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Six Colors

A feed by Jason Snell and Dan Moren


The Mac Pro design's G4 ancestry

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-18 17:08, modified at 17:10

Stephen Hackett hauled out his G4 Cube to show the similarities and differences between the design of vents on the Mac Pro and the Pro Display XDR and two G4-era models:

While the design from the outside is very similar to the Mac Pro, to my eye, it is not quite the same. The new machines uses hemispherical cuts, while the design on the Cube is created by two overlapping flat components. There are no fancy hemispherical cuts here.

Looks to me like Apple was experimenting with this design way back then, but in an era where its skill in working with metals was not remotely close to where it is today.

(Podcast) Upgrade #250: Building a Home Screen Together

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-17 20:33

After a brief commentary about Twitterrific 6 and the difficult world of App Store pricing, we kick off the The Upgrade Summer of Fun by building the official Upgrade iPhone home screen. 28 apps will be picked! Four will win coveted spaces in the dock! Rules will be invented on the fly! Also, we explain what a draft is.

(Sponsor) SaneBox

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-17 19:33, modified at 19:36

For the last week Six Colors has been sponsored by Sanebox. I use Sanebox every day and want to thank Sanebox for the support.

SaneBox brings sanity back to your inbox by prioritizing what’s important, removing spam/junk, grouping newsletters together, and automating tedious tasks. It works on top of your existing email setup. (I use it with Gmail.)

Important mail goes in my Inbox. Mailing lists get shunted to a newsletter view. Stuff that’s deemed less important goes to the “SaneLater” view, all within my existing email apps. And I can move messages to different areas to train the system on how to filter in the future. Best of all, there’s a Black Hole folder that I can drag all email from people I’d like to never see again, and SaneBox takes it from there.

See how SaneBox can magically remove distractions from your inbox with a free two-week trial. Sign up and save $25 on any subscription.

Twitterrific 6: My favorite Twitter app just got better

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-14 19:14

New Twitterrific 6 features include new color themes, user-editable custom themes, a new display font option, and better presentation of inline media.

The Iconfactory’s Twitterrific is my go-to Twitter client and has been for years. Version 6 of the Twitterrific iOS app launched this week, and I’ve been testing it for months now. While Twitterrific’s approach to Twitter is not for everyone—I always hear from the legion of Tweetbot fans every time I write about Twitter apps—it works perfectly with how I use Twitter and I’d be on Twitter a lot less if it ever went away.

The new version adds a bunch of clever features, some of which I use a lot, some of which will appeal to people who are not me. Videos and GIFs can now play (silently) in timelines, a feature that I immediately turned off. In general, Twitterrific displays images and videos better inline, showing them at their native aspect ratios and including both media and quoted tweets together for the first time.

At last I can select the proper GIF from within the compose window.

This version adds support for Giphy, the search engine for animated GIFs, which makes Twitterrific a much better meme-propagation tool. I use Giphy a lot in Slack and it’s fun to be able to pluck an appropriate GIF without ever leaving Twitterrific’s composition window.

Twitterrific’s color scheme has also gotten an overhaul. Rather than offering just dark, light, and pure-black themes, Twitterrific now has three different light themes and five dark themes to choose from. Even more impressive is support for theme customization: You can build your own color themes and drop them in a Twitterrific sub-folder in iCloud Drive and they’ll automatically sync and appear in the app. Color themes are plain-text files in Property List (plist) format. Even better, the files are directly compatible with the theme files you can build in the Mac version of Twitterrific 1.

I was able to export my desktop Twitterrific theme, change its name from “Desktop.plist” to “Desktop.twitterrifictheme”, drag it into the Night folder, and then switch to it on my iPad and iPhone, syncing up my color scheme across all my devices. (Turns out my Mac theme looks terrible on iOS—I’ve got some work to do there.)

This new version ships for free with banner ads and occasional interruptions to request that users support the product. To turn off the ads and interruptions (and support development of the app), you can subscribe to Twitterrific 6 on a monthly or annual basis, or spend a one-time fee to unlock everything for the duration of the lifetime of Twitterific 6. Some past supporters of Twitterrific will get some benefits even without paying for the new version—a page at the Iconfactory’s website has the details.

Twitterrific isn’t for every Twitter user, but I think it’s a dramatic upgrade over the company’s iOS offerings. I wouldn’t use Twitter nearly as much if I had to use the website or Twitter client. That’s why I’m glad that enough people use (and pay for) Twitterrific that the Iconfactory can continue to afford to develop it.

You can get all the details on The Iconfactory’s website.

  1. Hold down Option while opening preferences to see the Theme option. ↩

Reading between the lines of Apple's WWDC announcements (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-14 12:10

There’s only so much information one can digest in a single sitting. Even a week after Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference wrapped up, we’re still sifting through the details of the company’s announcements. And that’s before the deluge of users even installing the public beta.

But beyond just the features that Apple has included (or hasn’t) in the next versions of its software platforms, there’s also a lot to glean from these announcements about the company’s future plans. In some cases they’re obvious; in others, you just need to read between the lines a little bit. As I pored over Apple’s website, I noticed a few things that made me think about what the folks in Cupertino might have in store.

iPadOS 13: The wish list meets reality

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-13 20:09, modified at 20:10

My initial thought, when sitting in the audience at Apple’s WWDC keynote, was that iPadOS 13 was going to present me with a remarkable number of items from my iPad wish list. And that’s not wrong—it looks like this release is going to check a lot of boxes—but the keynote never tells the whole story. Some features are omitted from the keynote but end up being huge in my overall estimation of a new release. And of course, some wished-for features are never mentioned because, after scouring feature-list web pages and installing developer betas, you hit the inescapable realization that they just aren’t there.

In the bubble of the convention center, you only hear what Apple wants to communicate. Once you leave the bubble, you begin to process what’s real and what’s not. Reality begins to set in. It’s a good thing—reality is where we (well, most of us) live. And reality, not the stuff of wish lists, is where new software releases run.

Let iPad be iPad

It’s fitting that the iPad’s operating system has now been given its own name, because this release feels like Apple’s final acceptance that reality—there’s that word again—sometimes gets in the way of its own idealism. The iPad (and iOS in general) was meant to be a clean break from old Personal Computer metaphors, but it turned out that some people in the real world still need to exchange files, log into servers, and open multiple document windows.

Rather than replicating the Mac, Apple has—as Federico Viticci puts it—taken some cues from the Mac’s solutions while implementing them in ways more appropriate for the iPad.

Take Files. This app started life as an iCloud Drive app, one that was invisible until you summoned it(!) because Apple was so afraid of confusing people with a file browser. But look at it now—in iPadOS 13 Apple has finally dropped all pretense of living in a post-PC world where file servers and thumb drives have been replaced by rainbows and butterflies. No, the iPad doesn’t have its own Finder, but if you need to work with files, iPadOS 13 will let you get the job done. Plug in a USB drive? It shows up in Files. Connect to an SMB server at your office? No extra software required.

Insert a USB drive or SD card and it appears!

Apple’s acceptance of people using an iPad with a keyboard also seems to have reached a new level. First there was that weird keyboard dock for the original iPad—but it was a one-off and Apple never seemed to be convinced it was a good idea. Still, iOS supported external Bluetooth keyboards, and that was something. Then with the iPad Pro, Apple actually offered its own keyboard case, and things got interesting. In iPadOS 13, though, it feels like there’s been a sea change. Apple has added lots of keyboard shortcuts to apps like Files and Safari and is now evangelizing developers to support iPad keyboards as a key step on the way to making good MacOS Catalina apps via Catalyst.

Unfortunately, there’s still more to do on this front. Users can’t assign systemwide keyboard shortcuts—not even to Shortcuts via one of its new automation triggers. Arbitrating keyboard shortcuts between the system and individual apps is hard, I know, but the Mac seems to manage—and it could unlock even more iPad productivity potential. There’s always next year.

Another Mac feature since the early days that never quite made the jump to iOS is third-party typefaces. Though you can install fonts using a weird workaround, it’s not remotely user friendly. With iPadOS 13, Apple is providing two different paths to adding typefaces. First, you can buy them on the App Store, which is probably a win-win for both Apple and type foundries who are undoubtedly plagued with font piracy. Second, and perhaps more importantly, apps can share their typefaces via an API, which should mean that all the fonts that come bundled with Office 365 and Adobe Creative Cloud should be available across all your iPad apps.

Browse like nobody’s tapping

Google Sheets is more functional in iPadOS 13 Safari than in the app.

One of the more revolutionary changes in iPadOS 13 will be Safari’s support for desktop-class browsing. While most websites work fine on the iPad, there are those that simply don’t work right—either because they force the iPad to view a simplified version for smartphones, because they were designed for devices without touchscreens, or both.

Owing to the fact that I still post stories using a CMS from the previous decade, I deal with this issue every day. Movable Type 4 has a series of drop-down menus that just don’t work with my iPad unless I tap really fast. In iPadOS 13, however, my first tap on those menus drops them down, and the second tap clicks through. Just like it works on my Mac.

There’s a lot of engineering going on behind the scenes to get to that “it just works” moment. Safari is viewing the JavaScript on the page and playing it forward, essentially peering into the future to recognize the context of each tap and decide if it’s better to emulate moving the mouse over the element or clicking through. The app is choosing the best behavior on a per-page basis—presumably with some strong hints here and there for compatibility with the most popular sites. (This is an area where this summer’s beta process might dramatically benefit the final product, as users test out Safari on all sorts of websites that Apple’s Safari engineers haven’t seen.)

And of course, the new download manager will mean you never have to tap on a link and instantly regret not using a Mac. In its tenth year of existence, the iPad can finally download files properly from the Internet. (Something it really couldn’t have done until the Files app was properly functional.)

I contain multitudes

It’s been four years since shared-screen multitasking first appeared in iOS 9, and iPadOS 13 moves the feature ahead in some fundamental ways. The big conceptual change is that now individual apps can appear multiple times, each one of them in a different state. It’s basically the iPad take on apps with multiple windows, and it’s got the potential to be both powerful and powerfully confusing.

As someone who works a lot on my iPad, I’m excited by the prospect of being able to open two app windows side by side, and even more by not being limited to a single instance of an app in multitasking situations. (I frequently want to run an app next to another app, and separately run it in full screen or next to an entirely different app. iPadOS 13 makes this possible.)

Expose for app windows will take some getting used to.

I am a little worried about how regular users will react to it, though. Not conceptually—dragging around a message in Mail seems perfectly reasonable—but in terms of housekeeping. What happens if you find yourself jumping around between different instances of Notes? Apple’s got something called App Exposé to help you track all those windows, but even on the Mac, Exposé is more of a power user feature. I guess what I’m saying is, I’m going to watch this one carefully to see if Apple can thread the needle in making power user features that don’t hopelessly confuse everyone else.

I’m also very excited about the changes Apple has made to Slide Over, which threaten to make it far more useful than ever before by adding iPhone X-style multitasking. In the past Slide Over has been a bear to use because only one app could live in it and getting an app out of it was way too fiddly a process. With this new approach, it’s like a virtual iPhone floating above your iPad screen, with all sort of different apps accessible with a swipe. We’ll see how much I use it in practice (Slide Over is not my primary method of iPad multitasking), but in principle it seems solid.

Three notes at once.

My disappointment, then, is that Split View multitasking doesn’t appear to have gotten any tweaks in iPadOS 13. This is the form of multitasking I use the most, and one of the great frustrations of using it is that it’s unclear at a glance which app is “frontmost” and therefore receiving keyboard input. Nor is there any way to toggle that state via the keyboard, so far as I can tell. I didn’t need a completely redesigned Split View experience, but I also see no evidence of Apple tightening a few screws here and there to make the existing experience better, and that’s disappointing.

Bullseye! It’s a cursor

Though it didn’t make the keynote, I’m enthusiastic about the fact that Apple has now added official support for external pointing devices to the iPad via the Assistive Touch feature in Accessibility settings. This site has been an advocate for iOS pointing devices since shortly after we arrived on the scene in 2014, and nearly five years later, the request has been fulfilled!

Yep, that round thing is a cursor.

Using an iPad with an external pointing device has the interesting effect of making you realize just how good Apple’s touch interface really is. A Mac cursor is so small and requires precision. Our fingertips are much larger and can’t provide that level of precision, so the interface has to be much more forgiving. If you use your Mac cursor-driving skills in iPadOS 13 you will immediately be frustrated by the giant cursor’s lack of precision… only to discover that if you click in more or less the right place, the iPad will somehow do the right thing.

That said, there’s an awful lot of room for improvement. That cursor’s smallest size is still too big, and doesn’t fade away when you’re actively using another input method (like touching the screen or using the keyboard), a classic personal-computer feature that helps keep the interface clean. It also doesn’t transform into the text-editing cursor when iPadOS is in text-editing mode.

You can assign mouse buttons to all sorts of actions, including Shortcuts, which is pretty amazing—but I’m surprised that (at least in this first beta) Apple’s own pointing devices aren’t better supported. The Magic Trackpad is built for multitouch gestures, but iPadOS 13 doesn’t seem to support them. I should be able to use a scroll wheel or two-finger scroll to scroll through documents on the iPad, but it’s just not there.

Fortunately, this is just the first developer beta, so I have a little hope that with a few tweaks this feature can be made much more usable than it is at present. It’s better than nothing, but it’s not nearly as good as it should be.

Dragging and dropping some text with the cursor.

Speaking of cursors and insertion points, Apple has done a re-think of text editing in iPadOS 13. On the keynote stage this looked fantastic. In real-world use… we’ll have to see. I’m encouraged by Apple’s embrace of direct selection of text, something I’ve been doing on my Kindle for a while now. Putting your finger down and sliding it to highlight or select text is really the most natural gesture available. I’ll need to see how the cut/copy/paste gestures fit into my brain, but I imagine I will adapt to them in no time.

I do wonder about that whole “drag the insertion point around with your finger” concept, though. In trying the new text-selection interface out, the only stumble I’ve had involved picking up the insertion point and sliding it around when what I really wanted to do was select some text. I’ve always been quite satisfied by tapping on text in order to make the insertion point jump around; I get that Apple needs a new gesture for precision placement, but it’s possible this feature needs a bit of tweaking this summer before it’s ready to be loosed on the world.

So many shortcuts, so little time

With iPadOS 13, Shortcuts has really made its transition from a third-party app acquired by Apple to an Apple-authored app that’s got the power of the whole operating system behind it. The addition of automation is huge, with an enormous number of triggers, allowing system integration of shortcuts far beyond what has ever existed before.

Still, there will undoubtedly be situations that can’t be covered by even the massive number of triggers now offered by Shortcuts. I mentioned keyboard shortcuts earlier, but I’m sure there will be more. And while I’m impressed with the new powers Shortcuts has added in the last year, this is one app that’s got an enormous backlog of to-do items for future releases, including adding better organization of individual shortcuts (via folders or a tagging interface), adding copy and paste of shortcuts blocks, and doing even more to make Shortcuts run behind the scenes rather than by launching and displaying all the steps of a shortcut.

