortunate, we can intuit some things about Apple’s direction in advance. And if a few of the rumors of the next-generation iPhone are true, some of Apple’s previous decisions start to be part of a much bigger story.