Shortcuts has so much potential, but I have to keep reminding myself that there’s only so much one small team at Apple can accomplish in a year. There’s a lot of incredible stuff in Shortcuts for iPadOS 13, and I’m looking forward to digging into it. As for the rest of the stuff on my list… I look forward to iPad OS 14.

Reality hits back

As a podcaster I’m keenly interested in how Apple approaches audio on iOS, and change seems to be happening, but I’m not sure what it means. Inter-app audio is being deprecated in favor of Audio Units v3. My hope is that this means Apple has a larger vision for audio on iOS, which might one day lead to better support for multiple input and output devices, per-app audio routing, and support for utilities such as Audio Hijack that can record audio from different apps and input devices while they’re running. This is a key part of my Mac workflow and it’s a place where iOS still feels primitive.

And then there’s Photos. I have been writing a book about the Photos app every year since its release, and some updates are more eventful than others. This update is pretty enormous, as Apple seems to have chucked out its entire concept of events (again) in favor of a different machine-learning-driven approach to days, months, and years.

I am going to have to spend the summer digging into it, but what I’m encouraged by is that Apple knows their approach to photo libraries isn’t good enough (and that the competition in this area, especially from Google Photos, is stiff). There’s a whole article, and then some, about what Apple’s doing with Photos. And I’ll write that… later.

There’s so much more, and it will take the whole summer to digest it all. Overall, I’m excited by iPadOS and where Apple is taking the iPad. But it wouldn’t be the post-WWDC hangover period if I weren’t also realizing that some of my most wished-for items just didn’t make it, or didn’t manifest themselves in the way I’d hoped. But that’s okay—this is natural any time fantasy crashes into cold, hard reality.

(Podcast) Rebound 242: He's the Happiest Siri User Ever

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-13 14:30, modified on 2019-06-12 20:22

This week, on the irreverent tech show where two out of three hosts still wear their Apple Watch, Dan and John catch Lex up on WWDC announcements. But we also discuss Dan’s CarPlay update, help John pick a new input device, and Lex’s parents’ new TV. Plus, working long hours, how we deal with storage, and whether or not a certain host might be toying with the idea of a new Apple Watch.

(Podcast) Clockwise #298: The Bloodcurdling Scream of an Alarm

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-12 18:41

This week, on the 30-minute tech show that goes down the rabbit hole, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Joe Rosensteel and Lory Gil to discuss Apple’s new hearing health push, how we use technology in our morning routines, our use of CarPlay and Android Auto, and the latest debate over Apple’s App Store policies and procedures. Plus, a breakfast-themed bonus topic.

SwiftUI and Catalyst: Apple executes its invisible transition strategy (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-12 15:59

Last week in San Jose I found myself considering something John Gruber wrote for Macworld at the beginning of this decade—about how Apple’s product design doesn’t happen in short bursts, contrary to popular belief. It is a marathon, not a sprint. And no other company in the tech industry has the track record at it that Apple has.

“It’s a slow and steady process of continuous iterative improvement—so slow, in fact, that the process is easy to overlook if you’re observing it in real time,” Gruber wrote. “Only in hindsight is it obvious just how remarkable Apple’s platform development process is.”

This is still true nine years later. And we’re right in the middle of it. It’s happening all around us—Apple continues playing its long game, dragging change-averse people through periods of transition so slowly that they often don’t even notice what’s happening until it’s all said and done.

Get in the CarPlay

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-12 15:17, modified at 19:45


When I bought my Volkswagen GTI in 2012, I loved everything about it—except the audio system. In fact, it was so bad that I even felt the need to pen a screed about its shortcomings, which included a terrible, unresponsive interface; unreliable playback displays; and a terrible voice control system which, in the intervening seven years, I have only triggered by accident. 1

Meanwhile, the state of the art of car audio has taken a major leap forward, as smartphone makers like Apple and Google have tried to supplant the traditional interface makers with initiatives like CarPlay and Android Auto. Which made sense! For one thing, we all now carry computers more powerful than your average car stereo; for another, shouldn’t technology interface design be left to the people who specialize in it?

But here I was, stuck in the old paradigm, not sure how to escape. In my previous car—my venerable 1997 Honda Accord—I eventually bought a new head unit with a USB port to replace the cassette-toting original radio. But I was a little more hesitant to take the same plunge in my GTI; CarPlay units seemed pricier, for one thing, and then I’d have to deal with either installing it myself or paying someone to do it. I had mostly resigned myself to the purgatory of my existence.

The research

Then, a few months back, the topic of CarPlay came up in the Six Colors Member Slack 2. When I expressed disappointment that I’d missed the CarPlay train—as it were—some kind readers with similar model cars pointed out that there was an easier option: buy a newer Volkswagen stereo that did support CarPlay, and swap it in.

To back up a bit: car manufacturers generally don’t make their own electronics, instead relying on third-party original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to build the units that they can pop in at assembly. (Which also makes it easy for the carmaker if there are multiple trim levels available—say, with or without in-dash navigation.)

Those OEM units have to come from somewhere, and, as with so many electronics these days, the answer to that is, of course, China. And, as it turns out, it’s actually pretty easy to buy one of those units new or almost-new from sites like eBay and AliExpress.

After some research 3 and further discussion with our very fine members, I was able to figure out the exact model I should be looking for: an RCD330G—specifically the 6RD 035 187B by Desay, which seemed to be the most stable model.

Last week at WWDC, I ended up discussing my CarPlay with Jason; his positivity about it tipped me over the edge. So I did some more searching and found the unit I was looking for on AliExpress for about $170 plus $40 in shipping. About a week later it arrived on my doorstep.

The install

The main reason I chose the RCD 330 was, as I said, it’s essentially a standard VW head unit. That means that it both physically fits the existing molding in my car as well as working with pretty much all of the car’s existing interfaces with little additional work. 4

The most challenging part of the entire installation process was prying off the molding. 5 It’s clipped on quite tightly; most of the videos I watched about the installation—in particular, I recommend this one, which is simple and to the point—used some form of plastic pry bar to lever one side off, before using their fingers to pull the rest off. At first, I tried using the trusty spudgers from my computer repair kits, but they were too small and didn’t provide enough leverage. So I drove to my local auto parts store and bought a $10 kit with bigger, hopefully more robust tools. (I wasn’t actually that impressed with these; they got easily chewed up in the process; but hopefully I won’t need them again any time soon.)

Once the molding was off, it was a simple matter of unscrewing the four Torx screws securing the head unit. (Here my iFixit screwdriver kit did come in handy.) The whole unit then slid out, and I popped off the antenna connector—which had a slightly tricky clip—and the main wiring block, which has a little lever that you pop up.

I also had a third wire connected to my head unit, which I am pretty sure was for the Bluetooth support in the car. Bluetooth was a factory option when I bought the car, but in 2012 it was very much a bolt-on: there’s literally a separate unit under the front passenger seat with a wire that snakes underneath and up into the dash. Certainly not ideal from a fit and finish perspective, and also explains why Bluetooth support always seemed a bit wonky.

Old radio
The old head unit, twice as large as the new one.

One of the amazing parts of pulling out the old unit was realizing how much bigger it was. Though both have the same size front, the rear of the original unit was double the height, because it also had to accommodate a CD changer; the new unit foregoes the CD player entirely, which isn’t a problem for me as I have literally never used it in the seven years that I’ve owned this car. 6

All of that done, I screwed the new unit in, popped the molding back on, and fired it up.

The future according to CarPlay

After only a day with CarPlay in my life, my only disappointment is that I waited this long.

It’s not that CarPlay is perfect—it certainly has some quirks, like managing the volume levels of Siri versus the music—but it is so much better than what I had before. Even having a play progress bar for audio that accurately reflects where I am in a given track seems like witchcraft after seven years of what amounted to a shrug emoji.

The screen real estate is put to much better use, for everything from media playback to displaying navigation, and I’ve found both Apple Maps and Google Maps’s CarPlay offerings to be pretty darn solid. The touchscreen is snappier and more responsive than the old model—scrolling used to be something to be avoided at all costs, and now it’s actually usable, if not up to the level we expect from most of our touchscreen devices. And, best of all, because this is a unit meant for VWs, not only do all of the steering wheel controls for adjusting volume and playback work, but that annoying button that triggered the built-in voice control system? It now triggers Siri—on my iPhone XS, instantaneously.


As I said, there are a few limitations. For one, the need to plug in my phone all the time, which means a wire draped in unfortunate places. 7 (Wireless CarPlay does exist, but it’s not supported by as many models.) At least it means that my phone is charging while in use.

Another nitpick is that the head unit supports a rear-view camera, which I don’t have installed. When I shift into reverse, it tries to switch over to the camera mode and then warns me that no camera is installed; I have to manually dismiss a dialog before bringing up CarPlay again. My understanding is that this can be disabled with some tech modding tools, but that’s an expensive proposition to fix one thing; so either I’ll live with it or I’ll throw myself upon the mercy of the dealer next time I bring my car in.

Now that I’ve made the jump, I’m really looking forward to iOS 13’s CarPlay improvements, including a Do Not Disturb option, a new dashboard display, and more. And this perhaps is the great victory of this upgrade: my in-car experience will actually improve along with these regular updates, rather than ending up stagnant or left along the roadside. Given that I had to wait months for VW to fix a bug in my car’s radio after I bought it, this is a far more promising future. 8

All in all, for the $220 or so that this upgrade ended up costing me, it’s a steal. If you can find a similar path to replacing your head unit, I highly recommend it.

  1. If you’ve ever driven past a man angrily screaming “CANCEL,” it me.  ↩

  2. What? You’re not in the Six Colors Members Slack? It’s a happening place! Get thee to a membership. ↩

  3. A huge plug for the enthusiastic community of VW owners on places like VWVortex and Golf MK6. It was fascinating to dive into a tangential sub-culture that I know almost nothing about.  ↩

  4. The one exception is the radio antenna, which uses a slightly different plug on the 330. But most vendors, including mine, ship the head unit with an adapter cable that’s easy to plug in.  ↩

  5. Okay, also the part where I dropped my screwdriver bit down the side of my seat and had to spend a couple minutes fishing it out.  ↩

  6. The other things the new unit lacks are support for satellite radio, which I never used after the free six months of my Sirius XM subscription lapsed, and HD radio, which I did like, but was a worthwhile sacrifice—the difference is largely undetectable unless you are comparing them side-by-side, and you can always stream radio via your phone. ↩

  7. I did see someone who added a dock in the center armrest, which was impressive as hell, but way beyond my means.  ↩

  8. Trying to explain to the service rep that the Bluetooth audio was playing the right channel of audio over both speakers was not an experience I’m eager to repeat.  ↩

All the known details of Sign In with Apple

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-11 18:27

TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez runs down all that’s currently known about the Sign In with Apple system announced at WWDC last week. The biggest question seems to be whether or not this will attract the attention of regulators who are already looking at big tech companies, including Apple. But, from a user perspective, it’s hard not to argue this is great.

It’s also a strategically brilliant move by Apple, as I mentioned in my Macworld column last week: every time someone logs in with Apple’s service as opposed to, say, Facebook’s or Google’s, those companies lose out on your valuable personal information. That’s a pretty big blow for them, especially if it starts to happen in large volumes.

Radiohead releases leaked music instead of paying ransom

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-11 15:32, modified on 2019-06-12 01:00

Radiohead, showcasing what is truly the best way to handle a digital extortion threat:

In a note on the band’s Instagram, Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood confirmed that the band had been hacked, writing “someone stole Thom [Yorke]’s minidisk archive from around the time of OK Computer, and reportedly demanded $150,000 on threat of releasing it. So instead of complaining — much — or ignoring it, we’re releasing all 18 hours on Bandcamp in aid of Extinction Rebellion… So for £18 you can find out if we should have paid that ransom.”

(All the proceeds for the songs go to a climate change advocacy group.)

(Podcast) Upgrade #249: A Bridge to the Future

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-10 19:19, modified at 19:20

Myke and Jason get over their WWDC hangover with a discussion of our favorite new iPadOS 13 features. Then we take a look at the future of Apple’s platforms with a discussion of Catalyst and SwiftUI and an exclusive interview with Apple’s Wiley Hodges and Josh Shaffer.

Sponsor: SaneBox

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-10 15:40

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Once you’re set up, SaneBox goes to work, patrolling your email and filtering the very best stuff into your Inbox, moving newsletters and other impersonal emails into SaneNews, and moving lower-priority messages to SaneLater. It can also remind you if you haven’t replied (or received a reply) to an email chain, so you don’t let anything slip through the cracks. And yes, you can snooze emails too—a great way to get email out of your sight if you don’t need to deal with it right at the moment.

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Apple is quietly paying attention before it acts

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-10 13:09, modified at 16:05

Marco Arment writes about the latest Mac announcements and how they demonstrate a swing in terms of Apple’s listening to feedback. But I think he particularly nails it in this last paragraph:

It’s hard to tell when Apple is listening. They speak concisely, infrequently, and only when they’re ready, saying absolutely nothing in the meantime, even when we’re all screaming about a product line as if it’s on fire. They make great progress, but often with courageous losses that never get reversed, so an extended silence because we’re stuck with a change forever is indistinguishable from an extended silence because the fix isn’t ready yet.

Developing hardware is a lengthy process and Apple isn’t one to trot out half-baked promises—they’d rather underpromise and overdeliver than the opposite.

There’s a popular perception of the company as arrogant and know-it-all, and while it certainly does tend to operate in a top-down fashion, Apple has no interest in developing hardware that people aren’t going to buy. At the end of the day it’s a business, and when the trash-can Mac Pro did poorly, the company would have been foolish to double down on the design.

So, yes, Apple may not communicate its future plans, but that doesn’t mean it’s not paying attention to what’s being said. Or, as much smarter minds than mine have put it, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Women's World Cup is in 4K on AppleTV in the U.S.

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-07 20:48, modified at 20:51

Billy Steele at Engadget:

Fox Sports offered 4K streams for the 2018 FIFA World Cup last year, but in order to watch them, you had to own a HiSense TV. For the Women’s World Cup that begins Friday in France, those higher quality streams will be more readily available. The network told Engadget that for the first time 4K broadcasts will be available inside the Fox Sports and Fox Now apps. They’ll still be somewhat limited though: You’ll need an Apple TV or Roku device to watch the action on the pitch in 4K (2160p).

I just tried this out with the opening match on my Apple TV 4K and it looked great. Last year’s 4K feed being limited to a promotional deal with a TV maker was unfortunate, but it looks like U.S. viewers will be able to watch all the matches this year live in glorious 4K.

WWDC: What Apple’s biggest announcements mean for the company (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-07 12:29

As Apple’s biggest event of the year winds down and the dust begins to settle, the shape of company’s future plans is starting to become clearer. And this time around it’s not a matter of digging up a mere smattering of hints about where Apple is taking its products, but of sifting through the metric ton of details that the company divulged. Most people were convinced that this would be a big event, and they were ultimately right—even if not for the reasons initially suspected.

Here are just a few of the big takeaways from the announcements, with an idea of what they might mean for the future of the company’s products.

(Podcast) Download #105: Live From WWDC: Dark Mode People

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-06 17:31

From Apple’s podcast studio within its Worldwide Developer Conference, we’re joined by John Siracusa and Shelly Brisbin to discuss iPadOS, iOS, Catalyst, SwiftUI, and Apple’s new pro hardware.

The wild cryptography behind Apple's new Find My app

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-05 22:31

Wired’s Andy Greenberg shares more information about the technology behind the new Find My app, which lets you locate your devices even if they’re offline. It is, frankly, bananas:

The solution to that paradox, it turns out, is a trick that requires you to own at least two Apple devices. Each one emits a constantly changing key that nearby Apple devices use to encrypt and upload your geolocation data, such that only the other Apple device you own possesses the key to decrypt those locations.

Not explicitly mentioned in this story is another fact that makes this system feasible: the sheer volume of Apple devices that are out in the world, essentially creating a gigantic ad hoc mesh network. But Apple has clearly taken pains to prevent abuse of that power—or, in other words, they’re Lucius Fox at the end of The Dark Knight.

(Podcast) Clockwise #297: Lost in the Debacle

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-05 20:31, modified on 2019-06-06 23:00

This week, on the 30-minute show that can barely contain all the news, Dan is joined by host emeritus/permanent villain Jason Snell and special guests Myke Hurley and Alex Cox to run down all the announcements from WWDC. We discuss our favorite iOS 13 features, the significance of iPadOS, what Project Catalyst means for the future of the Mac, and our thoughts on Apple’s new pro hardware. Plus, a special air-travel-themed bonus topic.

Catalyst: the iPad and Mac are tied together like never before (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-05 16:09

As someone who has been using the Mac for nearly three decades and someone who heavily uses an iPad Pro to get work done, I’m disappointed when I see people try to pit the two platforms against one another. There’s definitely a certain subset of Mac users who seem offended that anyone would dare to use an iPad rather than a Mac.

I hope those people are ready for what’s about to happen, because as of this year, the Mac and iPad are marching in lockstep. They are partners, buddies, siblings. They are co-tenants of Apple’s newest app platform. They need each other in a way that has never been true before. If the iPad and the Mac succeed, it’s going to be as a team.

(Podcast) Rebound 241: Throwing Bad Money After Good

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-05 14:46

It’s all WWDC all the time this week, as Dan and John welcome special guest James Thomson to help them break down Apple’s announcements. We discuss James getting mildly sherlocked, whether or not you can plug in your legacy SCSI drives to an iPad Pro, Apple’s…questionable…gesture names, and, of course, what this all means for Dan’s Mac mini.

The good, the bad, and the pricey: Apple's WWDC announcements

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-04 18:18, modified on 2019-06-07 12:27

It’s not an Apple event without strong opinions all around, and there were no shortage of those at WWDC this year. Apple showed off updates to all of its major platforms—yes, even tvOS!—and there are very few, if any, products that won’t be affected by these changes.

With all that to sift through, here’s my personal rundown of the best and worst of Apple’s major platform announcements.

tvOS 13

The best: Multiuser support

Finally, an indication that Apple realizes that households share devices. Individualized queues and recommendations are great, but I’m curious how deeply this goes into the OS. Does each user use a different Apple ID? How are purchases handled? What about third-party apps—can they “see” who is logged in and provide their own linked profile support? This may be more a starting point than anything else, but I’m glad that Apple’s at least starting.

tvOS 13

The worst: Auto-play on home screen

Ugh. There’s a taste of this in the latest tvOS update, where the TV app now auto-plays trailers in the background. I hope there’s a way to turn this off, because it’s annoying and distracting. If I’ve decided I want to watch something, I don’t need to see the trailer; if I’ve decided I don’t want to watch something, I don’t need to see the trailer. If I’m on the fence, just let me choose whether or not I want to see the trailer.

watchOS 6

watchOS 6

The best: Activity trends

With this long-term view, Apple’s shifting its health perspective from the tactical to the strategic. Now that the Watch is motivating people to get up and get moving, it’s time to analyze the data that’s being collected and make more proactive decisions based on it. This feels like a real shift in terms of the digital health initiatives Apple has been pushing. (Also health related, and worth a mention: Cycle Tracking for menstruation, a feature that has been missing for far too long, which is also available on iOS.)

The worst: Calculator

I’m really just trying to support James Thomson here.

macOS Catalina


The best: Reminders redesign

The current Reminders app on macOS is, frankly, a travesty. It’s the one app that never quite hit escape velocity from the skeuomorphism black hole, even though whatever it’s mimicking isn’t actually a real thing? It’s clunky, frustrating, and yet I somehow use it every day anyway, because it’s built-in to the OS. But it’s in need of a top-to-bottom refresh, and that is exactly what Apple is delivering here. This is one of those small moves that will make a huge improvement to my everyday life.

The worst: Project Catalyst

Wait, wait, hear me out. It’s not that I’m against the idea of bringing any iOS apps to the Mac. However, I am specifically against bringing the Twitter app to the Mac because a) I think it’s a terrible app and b) there’s a good chance it will reinforce the social network’s attempt to shut down third-party apps, which have long thrived on the Mac and provide overall better experiences, except where they have been hamstrung by Twitter itself.



The best: USB external storage access

One of those glaring omissions that existed only because Apple was trying to disrupt all of the existing computing paradigms, only to realize that some of those paradigms existed for reasons. This is one of the last holdouts in that category, and it will significantly streamline some workflows on the iPad that were technically possible, but required cumbersome workarounds. 1

The worst: New text selection model

Okay, maybe “the worst” is overselling it, but the onstage demo, which involved dragging the cursor where you want it to go, seemed awkward and a little janky. Frankly, though, text selection and manipulation on iOS devices has always been a little janky. I’m not sold on the three-finger gestures for cut/copy/paste either 2, but an Undo gesture seems like a great idea.

iOS 13

Sign In with Apple

The best: Sign In with Apple

Streamlining signing up for new services? Excellent. Giving you more control over what information is shared with third parties? Even better. Providing disposable email addresses that can be used to figure out which service is spamming you and then allow you to revoke just that address? Hallelujah. The feature will apparently be mandatory if an app offers any other third-party sign-on service (i.e. Sign In With Google or Facebook), which ought to help adoption, but no doubt there are some companies that won’t be thrilled with it.

The worst: …Maps?

Uh, I guess with enhanced geographical data and the new Look Around 3 feature, we won’t have Maps to kick around anymore, and that’s a…shame?

Honestly, I got nothing.

The Mac Pro

The best: Easy modularity and upgrading

People clamored for an easily upgradable, insanely powerful Mac, and they got it in spades. The pull-off case hearkens back to the heyday of the PowerMac G3/G4 towers and their flip-down doors, and the amount of internal expandability is truly amazing. Hard to imagine there’s anything more that a professional user might want.

Mac Pro cover

The worst: It’s not for you

All of us prosumers and enthusiasts who used to insist we needed a pro desktop are gasping at the $5999 price tag (not to mention the equally expensive Pro Display), but that’s because this isn’t a machine designed for even “average” power tasks. This is a workstation, emphasis on work. If you’re not a creative professional, the Mac Pro is likely overkill, and at that cost, it’s not a machine that a lot of individual users are probably going to be buying anyway. We’ll have to make do with iMacs and iMac Pros, poor us. 4

Honorable mentions

Multiuser support for HomePod, full display of Siri search results on Apple Watch, macOS Mail’s ability to unsubscribe from marketing lists, widgets on the iPad Home screen and multiple windows per app(!), name/avatar sharing in Messages on iOS, the Mac Pro’s 28-core processor, and so much more.

Too much to count

Even at more than two hours, this Apple keynote felt jam-packed. There was a lot to like, and not really that much to disappoint, though as always, we’ll have to wait to get our hands on all of these updates to see how they really perform.

  1. Now if you could add the ability to record and transmit audio simultaneously, we podcasters would be in business. ↩

  2. And “three-finger spread”, Craig? No. Please, no. ↩

  3. Don’t call it “Street View” unless you want to get kidnapped in an Apple Maps van. ↩

  4. Also the Mac Pro’s two-tone silver and black keyboard, mouse, and trackpad are the new prestige accessories, for when you want people to know this isn’t just any old iMac Pro.  ↩

6 reasons you'll want iOS 13 on your iPhone (Tom's Guide)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-04 15:48

On Monday Apple unveiled iOS 13, the next major release of the software that makes the iPhone run. While it’s currently available only for registered Apple developers, a public beta version will be out in July, followed by a full public release this fall.

Short of waiting for the inevitable release of this year’s new emojis, here are the six best reasons to consider upgrading your iPhone to the new release as soon as it’s released.

WWDC 2019 notes: Sidecar, Catalyst, Mac Pro, and Pro Display XDR

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-04 07:08, modified at 16:27

Mac Pro

A few Mac tidbits I picked up at the McEnery Convention Center on Monday after the WWDC Keynote….

macOS Catalina: Sidecar and Catalyst

When Apple showed off Sidecar, the new feature that lets you connect an iPad and use it as either an additional monitor or a mirror of your Mac’s display, it was easy to conclude that Apple was utterly replicating the features of Luna Display, a popular hardware/software combination that does much the same. (Disclaimer: Luna Display sometimes sponsors my podcasts.)

People talk a lot about Sherlocking—the act of Apple building an OS feature that duplicates the features of a third-party app—but in practice it rarely happens. When Apple builds an OS feature, it’s always trying to get the most return on its investment by building features that appeal to the widest possible set of users. That generally leaves space—sometimes a lot of space—at the edges for third-party apps to exploit.

Turns out this is basically true with Luna Display and similar apps. While Luna Display was initially conceived as more or less what Sidecar does—let Mac users see their content on an iPad display and use the Apple Pencil to draw and otherwise interact with Mac content—it has come to be embraced as a tool to let iPad users control a Mac on the local network.

Well, guess what. You can’t initiate a Sidecar session from an iPad—it’s a Mac feature that is initiated from a Mac. Which means that everyone who has extolled the virtues of using Luna Display with a headless Mac mini won’t see that feature replaced by Sidecar.

In addition, Sidecar is basically a Continuity feature of macOS, meaning that it uses both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to sense the nearby presence of the device—and setting a fairly strict range. You can’t use Sidecar beyond about 10 meters from the host Mac. (Luna Display will work anywhere on your Wi-Fi network.)

This is not to say that there aren’t some real advantages to Sidecar. The big one is that it’s free with the OS, of course, but Apple has built in a bunch of other nice features. At the bottom of the iPad display, Sidecar displays a virtual Touch Bar, and on the side there are a bunch of modifier key shortcuts and an undo button. There’s also an option to bring up the on-screen keyboard, which Luna Display lacks.

Another clever feature: you can set Markup, Apple’s utility to mark up screenshots, to automatically open in Sidecar. This really speeds up the workflow of marking up documents via Apple Pencil.

Moving beyond Sidecar, I got a chance to look at some new macOS Catalina apps, including Music, Podcasts, and TV. I’m excited by the fact that the TV app will actually display 4K HDR video on the iMac and iMac Pro—Apple’s competitors won’t stream 4K content to iMacs, presumably out of piracy fears.

The Podcasts app will, as shown in the keynote, let you search for content inside of podcasts. According to Apple, the company is indexing the text contents of podcasts, starting with the most popular ones. (I didn’t get a chance to try this feature out, so I wonder how large the search-engine corpus is right now—and how big it will be this fall when the product goes public.)

Google announced a similar feature earlier this year, and it’s a great opportunity to increase the discoverability of podcasts. Imagine a world where there was no Google search. That’s been the podcast world up until now—if it’s said in a podcast and not listed in show notes, it basically can’t be found. That’s not great, and Apple intends to fix that.

The Music app is basically iTunes—but with a design update that puts Apple Music at the fore. You can still see your entire music library, of course, and even buy music on the iTunes Store if you want to. As someone who uses iTunes with Apple Music every day, I’m okay with this change. And if you click on the Songs view in the Library section of the sidebar, you will get your classic iTunes song list back, like it never left.

Finally, a couple of notes about Catalyst, the new method of bringing iOS apps to the Mac. The Podcasts app on macOS Catalina is based on Catalyst, while the Music and TV apps aren’t, and you just can’t tell. All three apps have similar design approaches, and I don’t think you could pick the Catalyst version out of a line-up. That’s an encouraging sign for people who are concerned that these Catalyst apps are going to be bad and ruin the Mac.

Developers who have been serious about making their iOS apps work well on the iPad will reap the benefits when it comes to Catalyst. Basically, the better the iPad app, the better the Mac app. This has some fun ramifications, because it implies that Catalyst may actually prompt developers to put more work into the iPad versions of their apps, too. iPad and Mac users can all benefit from that.

Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR

I got to touch a Mac Pro. Got my fingerprints right on the stainless steel handle. An Apple representative had to take out a cloth and wipe those fingerprints off so that it could be returned to a pristine condition.

On Friday on the Six Colors Subscriber Podcast, I predicted that Apple would return to the “cheese grater” design introduced with the Power Mac G5 in 2003, and I am happy to say that I got that right. It just made sense—there’s no reason to be cute about this, you want to build a tower with great airflow and space for lots of expansion stuff, and that’s what Apple did. Sometimes the old ways are best.

That said, it’s important to remember that the Mac Pro resides in a rarefied space that is for the highest of high-end Mac users. Back in the day pro Macs were for everyone, but for years as the iMac and MacBook Pro became more powerful, the Mac Pro became more of an ultra-high-end device, with a price tag to match. That hasn’t changed. This isn’t a hobbyist system, and people who are angry that it isn’t are missing the point. This is a system for people who demand the very highest performance possible and won’t think twice about dropping $10,000 for the privilege.

The Mac Pro is overengineered in the best sense of the word. It’s got headroom—something the trash-can Mac Pro lacked—in that Apple has engineered this thing to provide more power, more ventilation, pretty much more of everything than the current contents can even use. This means it’s built for the long haul, so it can handle future updates without needing another redesign.

The stainless steel spaceframe at the core of the Mac Pro looks like something out of an equipment rack, or maybe something from IKEA. The removable aluminum shell lifts off when you pop up a handle on the top. The entire thing is accessible from all angles.

Apple’s building a bunch of modules for the Mac Pro, of course, but those are standard PCI slots that any old card should be able to go in. The MPX system, which lets Apple piggyback a bunch of extra stuff on to the PCI slot via a neighboring slot, will apparently not be limited to Apple products—I saw a four-drive RAID MPX module from Promise, for example. Promise is also apparently going to make a two-disk product, so if you want to put enormous spinning hard drives into the Mac Pro, Apple will let you—but it isn’t going to sell those to you itself.

If the Mac Pro is probably not for you, the Pro Display XDR is almost certainly not for you. If you think a $5,000 monitor—$6,000 with stand!—is ridiculously overpriced, well, you’re right in one way, and wrong in another. Most people do not need a 6K Retina display with 10-bit color and a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. It’s overkill for almost everyone.

However, there is a class of users that is currently buying an Eizo monitor for $5,000 to get professional-class image quality, and Apple’s display is so much better that it’s not even close. There are also people who buy Sony reference monitors that cost more than $40,000—and Apple’s display is basically a match for them in terms of quality. By these standards, the Pro Display XDR is either a breakthrough in terms of quality or a staggering breakthrough in terms of price.

So it’s all in the eye of the beholder. Apple has unabashedly built this display for the highest of the high-end users, and for them, it will be a great deal. Still, wouldn’t it be nice if Apple also made a nice 5K monitor in the vein of the iMac Pro, that could be attached to a Mac Pro, MacBook Pro, or Mac mini? I know a lot of people who would prefer to buy an Apple monitor—but maybe not this particular one.

Anyway, for $5,000 you don’t get a webcam, but Logitech is going to make a 4K webcam module that’s matched to the Pro Display XDR and sits on top of it. The monitor has a fan, but Apple says it runs at less than 7 decibels and is therefore inaudible. That $999 stand lets you rotate the display into portrait orientation, but you can also adjust the height up and down by 120mm (a little less than five inches) and tilt it in a 30 degree range, from -5 degrees to 25 degrees.

Who can afford a $6,000 computer and a $5,000 monitor? Almost nobody, but that’s the truth of the Mac Pro right now—it’s a product that’s for almost nobody. You know that saying, “If you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it?” That’s the Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR in a stainless steel, aluminum-sheathed nutshell.

(Podcast) Upgrade #248: Seven Layer Burrito of Innovation

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-03 23:00, modified on 2019-06-06 17:55

The WWDC 2019 keynote was packed full with new announcements. Now, live from San Jose, Jason and Myke come together to talk about iOS 13, macOS Catalina, the introduction of iPadOS, and the new Mac Pro.

WWDC 2019 Keynote Coverage - Live!

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-03 14:16, modified at 16:15

It’s that time again, everyone. Apple’s WWDC 2019 Keynote kicks off at 10am PDT that’s 1pm EDT, 6pm London.

Jason and Dan will both be in attendance. Apple will livestream the event as usual, but if you’d like to follow along with our analysis, follow the sixcolorsevent Twitter account or check out the feed embedded below:

(Sponsor) The Lattice Trilogy by Erik Hanberg

Permalink - Posted on 2019-06-01 19:04, modified at 19:08

My thanks to Erik Hanberg for sponsoring Six Colors this week to promote his tech-savvy sci-fi adventure series, The Lattice Trilogy.

It’s got high-stakes action, thought-provoking dystopian themes, and gripping twists, all set in a future where privacy is a thing of the past. (That’s a scenario that’s not as hard to imagine as it used to be.)

All three books in Erik’s trilogy are just 99 cents each for a limited time. Even back when I was a kid books didn’t cost 99 cents. An entire trilogy for less than three bucks? Unthinkable. You can get it right now on Amazon, Apple Books, Nook, and Audible.

Marzipan, Mac Pro, and iPad features: A wish list for WWDC19 (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-31 12:39

Apple’s annual extravaganza is just around the corner. By the time my next column rolls around, we’ll know all the secrets that Apple has been sitting on for the last year. (Well, many of those secrets, anyway.) The only real question is whether Apple executives will be going with untucked or tucked-in shirts? The excitement is palpable.

The Worldwide Developers Conference keynote is always a big high for the Apple-following community: wishes get fulfilled, hopes get dashed, and things appear that we never saw coming—and yet seem, in hindsight, totally obvious.

Everybody has their own list of things they want or expect to see. So, as we cast our glances forward a few days, here’s a rundown of the things that I’ll be looking to hear about when Tim Cook and his motley crew take the stage just a few days from now.

(Podcast) Rebound 240: The Gentleman from Tacoma

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-30 14:30, modified on 2019-05-29 20:05

This week on the irreverent tech podcast that is more irreverent than usual, Dan plays co-host roulette. First, he and Lex discuss Apple’s new iPod touch, rumors about future iPhone features, the headphones Lex wants but won’t buy, and getting ebooks from the library. Then John drops in to discuss Dan’s latest Mac mini update, iOS 13 screenshots, and the potential death of 3D Touch. Finally, John and Dan close it all out with AirPod recycling and the inevitable milkshake duck-ing of all social networks.

(Podcast) Clockwise #296: Google Wave Was the Best Thing Ever

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-29 22:38, modified at 22:40

This week, on the 30-minute show that’s (hopefully) more talk than ticks, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Rosemary Orchard and Megan Morrone to discuss iOS apps we want to see in dark mode, our thoughts on the new iPod touch, the competitive (or anticompetitive) nature of the App Store, and whether new announcements in tech still excite us. Plus a very special kitchen-themed bonus question.

9to5Mac: New looks for macOS media apps

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-29 17:02

Guilherme Rambo is at it again. He’s got screen shots from the next version of macOS over at 9to5Mac:

As we previously reported, the new Music app is based on iTunes. Both the Music and TV apps present a similar design language, with a gray sidebar listing sections of content and a large area on the right for the actual content.

What can also be seen in the screenshots is the return of colorful sidebar icons to macOS. In both apps, the sidebar icons use the tint color of the app, have a drop shadow and follow a continuous color gradient from top to bottom, very different from the monochrome icons that are common in sidebars in previous versions of macOS.

I like the color being added back to sidebars. I’m excited to see what else is in store for macOS this year.

'App Store - Principles and Practices'

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-29 16:52, modified at 16:53

In the face of criticism and legal entanglements from politicians, competitors, and regulators, Apple has posted a fancy PR site explaining why its App Store policies are the way they are:

We believe competition makes everything better and results in the best apps for our customers. We also care about quality over quantity, and trust over transactions. That’s why, even though other stores have more users and more app downloads, the App Store earns more money for developers. Our users trust Apple — and that trust is critical to how we operate a fair, competitive store for developer app distribution.

I have a hard time believing this page is going to change anyone’s mind, but it’s helpful to see Apple’s argument in one place. (Among the things on the page that made me raise an eyebrow is the segment about how Apple allows competition to Safari in web browsers. That’s only technically true, since different web rendering engines are barred from iOS.)

Apple should go all in on Marzipan

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-29 16:43

Dieter Bohn of The Verge speaks the truth—Marzipan apps are the future of macOS. And that means Apple needs to eat its own dog food and commit to converting most of its Mac apps to Marzipan:

In fact, I think Apple should do more than double down on these iPad-style apps on the Mac. I think Apple should go all in and make nearly all of its consumer Mac apps with the new UIKit / Marzipan frameworks, including Mail, Notes, Messages, FaceTime, Photos, Reminders, and Calendar. Apple should just go for it, sooner rather than later, and ideally right now.

My reasoning is pretty simple: whether you think these apps should be the future of macOS development, they’re absolutely coming either way, and Apple should want to ensure that they’re great. The surest way to improve iPad apps on the Mac is for Apple to force its own employees to use them and then fix them.

The funny thing is, I think this is basically happening. It’s sort of pointless to complain about how weak the Marzipan apps are in Mojave—that technology is a year old, and Apple has had all that time to advance the ball. But the new stuff that will be unveiled next week, that’s the real deal—and it needs to be good. I fully anticipate Apple will move more of its iOS apps over to the Mac using Marzipan. (TV, Podcasts, Reminders, and Messages seem like a good start.)

Dieter suggests that Apple might want to release even more apps in Marzipan beta versions, even if they’re not quite good enough, just to get things going. Sort of like jumping into a cold swimming pool. I’m not sure Apple’s really that kind of company, but I hope that behind the scenes, Apple is ceasing development on the Mac-only versions of all of its consumer apps and instead pushing all future development to be done with Marzipan in mind. We might not get a Marzipan version of Mail or iMovie or Pages this year, but those need to be in the works.

Like it or not, Marzipan apps are the future of macOS—and they need to be good, or macOS won’t be.

macOS: WWDC19 wish list (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-29 16:01

We’re only a few days out from Apple’s 2019 Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) now, and that means we’re about to exit an Apple world dominated by talk of iOS 12 and macOS Mojave, and enter one focused on the next versions of both. Last week I detailed my dreams for iOS 13. Now it’s the Mac’s turn.

iPod touch amazingly not dead, gets update

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-28 12:51, modified at 19:23

Looks like rumors of an update to Apple’s odd-man-out iOS device were not just sound and fury: the iPod touch has gotten speed-bumped to an A10 Fusion chip—a significant improvement over the old A8. Apple says it now supports features like AR and Group FaceTime, as well as “providing better game performance.”

Given that Apple also spends some time in its press release talking about Apple Arcade, it’s clearly pushing the iPod touch’s reputation as a gaming device.

As before, 32GB and 128GB configurations go for $199 and $299 respectively; Apple’s also added a 256GB option for $399. Otherwise, the device is identical in specs and appearance to its predecessor.

(Podcast) Upgrade #247: The WWDC Keynote Draft 2019

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-27 19:43, modified at 19:45

It’s time for our fourth annual competition regarding what will happen on stage next week at WWDC! Will there be new hardware? What will macOS be called? How many times will we see Tim Cook? This week we guess, but next week reality will be our judge.

Sponsor: The Lattice Trilogy by Erik Hanberg

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-27 18:02, modified at 18:05

In the future, privacy is a thing of the past.

Get all three books for $0.99 each.

All three of these books managed to surprise me over and over again. In a landscape where so much of our storytelling conforms to templates, it was refreshing to have no idea what was coming or how it would show up. And like the best science fiction, it’s a story about our problems right now.—Aaron Reynolds, creator of Swear Trek and Effin’ Birds

“Staggeringly smart… Hanberg’s expertly honed storytelling is sleek and fast… [an] entertaining tale.” —Kirkus Reviews

Nevada, 2081. Colonel Byron Shaw safeguards the world’s innermost secrets. From a control center in Area 51, he monitors the expansive surveillance system that once saved him certain death at the hands of ruthless kidnappers. But not everyone trusts technology that peers through strangers’ eyes, so it’s no shock when a guerrilla attack nearly wipes out the network and spills his blood.

Tasked with tracking down the terrorist cell, Byron sets off on a globe-spanning chase that brings him to the outer edge of Earth’s atmosphere. But as he infiltrates their ranks, a growing suspicion about the system that preserved his own life could sabotage civilization.

Torn between duty and doubt, one man’s decision could rewire humanity’s future.

The Lattice Trilogy is a tech-savvy sci-fi adventure trilogy. If you like high-stakes action, thought-provoking dystopian themes, and gripping twists, then you’ll love Erik Hanberg’s cerebral page-turners.

All three books in this page-turning sci-fi trilogy are $0.99 each for a limited time. Get the trilogy today!

Also on Apple Books, Nook, and Audible.

Why WWDC 2019 will usher in a new era for Apple (Tom's Guide)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-27 15:40

We’re about a week away from Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, the second-biggest date on Apple’s calendar after the annual introduction of new iPhones in the fall.

The event is always the start of Apple’s annual product cycle, because the company announces its road map for the next year of updates to the operating systems that run iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, and Apple TV. But this year’s event promises to be the most consequential one in more than a decade.

Last year, Apple said that it would provide iOS developers with a way to take their apps across to macOS in 2019, and, well, here we are. At WWDC, which kicks off this year on June 3, Apple is poised to announce a radical redefinition of what it means to use a Mac, opening the floodgates to Mac apps that were born on iOS.

Old Mac apps will remain intact (for now), but make no mistake: this is the beginning of a shift from iOS and macOS as two separate platforms to Apple’s creation of a single, unified development platform for all of Apple’s devices.

Scripting a save location within Default Folder X

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-25 00:32, modified at 00:34

Default Folder opening

I’ve been using St. Clair Software’s Default Folder since the days of System 7. It’s a utility that lets you set a different default location for the Open/Save dialogs in every app you use, and provides some other clever features like clicking on an open Finder window to change the Open/Save dialog to that window’s location.

For the first time in years, a few weeks ago I had a feature request for Jon Gotow, the developer of Default Folder. I realized that in at least one app I use, there’s a very common location I want to save all my files—but the location is not persistent. When I’m recording ads and other audio for podcasts, I invariably end up saving it all in the Audio Files folder in the project folder for my current Logic project, which is invariably sitting on the Desktop.

So I asked Jon, is there any way to programmatically define where Default Folder opens? His response was to send me a development build of Default Folder that would allow the default location to be overridden with an AppleScript, a “hidden” feature now available in version 5.3.7 of Default Folder X. Now that is customer service.

In any event, I now needed to write the script, which means I needed to figure out the specific rules that would define the right destination folder. In the end I realized that what I needed to do was find the most recently modified folder on my Desktop that contained a Logic X project file. AppleScript, while perhaps not the best tool for this job, is the tool that I know how to use.

 on getDefaultFolder(appName)

tell application "Finder"
    set folder_list to folders of (path to desktop folder as alias)
end tell
set theNewestDate to date "Tuesday, October 6, 1970 at 7:00:00 AM"

This first part gets a list of folders on the Desktop, and then sets a variable to a very old date for reasons that will make sense in a little while.

repeat with theFolder in folder_list

    tell application "Finder"
        set folder_contents to entire contents of theFolder
    end tell

    repeat with the_item in folder_contents
        if kind of the_item is "Logic X Project" then
            set theDate to (get modification date of theFolder)             
            if theDate is greater than theNewestDate then
                set theNewestDate to theDate
            end if

        end if

    end repeat

The next part loops through those folders, getting their contents. The script then loops through those contents to see if there’s a Logic project file inside. If so, the script compares that folder’s modification time to the contents of the variable theNewestDate, and if it’s more recent, that variable is updated to the modification time of the newer folder.

(In writing this script I discovered that AppleScript does let you compare dates, using the fantastic construction “if [a date] is greater than [another date].” Greater in this case means newer.)

    if theNewestDate is date "Tuesday, October 6, 1970 at 7:00:00 AM" then          
        set theResult to (path to desktop folder as alias)
        tell application "Finder"
            set theDestinationFolder to (every item of (path to desktop folder as alias) whose modification date is theNewestDate)
        end tell
        set theResult to POSIX path of (item 1 of theDestinationFolder as alias) & "Audio Files"
    end if      
end repeat
return theResult
end getDefaultFolder

The final step (after making sure that there is a folder on the Desktop containing a Logic project, because if theNewestDate is still 1970, there isn’t one) is to find that newest folder, append the name of the Audio Files subfolder to it, and pass that result back to Default Folder.

The result is somewhat magical: Now when I record audio in Sound Studio and press save, the save dialog box bounces to the Audio Files folder within the newest Logic project folder on the Desktop. Nine times out of ten, it’s exactly where I want to be.

What we won't see at WWDC 2019 (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-24 12:56, modified at 13:37

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference is still more than a week away, and as usual the internet is rife with posts predicting what we’ll see—or what people would like to see (including this one)—during the next big Apple keynote.

But even with a two-hour song and dance, Apple can’t show off everything that it’s working on. Not only because there’s simply not time, but also because not everything the company’s actively developing is ready for prime time. Some things just won’t make the cut, inevitably spawning a deluge of posts about “I can’t believe Apple didn’t show off [X]” or “No [Y]? Lame!” or the ever-popular “Apple is doooooomed.”

Let’s nip some of those in the bud by running down a quick list of things that Apple probably won’t devote stage time to in San Jose. Next week, circle back for the predictions about what Apple will talk about.

Panic cranks out Playdate, a new handheld game console

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-23 15:03


After dropping some hints in the past day or so, Panic—maker of fine Mac and iOS software like Transmit, Coda, and Prompt—has announced that it’s getting into the games hardware business with a new handheld console called Playdate.

Panic, of course, is no stranger to the games market, having served as publisher for the popular game Firewatch in addition to the upcoming Untitled Goose Game1 But hardware’s a new gig for the company, so it enlisted Sweden-based Teenage Engineering, who also came up with the innovative hand-crank control that will apparently be used in most if not all of the games.

Playdate will feature a dozen titles, released weekly after launch, from popular developers like Zach Gage, Shaun Inman, and Keita Takahashi.

To me, this is just incredible. Hardware always seems like such a different world from software, but Panic has passion and attention to detail that ought to serve them well here.

Playdate will cost $149 when it arrives next year; launch supplies are expected to be limited, so sign up to be notified.

  1. One of Panic’s designers—and a friend—Neven Mrgan has also created several games, including puzzlers Blackbar and Grayout, as well as The Incident, Space Age, and Stagehand. ↩

(Podcast) Rebound 239: Lady Gaga is on My Side

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-23 14:30, modified on 2019-05-22 20:49

This week, on the irreverent tech show that spends way too much time on keyboards, we discuss Apple’s latest keyboard—drink!—announcements, the distribution of Teslas amongst our podcast hosts, what we really think of Elon Musk, and the latest pulse-pounding update on Dan’s Mac mini.

iOS 13 wish list (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-22 18:26

WWDC, Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, is less than two weeks away. In a dozen days we’ll know the broad outlines of where Apple is taking its software in the next year. It’s an exciting time, when you hope against hope that the features you dream about will come true and make it into a new release.

It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s pretty great. Here’s what I’m hoping to see in iOS 13 when Apple unveils it on Monday, June 3.

(Podcast) Clockwise #295: Pixie Dust

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-22 17:37

This week, on the 30-minute show that never has too much time on its hands, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Anže Tomić and Allison Sheridan to discuss Apple’s latest MacBook keyboard update, what other companies might run afoul of US-China relations, a new plan to stop tracking on the web, and whether we’ve considered buying an electric vehicle. Plus, a special food-themed bonus topic.

Federico Viticci goes 'Beyond the Tablet'

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-21 21:10, modified at 21:12

In a book-length post, Federico Viticci of MacStories details how he uses his iPad as his main computer, featuring all sorts of great behind-the-scenes details of the apps he uses, the automation he’s built, and where he thinks Apple should go from here.

However, the iPad is not perfect. And so in the spirit of offering one final update before WWDC and the massive release for iPad that iOS 13 will likely be, I thought I’d summarize seven years of daily iPad usage in one article that details how I work from the device and how I’d like the iPad platform to improve in the future.

I read this last week on an airplane and enjoyed every minute of it. Highly recommended.

Apple updates MacBook Pro processors and keyboard, extends Keyboard Service Program

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-21 17:00, modified at 17:09

Continuing its renewed commitment to update pro Mac laptops on a regular basis, Apple on Tuesday announced an update to its 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro Touch Bar models ten months after the previous announcement. These updates don’t bring any changes to the exterior of the MacBook Pro—it’s the same base design introduced in late 2016—but they do bring 9th-generation Intel processors with up to eight cores to the MacBook Pro for the first time. There’s also been yet another tweak to the controversial butterfly keyboard Apple first introduced in 2015.

Processor updates

The 15-inch MacBook Pro is the model most affected by these updates. It gains 14nm “Coffee Lake Refresh” 9th-generation Intel processors with six and eight cores. This is the first time Apple’s had an eight-core MacBook Pro. Here are the specs:

  • $2399: 2.6 GHz 6-core i7 (4.5 GHz Turbo Boost)
  • $2799: 2.3 GHz 8-core i9 (4.8 GHz Turbo Boost)
  • Configure-to-order option: 2.4 GHz 8-core i9 (5 GHz Turbo Boost)

Apple says that the fastest model is up to 40 percent faster than the previous-generation six-core laptop, and that users looking to upgrade from the previous generation of quad-core-equipped MacBook Pros could see up to double the performance of those models.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is getting less of an update. It’s still using 8th-generation Intel quad core processors, but slightly faster ones with improved Turbo Boost speeds to help in tasks that primarily use a single processor core.

Keyboard update

The controversial keyboard.

Apple says these new models also feature a fourth version of the butterfly keyboard design, in response to customer complaints that the keyboard would end up in a sad state where key presses were ignored or doubled 1. While Apple is quick to say that the vast majority of MacBook Pro customers haven’t experienced any keyboard issues, the company still keeps tweaking this design. It claims that the change made in these new MacBook Pro models will substantially reduce the incidence of ignored or doubled characters.

Beyond that, Apple is also seeking to reassure its customers that they shouldn’t avoid buying a Mac laptop out of fear of having keyboard problems. As was reported last month, Apple is working to shorten the time it takes to repair keyboards in Apple Store. And today it’s extending its Keyboard Service Program to cover all laptops with butterfly keyboards, including not just these new MacBook Pros, but also all of its laptops released in 2018, including the new MacBook Air. That program is separate from the standard Apple warranty and covers keyboard repairs for four years after the first retail sale of the laptop.

What’s next?

It’s telling that Apple has chosen to make this announcement in advance of its developer conference, which will take place two weeks from now in San Jose, California. MacBook Pros are popular with Apple developers and there’s always speculation that new ones will be announced during the event’s keynote, though that rarely happens. This announcement reduces the expectations for that announcement, at least somewhat.

It also calls into question the validity of a report earlier this year that a new 16-inch MacBook Pro design was on the way, at least this summer. There was a lot of speculation that the new MacBook Pro would replace the current 15-inch model, but that model just received an update. It doesn’t mean a new-style MacBook Pro couldn’t be in the offing next month or later this year, but it definitely makes that report a bit more of a head-scratcher.

Where Apple’s laptop keyboard designs go from here is also a question. By extending its repair program and seeking to improve the turnaround of keyboard repairs in Apple Stores, the company is seeking to reassure customers that they won’t get stuck with a laptop with a bad keyboard. But the company also keeps tweaking the design in order to try and make it more reliable—an admirable attempt, but the sheer number of tweaks also send the message that Apple hasn’t really had a handle on the fundamental weaknesses of the design. Whether this new tweak is the one that finally solves the problem, or if it won’t be truly solved until this design is discontinued and fades into memory, remains to be seen.

But as the owner of two 2018 MacBook Airs, I’m happy that the keyboard service program has been extended to that model as well. We haven’t had any problems with either keyboard yet, but this program extension provides a little reassurance that it’s not going to be an issue if we do.

  1. The Verge says that Apple told them the keyswitches are made of a “new material”. ↩

(Podcast) Upgrade #246: You Can't Fight the Magnets

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-20 23:21

With the WWDC draft a week away, Jason and Myke engage in a flight of fancy, discussing all their wishes for iOS and macOS developments that probably won’t happen. Also, Jason has to retrieve his iPad.

The ants are my friends, they're blowing in the wind

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-20 23:20, modified at 23:23

I’m happy that Apple added lyrics listings to iTunes on the Mac and Music on iOS. Sometimes I hear (or mishear) something in a song I’m listening to, and I want to consult the written lyrics. Internet lyrics databases like Genius, largely built by fans, can be incredibly helpful—but they can also be full of misheard lyrics on a “girl with colitis goes by” scale.

Unfortunately, Apple’s built-in lyrics listings aren’t better. Over the last few months I’ve noticed some remarkably terrible lyrics transcriptions in iTunes and Music. I can’t quite figure out where Apple’s getting its lyrics—I’ve seen some song lyric errors that were mirrored in Genius, and others in Musixmatch, and still others don’t seem to show up on the web at all.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to track these errors down. Because lyrics databases on the web are editable by users, they can change from day to day. So far as I can tell, either Apple is caching lyrics on its own servers, or they’re being cached on my local devices, so they’re out of sync with what I can find on the web. (My devices are definitely out of sync with one another, as lyrics are often different on iTunes than on Music.)

Most frustrating is the fact that, somehow, there’s no official, legitimate, licensed song lyric database. Presumably such a database would not be crowdsourced, but actually use the official lyrics (where available) from musical artists. I realize that this might not be practical in all cases, and that using fans can often be the best way to fill in the gaps of an enormous catalog of content.

But fans can also really lack context, and that can lead to some whoppers when it comes to misheard lyrics. “Bad Vibes” by K. Flay is about a character who is completely terrible, right down to a new tattoo of the words “Dead on Arrival” typed out plainly.

Except in my iTunes version, where the lyric is, “You’ve got a new tattoo / Dead on arrival types outplay me.” Yes, it’s a shame when you’re outplayed by DOA types.

Or consider “Die Happy” by Dreamers, in which the behavior of an object of desire is referred to: “She’s smoking palm oils.” Now, palm oil is not great for you—it’s very high in saturated fat. But the fans of Dreamers apparently don’t have enough historical context to realize that the character is actually “chain smoking Pall Malls.” A lot less healthier than palm oil!

I’d rather have bad fan-generated lyrics than no lyrics at all, I suppose, but this feels like a place where Apple is providing an imprimatur to content that’s way beneath its standards—not to mention the standards of the music companies whose content Apple is licensing for Apple Music.

Anyway, if you see inaccurate lyrics, Apple says you should send Apple Music feedback. I’ll get right on that, but first, ‘scuse me while I kiss this guy

Three keyboard changes Apple should make—to iOS (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-17 13:13

As a writer, the vast majority of my time is spent inputting text, which means that the most crucial of the tools of my trade is, of course, the keyboard.

Now, you probably think you know where this is going. Apple’s certainly taken a lot of flak for its laptop keyboards over the last couple years, and frankly I’m of the opinion that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. But I’m not here to talk about the keyboards on the company’s laptops.

I’m here to talk about iOS. Apple popularized the onscreen keyboard with the launch of the first iPhone, deciding to eschew the hardware keyboards that were de rigueur on smartphones at the time. The virtual keyboard was more space efficient, more versatile, and contained no moving parts. To ease the transition, Apple added a variety of features to make typing smarter than it was on a traditional keyboard.

That was great in 2007. But 12 years later, we’ve all largely adapted to touchscreen keyboards, and some of those smart technologies are starting to look and feel, well, not so smart. It’s time for an A-to-Z overhaul of text entry on iOS.

'The night the lights went out'

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-16 22:46, modified at 22:47

Drew Magary of Deadspin was hosting his site’s awards show, and moments later he woke up in a hospital after being in a coma for two weeks:

Because I had suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), I got severely lightheaded and nauseous while standing, even after reclaiming my wits. Thus, I was considered a fall risk. That meant I was not medically cleared to walk, piss, or shower unattended. I was also forbidden from working, even though I started writing this post in my head right away. Brain surgery or not, writing has always helped me piece my mind together.

This story is terrifying and also hilarious, sometimes simultaneously.

6 powerful utilities that make the Mac feel like home (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-16 15:43

I love using my Mac. And yet when I am confronted with a fresh new device running macOS, I am taken aback by the barren expanse that is the default Mac experience. That’s not on the Mac, that’s on me—I have become incredibly reliant on some fantastic utilities that enhance the Mac experience in countless ways.

Every now and then I mention these utilities to friends who are Mac users, or they see me using them, and they are often completely baffled. This reminds me that, quite shockingly, there are lots of Mac users who never take advantage of utilities to make the Mac far more powerful than it comes out of the box.

Here, then, are some of the utilities that make the Mac feel like home for me.

(Podcast) Clockwise #294: More Twists Than a Bag of Pretzels

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-15 18:23, modified at 18:24

This week, on the 30-minute show that’s always got time for you, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Kathy Campbell and James Thomson to discuss the new Alexa Guard, our swag collection habits, banning facial recognition, and where we’ll come down when mega corporations rule the Earth! Plus, an animation-themed bonus topic.

(Podcast) Rebound 238: This Math Works

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-15 14:30, modified on 2019-05-14 19:22

This week on the irreverent tech show that your body rejects, we board the topic train to discuss Apple’s latest iOS update and its new Channels options, the impact of the Supreme Court’s latest decision, and a whole host of payment-related announcements, complaints, and stories.

The origins of the spreadsheet

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-15 04:38, modified at 04:40

An amazing story by Steven Levy from 1984(!) about the creation of VisiCalc, the first spreadsheet and possibly the first PC “killer app”:

It occurred to him: why not create the spreadsheets on a microcomputer? Why not design a program that would produce on a computer screen a green, glowing ledger, so that the calculations, as well as the final tabulations, would be visible to the person “crunching” the numbers? Why not make an electronic spreadsheet, a word processor for figures?

An amazing bit of history. As Levy points out, “This was so long ago that I had to define what a cursor was!”

(Podcast) Upgrade #245: Get Ready for the Sensor Square

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-13 19:25

It’s a busy week for Myke as Jason as they discuss hanging on to old software, how third-party apps react to Apple’s app updates, the Supreme Court’s ruling on an App Store antitrust case, the struggles of Apple Retail, and new reports about this fall’s iPhone models. After all that, it’s time to discuss the Brydge Pro and Logitech Slim Folio Pro and whether either of them can replace Apple’s own Smart Keyboard Folio as our iPad Pro keyboard of choice.

Three features Apple should borrow from Google’s I/O announcements (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-10 12:37

Spring has sprung, and with it comes the onslaught of tech companies announcing the latest updates to their products. This week, it was Google’s I/O keynote that took the main stage, as the Mountain View company catalogued all of the new devices, features, and promises it had targeted for 2019.

Many of the features that Google talked about were a clear attempt to catch up in areas where Apple already excels: privacy, for example, or distribution of security updates. I’m not about to suggest that Apple needs to crib from anybody, but the whole purpose of competition is to drive innovation.

With that in mind, I’ve laid out three areas that Google touched on during its keynote where Apple might benefit from following the lead of one of its most prominent frenemies.

Why the Pixel 3a is no threat to the iPhone (Tom's Guide)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-09 21:18, modified at 21:19

Google this week announced the Pixel 3a, a $399 phone with most (but not all) of the features of last year’s flagship Google smartphone, the $799 Pixel 3. While this move definitely puts some pressure on Samsung and Apple, who continue to reap most of the profits in the smartphone market, it’s not likely to end the era of the premium smartphone.

(Podcast) Clockwise #293: An Electric Scooter Is the New Horse

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-09 19:48

This week, on the 30 minute tech show where we come and go as we please, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Shahid Kamal Ahmad and Jean MacDonald to talk about Google’s I/O announcements, scooters as part of transportation solutions (and problems), ways in which tech delights us, and how we’re cutting back on the digital. Plus a cuisine-themed bonus topic.

After flipping the Marzipan switch

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-08 20:23, modified at 20:26

Craig Hockenberry of The Iconfactory ponders what it’ll be like for app developers to bring their iOS apps to the Mac via Marzipan:

It’s likely that getting your iOS app to run on a Mac will just be a matter of flipping a switch in Xcode. Steve Troughton-Smith has been converting apps using nothing more than a Simulator build, his marzipanify tool, and a lot of clever tweaks with frameworks.

It will be exciting for a lot of developers, including yours truly, to press that button. But it’s also important to temper this enthusiasm with reality: that build setting is just the first step on a long and complicated road. Good interaction doesn’t come for free.

I have no doubt that Apple execs will stand up on stage in San Jose next month and demonstrate how iOS apps can move from iOS to Mac with just one click. It will be a great demo, with amazing applause. But as Craig points out—and as Apple will no doubt point out on stage, as well—the flipping of that switch is the start of the journey, not the end of it.

To make good Mac apps out of iOS apps will require care and consideration and some actual work. After basking in the glow of that first click-and-run moment, iOS developers should expect to spend the rest of the summer doing the detail work to take an apps that run on macOS and make them into apps that excel on macOS.

Why the Mac won't end up locked down like iOS (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-08 19:46

As macOS and iOS keep getting closer in terms of functionality (including low-level fundamentals and a shared software platform), I hear a lot of fear from Mac users who are concerned that the Mac is in danger of becoming a locked-down platform that will lose a lot of the capabilities that advanced users have come to expect from their devices.

The security philosophy Apple has nurtured over the past decade as it has built iOS is one that’s based on strictly limiting what third-party software can do, in turn limiting what users are able to do. But I’m optimistic that Apple isn’t planning on barring Mac power users from some of the best things about using a Mac, and there are many ways Apple can create a fundamentally more secure platform without destroying its appeal.

(Podcast) Rebound 237: Grounds for Divorce

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-08 14:32

This week, on the irreverent mini-golf podcast that occasionally discusses technology, we talk Bloomberg’s latest WWDC scoops, Apple’s voracious appetite for buying companies, Intel getting thrown under a bus twice, and the weird story of Warren Buffet’s iPhone game. Plus, did we mention, mini-golf?

Review: Logitech Slim Folio Pro

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-07 17:00, modified at 17:08

Logitech has been making keyboard cases for the iPad Pro since the very beginning. Its case for the original 9.7-inch iPad Pro was close to perfect. With the $130 Slim Folio Pro for the 2018 12.9-inch iPad Pro (the 11.5-inch model is $120), Logitech continues its commitment to making very good iPad keyboard cases—that just don’t seem to fit with the way I prefer to use my iPad Pro.

Logitech’s iPad cases have always wrapped the device in protection. Unlike the approach of a company like Brydge, which builds aluminum keyboards into which you clip the iPad by its corners, Logitech’s cases generally cover all four corners of the device. In the case of the Slim Folio Pro, you tuck the non-Apple Pencil side of the iPad into a large rubberized bumper, and then push two small rubberized bumpers over the other corners.

The result is a case that feels sturdy and protective, but it also means that every time you want to extract the iPad from the case, you’ve got to push those corner pieces off. If you’re someone who prefers to leave the iPad in the case most of the time, this is fine, but the Slim Folio Pro is a thick, bulky case, and I have a hard time believing that anyone would want to keep it on their iPad when they weren’t actively using the keyboard. (The Slim Folio Pro weighs 704 grams, almost identical to the Brydge Pro—but the Brydge is denser and slimmer.

Why not get a laptop?

When I write about iPad keyboards, the question I get most often is, “Why turn your iPad into a laptop instead of getting a laptop?” If you want my answer, check out the “Why not get a laptop?” section in my December 2018 story about the Brydge Pro keyboard.

As you might expect, the two corner pieces on this case are shaped the way they are so that they don’t cover up the magnetic charging area for the Apple Pencil. If you want to close the case, though, you won’t be able to charge the pencil—but Logitech does provide a loop on a magnetic flap that’s used to keep the case securely closed, making it less likely that you’ll misplace the Pencil when it’s not attached.

The keyboard itself is good, though the entire keyboard surface is made of gray plastic that feels a little cheap when compared to the aluminum-framed keyboards you’ll find in Apple’s laptops (or Brydge’s iPad Pro keyboard). The keycaps have a smooth texture and typing feel that remind me of classic Apple laptop keys. (That’s a good thing.) There’s a full function row, giving you control over keyboard backlighting, screen brightness, media playback, volume, and other shortcuts that users of Apple’s own Smart Keyboard Folio don’t have access to. The arrow keys are in the familiar inverted-T configuration that Apple has unfortunately moved away from in its own laptops.

While the Slim Folio Pro connects to the iPad via Bluetooth rather than Smart Connector (and charges via a USB-C port), it’s got a clever way of saving power: it only activates when you set the iPad in a magnetic slot on the front of the case.

Like Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio, the Slim Folio Pro (and unlike Brydge’s keyboard) places the keyboard at the very front of the keyboard surface. This means it’s a different feel than you’d get on a MacBook, where the keyboard is pushed further back to leave room for a trackpad just below the keyboard. The edge of the iPad lands right behind the function row, about one-third of the way down the plane on which the keyboard sits.

Unfortunately, this design has a few side effects. First, it’s not at all adjustable. If you don’t like the particular angle of the iPad Pro in this case, there’s nothing you can do to change it. Second, at the very back of the horizontal keyboard plane where the case wraps around and provides support to keep the iPad upright, there’s half an inch of flexible material that serves as the spine of the case when it’s closed. I found that when I was typing with the Slim Folio Pro in my lap, the iPad had a tendency to rock back and forth as that flap of material slid back and forth. The result is that the case isn’t as stable on a lap as I’d like.

If you’re someone who doesn’t mind taking extra time to attach and detach your iPad from a case, the Slim Folio Pro provides a good typing experience and some protection for your iPad at a price that’s quite a bit lower than either Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio or the Brydge Pro keyboard.

I get tired of people asking me why I use a keyboard with my iPad Pro rather than just buying a laptop, but I have to admit that if you’re going to snap your iPad into a big keyboard case that’s not particularly easy to remove, that argument gets a little bit stronger. The beauty of the iPad is that it can do something a MacBook just can’t—namely, be a bare screen without attached keyboard when that’s all you want.

The Slim Folio Pro traps the iPad Pro in a less than ideal form. Both Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio and the Brydge Pro let you switch from keyboard to tablet quickly. Apple’s device excels because it’s small enough to carry around as a cover; Brydge’s excels because it provides the full laptop experience. I would choose either of those products over this one. But if you’re seeking value in an iPad keyboard case and don’t mind fussing with getting the thing on and off of your iPad, the Slim Folio Pro won’t let you down. It’s a solid product—as long as you know what you’re getting into. And out of.

Review: Brydge Pro 12.9 keyboard

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-07 16:42, modified on 2019-05-17 18:33

I’ve spent six months using the 2018 iPad Pro with Apple’s Smart Keyboard Folio and a collection of external USB and Bluetooth mechanical keyboards. The Smart Keyboard Folio has been a solid traveling companion, and it’s a major improvement over the old thick two-layer Smart Keyboard, but I’ve missed what I had on the older iPad Pro, namely the laptop-style keyboard from Brydge that let me convert my iPad into a laptop shape when I needed it.

Six months into the life of the iPad Pro, Brydge’s new iPad Pro keyboards are finally starting to arrive. Back in December I briefly got my hands on a preproduction model, and two weeks ago I received one of the first $170 12.9-inch units off the production line and have been using it on and off since then. (There’s also a $150 11-inch version, which I haven’t used.)

While it’s taken me some time to adapt to some of the changes Brydge has made, I’m happy to report that this is still the best option for people who want the full laptop typing experience on an iPad Pro.

Why not get a laptop?

When I write about iPad keyboards, the question I get most often is, “Why turn your iPad into a laptop instead of getting a laptop?” If you want my answer, check out the “Why not get a laptop?” section in my December 2018 story about the Brydge Pro keyboard.

Open-faced sandwich

As I wrote back in December, a laptop is a sandwich 1, and Apple’s redesign of the iPad Pro means that Brydge had to redesign the Brydge Pro to match. They’ve done a good job. When the iPad is closed against the keyboard, the two sides meet harmoniously, looking like a curvy new Apple laptop. As on previous Brydge keyboards, the anodized aluminum of the keyboard has been matched to the color of the iPad (space gray or silver finishes are available).

To attach the iPad to the Brydge 12.9 Pro, you slide it into two hinged clips covered with rubber padding. As with previous models, it takes a little practice to get the feel right. The clips are much smaller than on previous models (owing to the reduced bezels on the iPad Pro itself), making them a bit harder to fold in and out by hand. But they’re able to hold the iPad securely and it’s still easy to slide the iPad and and out of the clips, so you can convert the iPad from a laptop to a tablet and back again in a few seconds.

Like a good laptop, the Brydge 12.9 Pro comes with a slight indentation at the bottom of the wrist-rest space (below where a trackpad would be, if it had a trackpad). This creates a natural lifting point to open the combined “laptop”, which was sometimes tricky on the previous models.

As with previous Brydge keyboards, the hinge is all the way at the back of the keyboard, just like it would be on a laptop. When you open up the iPad, the bottom edge of the clips pivot to slightly below the flat bottom of the keyboard case. This will make the keyboard slope up slightly on a flat surface—and if it’s on your lap, you’ll notice those clips resting on your legs, though I found that it doesn’t affect in-lap stability.

The Apple Pencil charging area sits at the top of the iPad when it’s in laptop configuration, so you can dock your Pencil there while you work. When you close the laptop, the pencil can remain attached and charging.

The reduced dimensions of the iPad Pro mean that the Brydge Pro weighs less than previous generation models. This model weighs 707g (1.56 pounds), slightly heavier than the iPad itself. When joined with the iPad, you’ve got a 2.95-pound 13-inch laptop—slightly lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

The Brydge 12.9 Pro charges via a USB-C plug, matching the iPad Pro. I tend not to use backlighting and didn’t get a chance to test battery life on this model, but in general I’ve found that Brydge’s keyboards last a very long time between charges. Occasionally I remember to charge my keyboard, and it never runs down.

In a twist, Brydge has added protection for the iPad Pro’s back surface via a magnetic cover that snaps to the magnets Apple included on the iPad Pro. It’s a simple way to improve the look and feel of the device, and made my iPad look more like a laptop from some mysterious new company (there’s a Brydge logo on the cover) rather than an iPad with a sideways Apple logo.

Like the iPad Pro itself, these new Brydge keyboards are more expensive than their predecessors, in this case by $20. But they’re still cheaper than the equivalent Apple Smart Keyboard Folios, believe it or not.

How does it type?

The Brydge Pro’s keys are backlit, full-sized and offer a good amount of travel, slightly less than on a classic MacBook keyboard but quite a bit more than on the current Apple laptops. The keys are full sized, offer a full function row (with dedicated keys for Home, Lock, backlighting adjustment, show/hide keyboard, media control, and more), and the arrow keys come in a familiar inverted-T design. I really missed that row of function keys on Apple’s Smart Folio, and it’s a pleasure to once again be able to quickly adjust screen brightness or music volume without taking my hands off the keyboard.

The typing feel of the new keyboard is definitely different than the previous model. The keys themselves have a textured feel, rather than the smooth keycaps of old. (I prefer the smoother feel, if I’m being honest.) While it’s not a perfect comparison, I’d say that the new keyboard feels a little more like typing on Apple’s Magic Keyboard, while the older model felt like a clone of the keyboard on my old 11-inch MacBook Air.

Regardless, I was able to type at full speed on the Brydge keyboard, up to 120 words per minute, without any problems. Adapting from using the Smart Keyboard Folio took some time, however—that keyboard is so thin that I had to train myself to reduce the amount of force I was using to press down keys—so when I started with the Brydge keyboard, I was failing to depress keys properly! After a couple of days I was back in the swing of things, typing like a laptop user instead of an iPad user. This is more my speed, anyway.

Timing is everything

If I’ve got a complaint about this keyboard, it’s about the fact that we’ve had to wait six months for it to arrive. Anyone who has been using an iPad Pro for writing the past six months has had to find another solution in the interim. The good news is, I’d imagine that the iPad Pro’s size and shape probably won’t change again for a little while, so this product can have a long life as a good option for iPad Pro users.

There’s just one little wrinkle: Federico Viticci’s tidbit that iOS 13 may add support for external pointing devices. This gives me pause, because the one thing that would be a better partner for my iPad than than the Brydge Pro would be a newer model of Brydge Pro that included a trackpad, like the company’s Surface Pro keyboards. If I’m going to occasionally make my iPad behave like a laptop, why not go all the way? On the other hand, I don’t want to wait another six months.

It’s all in how you use it

Whether the Brydge 12.9 Pro keyboard will be the right choice of accessories to pair with your iPad Pro’s naked robotic core really depends on how you plan on using it. I have spent a couple of decades writing on laptops, and expect a stable laptop-style typing surface that can sit in my lap or on a desk or table.

While the Smart Keyboard Folio is more stable in a lap than its predecessor, it’s not as stable as the Brydge 12.9 Pro, nor is it as enjoyable to type on. It’s lighter, I’ll grant you, and if I needed to carry an iPad keyboard everywhere I went, I’d probably give the Smart Keyboard Folio strong consideration.

The Logitech Slim Folio Pro, on the other hand, might offer a slightly nicer keyboard than the Brydge, but it’s a part of a quite bulky case with a not-quite-laptop design that requires you to laboriously insert and remove your iPad Pro. The beauty of the Brydge keyboard is that you can turn your iPad into a laptop and transform it back into a tablet in moments. To me, that’s the perfect combination, and that’s why I think the Brydge Pro keyboard is the right choice for people who want to get some serious typing done on the iPad Pro while on the go.

  1. Please, nobody mention hot dogs. ↩

(Podcast) Upgrade #244: Push All the Sales Buttons

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-06 21:46

Apple’s financial results lead us to discuss the company bringing a new focus to iPhone sales and throwing Intel under the bus. Then Mark Gurman of Bloomberg swoops in with a huge collection of new and slightly used macOS, iOS, and watchOS rumors for us to dissect.

Downlink puts the Earth on your Mac desktop

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-06 20:29, modified at 20:31

Anthony Colangelo at Main Engine Cutoff:

While browsing the GOES Image Viewer a few months ago, I had an idea: with the data frequency that these new GOES satellites provide, I could build a Mac app that pulls the newest image every 20 minutes and sets it as your desktop background.

What resulted was a simple little menu bar app that gives you a near real-time view of Earth all day long. I’ve been using it for a few weeks as I’ve built it, and it is an absolute joy to have a window to Earth all day.

I’ve been using Downlink for the last week and it’s been a lot of fun to see live pictures of the Earth on my desktop. In the future I hope Anthony can add support for zooming in to specific areas and better multiple-monitor support. It’s free on the Mac App Store.

What the future looks like for the Mac, iPad Pro, and Apple Watch (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-03 13:36

Apple’s quarterly financial conference calls are always an opportunity to peer into the minds of a company that is famously tight-lipped about its intentions. And while most attempts to suss out future plans from the Cupertino-based company are met with an weary sigh and a polite dismissal, Apple is not above letting details of its own choosing slip out.

This most recent quarter was no exception and, especially when it came to the Apple product lines that aren’t the iPhone. As rare as those tea leaves are, we can’t help but use them as a jumping off point to theorize about decisions the company might make or might be thinking about making. So let’s take a look at a few of Apple’s non-iPhone product lines and see where they may be headed.

Are we headed for a Mac automation schism?

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-01 22:21, modified on 2019-05-02 01:17

Steve Jobs introducing Automator in 2004 (left) and Craig Federighi introducing Shortcuts in 2018.

User automation is important. Giving users the power to eliminate repetitive tasks and connect apps together in ways the app designers never anticipated helps harness the power of computers to make our lives easier. Even people who aren’t comfortable with building automation systems themselves can benefit from work created by others. User automation makes computing devices more powerful and their users more efficient.

The Mac is currently at the start of a pretty dramatic transition. This year, the platform will be flooded with apps that are based on the iOS app development system, UIKit, using a system that everyone calls Marzipan because Apple hasn’t given it a name. (My guess is that Apple won’t brand it at all, and will just call it “UIKit for macOS.”

Part of this transition affects user automation. macOS has a bunch of different system-level user automation technologies of various ages, but none of them work with iOS and Apple has shown no intention of changing that now. AppleEvents, AppleScript, and Automator already feel like legacy technologies that are maintained minimally to keep up compatibility, but they don’t feel like the future.

For years, iOS seemed to be a wasteland of user automation, but determined app developers discovered ways their apps could interact, most notably by embedding data in URLs—yep, the same strings of text you use to visit webpages—and passing them back and forth. Apple seemingly endorsed this technique when it bought Workflow, a popular third-party iOS automation app, and renamed it Shortcuts last summer. At the same time, Apple connected iOS automation to Siri through a feature called Siri Shortcuts, which fits right into existing systems already used by developers.

Automation schism

So what happens when iOS apps comes to the Mac this fall? It seems impossible that Apple will allow them to be controlled by AppleScript and Automator. On iOS, they can be controlled by Shortcuts. Does that app make the move to macOS? According to 9to5Mac’s Guilherme Rambo, it might, and Siri Shortcuts will.

Will “classic” Mac apps 1 get the ability to be controlled via Shortcuts, too? Or will there be a schism between the two different classes of apps? (It’s not great for Mac users if there are two different kind of apps that live side by side and are supposed to be the same but are secretly “Type A” and “Type B” apps with different functionality. That happened a lot in the early days of Mac OS X and it was not great.)

And what about Automator and Shortcuts, two apps with similar approaches and aims? Do they live awkwardly side by side on macOS, each addressing some percentage of a user’s apps while ignoring the rest?

I’ve got to think Apple won’t leave the developers of “old-style” Mac apps high and dry. My hope is that Apple will provide developers of old-school Mac apps with some tools to integrate their apps with whatever automation system comes along with the new stuff, presumably Shortcuts.

“Run Script Over SSH” can be a gateway to the rest of macOS from the UIKit side.

If the goal is to avoid a complete schism, Apple could allow users to build their own bridges between apps by adding “Run shell script” and “Run AppleScript” commands within Shortcuts. While it might strike you as impossible that Apple would allow this, the truth is that the barn door is already open and the horse is long gone. Shortcuts for iOS has an action that lets you run scripts on a remote server via SSH. If that feature ends up on the Mac, it’s over—all a user will have to do is tell the shortcut to connect to localhost.

What’s more, one of macOS’s shell commands is osascript, which—you guessed it—executes AppleScript scripts. Which means I can already run AppleScript and command-line commands on my Mac via my iPad. So why shouldn’t I be able to do so from my Mac? Doesn’t make sense.

Siri Shortcuts gateway?

Then there’s Siri Shortcuts, which 9to5Mac says are almost certainly coming to macOS. Since this is a system based on iOS technology, it would seem like classic Mac apps and features might be entirely left out. It’s a break-up that doesn’t need to happen, so long as the proper bridges are built.

Something funny happened in macOS Mojave. Apple actually brushed off some very old Mac OS X technology, Services, and gave it a rebrand as Quick Actions. Quick Actions are commands you can find in Quick Look previews, the Finder’s new Gallery view, and on the Touch Bar. Some are pre-built by Apple, but users can add their own by saving Automator actions as Quick Actions.

I have no idea what prompted Apple to bubble up Automator actions into more places in the macOS interface with Mojave, but Quick Actions strikes me as a pretty good companion to Siri Shortcuts. Imagine a scenario where apps originating on iOS can support Siri Shortcuts via the same methods they use on iOS. Now imagine that Siri Shortcuts can also use Quick Actions as a source for potential commands. Quick Actions are contextual, those old-school Mac apps can bring their own Quick Actions to the party, and users can build their own Quick Actions to do whatever they want. It would be a simple way to bridge the gap between the two different app types that Mac users will be using together, at least for a while.

I don’t know if Apple’s planning to do this, but it’s hard not to imagine macOS 10.15 causing a pretty dramatic class division between apps, and that’s bad for the user experience. Some weirdness is inevitable when you’ve got different apps using different System Folders, APIs, and the rest. But the more bridges that exist—ones that let the different apps work together for the benefit of users—the better.

It’s just the beginning

I have a million questions about the future of user automation on Apple’s platforms, beyond just the scope of the changes in macOS 10.15. Are URL schemes really the future of inter-application communication, or is Apple working on a new system that’s a successor to AppleEvents that will offer a more robust pathway than a giant string of plain text? Is Shortcuts going to gain more low-level capabilities on both platforms? Will third-party automation utilities like Keyboard Maestro be able to control UIKit apps effectively?

In the end, I’m not as concerned with how user automation is preserved on macOS as I am concerned that it is preserved. Shortcuts is a remarkably powerful app, and even URL schemes can be richer than you might think—though they’re definitely inelegant. The Mac can help push automation technology forward across all of Apple’s platforms, if Apple wants to go in that direction. But whatever happens, it’s clear that iOS and macOS are going to face the future of user automation together, not separately.

  1. We are probably about to enter an era where all the Mac apps built using AppKit, the development system that’s “native” to macOS, are going to start being referred to as “classic” Mac apps, and the new UIKit apps are going to be called “new” Mac apps.  ↩

(Podcast) Clockwise #292: The Drums are the Worst Part

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-01 17:31

This week, on the 30-minute show that is always on time, no matter where you are, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Lory Gil and Matthew Cassinelli to discuss how we distract ourselves with tech while traveling, our thoughts on the new Luminary podcast service, where we find ourselves missing Apple Pay, and what we’d do with our one WWDC wish, if it were granted. Plus, a special video-game character face-off.

(Podcast) Rebound 236: More Than Just Cursory

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-01 14:36, modified at 14:37

This week, on the irreverent tech show that is never quite what you think it’s going to be, we talk about the latest rumors that support for pointing devices is coming to iOS, Dan makes the latest case for a touchscreen Mac (and John makes the counter case), and Lex updates us on his favorite handwriting app for the iPad as well as his Apple News+ feelings. Plus, some problems with the Apple TV and the perplexing question of why Apple doesn’t let you restrict installing profiles on iOS.

Why Apple believes iPhone sales are finally turning around (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-01 14:01

After the collective freak-out about Apple’s poor showing during its last financial quarter, this quarter’s results were refreshingly boring. Apple had $58 billion in revenue, more or less what they said they’d do three months ago. The company made $11.6 billion in profit, which is a really good kind of boring.

Still, there are always tidbits from Apple’s mandated disclosures, and the hourlong conference call with financial analysts that follows them, that can give us some hints about how Apple’s business is doing. Here are five of them.

Apple's financial results: Learning to sell the iPhone

Permalink - Posted on 2019-05-01 02:27, modified at 02:30

Tim Cook loves satisfied customers.

There was a time—a very long time, in fact—when Apple didn’t need to make much of an attempt to actually sell iPhones. I don’t want to imply that the act of creating new iPhone models and new versions of iOS wasn’t an enormous task—it was. My point is, after the phones arrived on the scene, people really wanted them. And Apple just needed to make as many as it could and make them available in Apple retail stores and other locations, and they’d fly off the shelves.

That era ended last fall. And as Apple CEO Tim Cook and CFO Luca Maestri made clear on Tuesday’s conference call with analysts as a part of reporting the company’s latest quarterly results, Apple is now turning around iPhone sales by being more active when it comes to selling those iPhones to customers.

It’s my understanding that, starting last fall, every floor employee at Apple’s retail stores has had it emphasized to them that the goal is to boost iPhone sales. Even positions that would theoretically be bad fits for a focus on sales—people teaching Today at Apple classes, for example—are expected to show off the latest phone hardware in an attempt to get people interested in buying. If you take a photography course that roams the streets around the store for subject matter, you may be allowed to borrow a shiny new iPhone XR to shoot those pictures—all the better to tempt you with an upgrade.

What, employees at a retail store are expected to move product? It’s hardly earth-shattering stuff, but this is Apple. Apple didn’t need to pull those levers—until last fall, as iPhone sales started to dip. Now it’s pulling all the levers.

“Our retail and online stores continue to be a key point of innovation,” Cook said on Tuesday. “As we mentioned in January, we’ve been working on an initiative to make it simple to trade in a phone in our store, finance the purchase over time, and get help transferring data from the old phone to the new phone. As part of this initiative, we rolled out new trade-in and financing programs in the U.S., China, the UK, Spain, Italy, and Australia. The results have been striking. Across our stores, we had an all-time record response to our trade-in programs, and with more than four times the trade-in volume of our March quarter a year ago.”

Emphasizing the trading in of older models in order to get a discount on a new iPhone has worked around the world, including in China, where sales have really lagged. Apple is still experimenting with its approach in different markets, but the company is now motivated to learn, when it wasn’t before.

Or as Cook said: “Clearly what we’ve learned here—and it’s not a surprise, really—is that many, many people do want to trade in their current phone. From a customer or user point of view, the trade-in looks like a subsidy. And so it is a way to offset the device cost itself. And many people in literally every market that we’ve tried this in… want to take and pay for something on installments instead of all at once. And so, it’s a little different in each market in terms of what the elasticity is. But you can bet that we’re learning quickly on all of those.”

Apple’s also being aggressive in the prices that it offers to trade-in customers. “The incentives we’re offering, currently in our retail stores, a trade-in value that is more than sort of the ‘blue book’ [price] of the device if you will, for lack of a better description. And so we have topped those up to provide an extra benefit to the user,” Cook said, noting that iPhones of numerous generations are being traded in. Some people are replacing a two-year-old model, but some are replacing every year, and others are waiting three or four years. “It’s really all over the place,” Cook said.

In some markets, most particularly China, offering an installment plan that allows you to pay a monthly fee on your new iPhone rather than a lump sum has proven quite successful as well. As Cook put it on the analyst call, Apple is now learning about iPhone buying psychology in different markets, and changing its approach as it does.

“You can bet that we’re learning on each of these [approaches], finding the parts that the user likes the most. I think the key is, we’re trying to build something into the consumer mindset that it’s good for the environment and good for them to trade in their current device on a new device. And we do our best to getting the current device to someone else that can use that, or, in some cases if the product is at an end of life, we are recycling the parts in it to make sure that it can carry on in another form,” Cook said.

There was a time when Apple didn’t need to exert much effort to sell iPhones. Those times may be over, but it’s still got a lot of tricks up its sleeve. I’m not surprised to hear that, as Cook and Maestri both pointed out, iPhone sales are already turning around. The execs said that November and December were the worst months of the current iPhone dip, that March was the best of the bunch, and that the last couple of weeks of March were the best weeks of the entire quarter.

That’s why Apple projected a much smaller dip in revenue between its second and third financial quarters than usually happens. The company’s executives seem quite confident that their iPhone sales techniques are working and that the product’s downturn has been smoothed out or stopped.

A couple of other notes based on the results today:

Lots of talk about the growth in the App Store search advertising business. For those who don’t know, this is a business in which Apple takes money from its own app developers to provide prominent results when someone in the App Store searches on particular keywords. If you develop an iOS app and don’t buy your keywords out, your competitors will—and you’ll lose sales.

Tim Cook said that App Store search ads are “growing very, very fast… I think it was up around 70 percent over the previous year. We’re expanding into new geographies as well, and we still have more geographies out there that we think can move the dial further. So it is definitely a a business that is big and getting bigger.”

Just so we’re clear: This is a way for Apple to claw back more money from app developers by getting them to pay Apple to get more visibility in search (and to prevent their competitors from paying to jump over them in search results). I am not a big fan of this technique, but apparently it’s effective!

More than that, though: Since the people who buy search ads are app developers, who make money by selling apps in the App Store, this is essentially Services revenue that gets counted twice! First, people buy apps and Apple counts that revenue. Then, the app developers with whom Apple shares App Store revenue turn around and pay Apple some of their earnings in exchange for ads. I doubt this is a major mover in Apple’s rapidly growing services revenue line, but I have to admire the moxie of running those dollars through the Services revenue line twice.

Analyst Louis Miscioscia of Daiwa Capital Markets 1 asked Cook about what services he expected to be the most successful in the short term and long term, the CEO expertly deflected that one. But he did talk a little bit about his vision for the future of Apple TV+:

“The TV+ product plays in a market where there’s a huge move from the cable bundle to over-the-top,” Cook said. (Over The Top is TV industry slang for getting channels via internet streaming rather than traditional cable or satellite. Tim’s practically a TV exec already.) “We think that most users are going to get multiple over-the-top products and we’re going to do our best to convince them that the Apple TV+ product should be one of them.”

Not to go too overboard with parsing specific words in Tim Cook statements, but I was struck by the phrase “one of them.” Apple is not trying to be the winner, to beat Netflix—and in fact, Cook is saying that he just thinks Apple TV+ can be part of a larger diet of streaming subscriptions. Maybe. I have some doubts that Apple’s current mid-tier streaming offering can compete in a world where streaming services from giants Disney, Warner Media, and NBCUniversal are battling it out with Netflix and Amazon, but for now Apple is in the game.

Finally, Services. What can I say? This is why Apple keeps talking about them and had a whole event about them. Services revenue made up 20 percent of Apple’s revenue this quarter, making it larger than the Mac and iPad put together. $11.5 billion dollars in one quarter. Consistent growth for years. It was the best quarter of all time for the App Store, Apple Music, Apple’s cloud services, and that App Store search ad business, and Apple says that AppleCare and Apple Pay set records for the second financial quarter.

If you’re sick of hearing about Apple’s services, you might want to sign up for a service that cures that, because it’s not going to stop. Right now when viewed from a distance, Apple’s a company with two primary businesses: the iPhone (50%) and services (20%). The iPad, Mac, and wearables each count for another 10 percent. They are individually enormous businesses—as Apple loves to say, each of them is basically a Fortune 200 company—but they are small compared to the scale of the iPhone and the services business.

  1. Hat tip to Mikah Sargent for finding him, because I couldn’t figure out what name they were saying on the call! ↩

This is Tim: Transcript of Apple's Q2 2019 call with analysts

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-30 21:12, modified on 2019-05-02 17:40

[Every quarter Apple’s CEO and CFO talk to financial analysts on an hourlong call. This is the transcript of that call from Tuesday, April 30, 2019. While you’re here, check out our charts of the quarter and analysis of the results.]

Tim Cook: Thanks Nancy, and good afternoon, and thanks to all of you for joining us today. This has been an exciting and productive quarter for Apple. In my letter to investors at the beginning of January I wrote that one of Apple’s great strengths is our culture of flexibility, adaptability, and creativity. This quarter featured some important announcements that speak to the power of our commitment to innovation and long-term thinking. I’d like to start with some topline highlights and then move into greater detail with you.

I’ll get started with financial results. Our revenue was 58 billion dollars, toward the high end of our guidance range. We see this result as a positive outcome in light of ongoing headwinds from weaker foreign currencies relative to the U.S. dollar. In constant currency, our year-over-year revenue performance would have been 200 basis points better than our reported results indicate.

We had great results in a number of areas across our business. It was our best quarter ever for services, with revenue reaching 11.5 billion dollars. We had a blockbuster quarter for iPad, with revenue up 22 percent from a year ago. This is our highest iPad revenue growth rate in six years. And it was another sensational quarter for wearables, with growth near 50 percent. This business is now about the size of a Fortune 200 company, an amazing statistic when you consider it’s only been four years since we delivered the very first Apple Watch. I’ll talk more about these categories later.

While we grew year over year in developed markets, and while we had record March quarter results in a number of major markets including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Japan, we did experience a revenue decline in emerging markets.

But we feel positive about our trajectory. Our year over year revenue performance in Greater China improved relative to the December quarter, and we’ve seen very positive customer response to the pricing actions we’ve taken in that market, our trade in and financing programs in our retail stores, the effects of government measures to stimulate the economy, and improved trade dialogue between the United States and China. Our App Store results are still reflecting the impact the slowdown and regulatory approval in gaming apps in China. But we’re encouraged by the recent increase in the pace of approvals. We believe strongly in our long-term opportunity in China thanks to our robust ecosystem, our talented developer community, and the country’s growing population of tech-savvy consumers who value the very best products and services.

For iPhone, while our worldwide revenue was down 17 percent from a year ago, declines were significantly smaller in the final weeks of the March quarter. Looking back at the past five months, November and December were the most challenging. So this is an encouraging trend. We like the direction we’re headed with iPhone, and our goal now is to pick up the pace. Importantly, our active installed base of devices continues to grow in each of our geographic segments, and set a new all-time record for all major product categories. That growing installed base is a reflection of the satisfaction and loyalty of our customers and it’s driving our services business to new heights. In fact, we had our best quarter ever for the App Store, Apple Music, cloud services, and our App Store search ad business, and we set new March quarter revenue records for Apple Care and Apple Pay.

Apple Pay transaction volume more than doubled year over year, and we’re on track to reach 10 billion transactions this calendar year. Apple Pay is now available in 30 markets and we expect to be live in 40 markets by the end of the year. More and more transit systems are accepting Apple Pay, and New York’s MTA system will begin the rollout in early summer. As we’ve seen in places like London, Tokyo, and Shanghai, contactless entry into transit systems helps to spur broader Apple Pay adoption, and we believe this will get even more people using Apple Pay in the United States. And TicketMaster has just announced that they will be accepting Apple Pay for ticket purchases on the web and through the Ticketmaster app, and over 50 of their entertainment and sporting event venues are launching contactless tickets this year, including the vast majority of NFL stadiums.

Subscriptions are a powerful driver of our services business. We reached a new high of over 390 million paid subscriptions at the end of March, an increase of 30 million in the last quarter alone. This was also an incredibly important quarter for our services moving forward. In March, we previewed a game-changing array of new services, each of them rooted in principles that are fundamentally Apple. They’re easy to use. They feature unmatched attention to detail. They put a premium on user privacy and security. They’re expertly curated, personalized, and ready to be shared by everyone in your family. These features aren’t just nice-to-have. They actually help to eliminate the boundary between hardware, software, and service, creating a singularly exceptional experience for our users.

First, building on the great momentum of Apple News, which is already the number one news app in the United States and the United Kingdom, we launched Apple News+. It will bring together over 30 popular magazines, leading newspapers, and digital publishers into a beautiful, convenient, and curated experience within the Apple news app. Apple News+ builds on our commitment to supporting quality journalism from trusted sources while providing the best magazine and news reading experience ever for mobile devices.

Advancing our vision to replace the wallet, we announced Apple Card, built on principles Apple stands for, like transparency, simplicity, and privacy. Apple Card is integrated into the Wallet app and delivers all-new experiences that only Apple can provide, integrating our hardware, software, and services in an elegant solution that places the customer at the center. It’s the first card to encourage you to pay less interest, eliminate fees, and give you daily cash on all your purchases, and customer interest to date has been terrific.

We also previewed Apple Arcade, the world’s first game subscription service for mobile, desktop, and the living room. With over 100 new games all with no ads or ad tracking, no additional purchases, and respect for user privacy, we’ve created a service for players of all ages, kids to teens to adults, and one that families can enjoy together. The App Store is already the world’s biggest gaming platform, and we think Apple Arcade is a great way to unleash the creativity of the game developer community, with a collection of new games not available on any other mobile platform or in any other subscription service. We can’t wait for our customers to experience it for themselves, beginning this fall.

We were thrilled to provide a peek at what’s new for TV. Beginning in mid-May the all new Apple TV app will bring together the different ways to discover and watch shows, movies, sports, news, and more, in one app across iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac, smart TVs, and streaming devices. And users can subscribe to and watch new Apple TV channels like HBO, Showtime, and Starz, paying only for services they want, all on demand, available on and offline. And coming this fall, Apple TV+ will be the new home for the world’s most creative storytellers, featuring exclusive original shows, movies, and documentaries.

We also had several major product introductions during the quarter.

We launched a new more powerful iMac, with dramatic increases in both compute and graphics performance, making it a great update for consumers and pros alike. For our Mac business overall, we faced some processor constraints in the March quarter, leading to a 5 percent revenue decline compared to last year. But we believe that our Mac revenue would have been up compared to last year without those constraints, and don’t believe this challenge will have a significant impact on our Q3 results.

For iPad, we were very happy to return to growth in Greater China, while generating strong double-digit growth in each of our other geographic segments. Our great iPad results were driven primarily by strong customer response to iPad Pro. Late in the quarter, we launched an all-new iPad Air with an ultra thin design, Apple Pencil support, and high-end performance powered by Apple’s A12 Bionic chip. In addition, we introduced a new iPad mini, a major upgrade for iPad fans who love an ultra-portable design, and like the new iPad Air it delivers the power of the A12 Bionic and support for Apple Pencil.

Last month we introduced new AirPods, the second generation of the world’s most popular wireless headphones, and demand has been incredible. This is nothing less than a cultural phenomenon. With a new Apple-designed H1 chip, the new AirPods deliver faster connect times, more talk time, and the convenience of hands free “Hey Siri.”.

Our retail and online stores continue to be a key point of innovation. As we mentioned in January, we’ve been working on an initiative to make it simple to trade in a phone in our store, finance the purchase over time, and get help transferring data from the old phone to the new phone. As part of this initiative, we rolled out new trade-in and financing programs in the U.S., China, the UK, Spain, Italy, and Australia. The results have been striking. Across our stores, we had an all-time record response to our trade-in programs, and with more than four times the trade-in volume of our March quarter a year ago.

With each passing quarter, we’re more inspired by the impact our products are having on people’s fitness and health. This quarter we brought the ECG app on Apple Watch Series 4 to Hong Kong and 19 European countries, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the UK. Just like when the ECG app launched in the United States, there’s hardly a day that goes by that I don’t get a letter or an e-mail from a customer in one of these countries talking about how this feature has significantly changed their life.

We believe we’re really just beginning to tap into what we can do to help our users actively manage their health and well-being. For example, last month Stanford Medicine reported results of the Apple Heart Study, the largest study ever of its kind, which enrolled over 400,000 participants from all 50 states in a span of only eight months. And hundreds of institutions are now supporting health records on iPhone, with recent additions including Michigan Medicine and UT Health Austin. In February, we announced that we are working with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to make health records on iPhone available to veterans. This will be the first record-sharing platform of its kind available to the V.A., which is the largest medical system in the U.S., providing service to more than nine million veterans across more than 1200 facilities.

Apple’s innovation extends beyond the impact we have in the lives of our customers to the impact we leave on the world around us. We recently marked Earth Day with several major announcements about our efforts to leave the world better than we found it. We’ve completed the allocation of our 2.5 billion dollar green bond proceeds across 40 environmental initiatives around the world, to projects ranging from solar power generation to water conservation to development of custom alloys for our products made from 100 percent recycled aluminum. We’ve announced a major expansion of our recycling programs, including quadrupling the number of locations where U.S. customers can send their iPhones to be disassembled by Daisy, our recycling robot. Each Daisy can now disassemble one point two million devices per year, allowing recovered materials to be recycled into the manufacturing process. And we’ve partnered with a record number of our suppliers to follow our lead and transition to 100 percent clean energy. With the help of these 44 suppliers, we will exceed our goal of bringing four gigawatts of renewable energy into our supply chain by 2020, with over one additional gigawatt projected within that timeframe. In the last calendar year alone, the partners that have joined this effort have generated enough clean energy to power over 600,000 homes in the United States. We’re very proud of the progress that we and our partners are making and hope our actions will inspire other businesses to do what they can to protect the world that we share.

We are as excited as ever about our great pipeline of hardware, software, and services, and we’re looking forward to sharing more information about the future of our four software platforms at our Worldwide Developer Conference, now less than five weeks from from now. Everyone here is hard at work to prepare for WWDC, and it’s always a privilege to get to share the future of our platforms with the community of world changing developers who bring it to life. You are not going to want to miss this one.

We’re in the fortunate position of generating more cash than we need to run our business and invest confidently in our future. So today we’re announcing the latest update to our capital return program, including an increase to our share repurchase authorization and our quarterly dividend. For more details on that and our March quarter results I’ll turn the call over to Luca.

Luca Maestri: Thank you Tim. Good afternoon everyone. Revenue in the March quarter was 58 billion, near the high end of the guidance range that we provided 90 days ago, and down 5 percent from last year. Our revenue decline reflects 200 basis points of negative foreign exchange due to the strength of the U.S. dollar. Overall products revenue declined 9 percent, driven primarily by iPhone, while Services revenue grew 16 percent to a new all-time record. We also set a new March quarter record for wearables, home, and accessories, and we recorded our best iPad growth rate in six years. Company gross margin was 37.6 percent in line with our guidance products. Gross margin was 31.2 percent, down about 310 basis points sequentially due to the seasonal loss of leverage and headwinds from foreign exchange. Services gross margin was sixty three point eight percent, up 100 basis points sequentially, due to a different mix and leverage from higher revenue. Net income was eleven point six billion, diluted earnings per share were two dollars and 46 cents, and operating cash flow was 11.2 billion.

Let me provide more color for our various revenue categories. iPhone revenue was 31.1 billion. We’ve seen positive customer response to recent pricing actions in certain emerging markets, as well as enhancements to our trade-in and financing programs, and our year-over-year performance improved relative to our December quarter results in greater China, in the Americas and in Japan. Our active installed base of iPhone reached a new all time high at the end of March. This growing installed base reflects the industry leading satisfaction and loyalty of our customers. The latest survey of U.S. consumers from 451 Research indicates customer satisfaction of 99 percent for iPhone XR, XS, and XS Max combined. And among business buyers who plan to purchase smartphones in the June quarter, 81 percent plan to purchase iPhones.

Turning to services, as Tim said, it was our best quarter ever with 11.5 billion in revenue, an increase of 16 percent from last year. We generated double-digit revenue growth across the App Store, Apple Music, cloud services, Apple Care, Apple Pay, and our App Store search ad business. And we set all-time services revenue records in four of our five geographic segments. We’re very happy with this performance. As you can see from our new disclosures, services accounted for 20 percent of our March quarter revenue and about one-third of our gross profit dollars.

Customer engagement in our ecosystem continues to grow. The number of transacting accounts on our digital content stores reached another new all-time high during the quarter, with the number of paid accounts also setting a new all-time record and growing by strong double digits over last year. And we now have over three hundred and ninety million paid subscriptions across our services portfolio, an increase of 120 million versus just 12 months ago. All subscription categories are growing strong double digits, and as we mentioned a quarter ago, we expect the number of paid subscriptions to surpass half a billion during 2020. On the App Store our subscription business is extremely diversified and is growing strongly around the world. In fact, the number of paid third-party subscriptions increased by over 40 percent compared to last year in each of our geographic segments. And across all third party subscription apps, the largest accounted for only zero point three percent of our total services revenue.

Next I’d like to talk about the Mac. Revenue was 5.5 billion compared to 5.8 billion a year ago, with the decline driven primarily by processor constraints on certain popular models. In spite of this challenge, we generated double-digit Mac revenue growth in Japan and Korea, setting new all-time Mac revenue records in both markets. On a global basis, nearly half of the customers purchasing Macs during the quarter were new to Mac, and the active installed base of Macs reached a new all time high.

We had great results for iPad, with 4.9 billion in revenue, and growth accelerating from the December quarter to 22 percent. iPad revenue grew in all five of our geographic segments, with a return to growth in Greater China and strong double digit growth in all other segments. We had our best March quarter ever for iPad in Japan, and we were especially pleased by performance in Korea, Thailand, and Mexico, where revenue more than doubled over last year. In total, over half of the customers purchasing iPads during the March quarter were new to iPad and the iPad active installed base also reached a new all time high. iPad revenue growth has been fueled primarily by the great customer response to our new iPad Pros. These completely redesigned iPads, with full-screen Liquid Retina displays, Face ID, powerful A12X Bionic chip with Neural Engine, and support for the new Apple Pencil and smart keyboard, make make iPad Pro the perfect PC laptop replacement for both consumers and professionals. The most recent surveys from 451 research measured a 93 percent customer satisfaction rating for iPad overall. Among customers who plan to purchase tablets, 77 percent of consumers and 75 percent of businesses plan to purchase iPads.

Wearables, home and accessories revenue set a new March quarter revenue record at 5.1 billion, fueled primarily by the strong performance of our wearables business, which grew close to 50 percent. Within this category, Apple Watch is the best selling and most loved smartwatch in the world, and produced its best results ever for a non-holiday quarter. It’s reaching many new customers, with three-quarters of purchases going to customers who have never owned an Apple Watch before. Interest in AirPods has been off the charts and we working hard to catch up with the incredible customer demand.

Turning to our retail and online stores, we generated very strong double-digit revenue growth from Apple Watch and iPad. We also announced 50 new Today at Apple sessions during the quarter, in three new and expanded formats. Skills, walks, and labs, free at our stores around the world.

We’re making important progress in the enterprise market, helping transform major industries. We’re building on Apple’s leading position in key functional areas to expand our reach and share within large accounts. Aviation is a strong example of this strategy at work. Across 450 airlines, iPad is overwhelmingly the preferred solution for the pilot’s electronic flight bag. We’ve been making great progress expanding Apple’s footprint beyond the cockpit into the cabin, where more than half of the top 50 airlines have now implemented iOS to enhance the guest experience as well as enable a new use case with mobile point of sale. We’re also seeing traction with other mission-critical airline functions in ground operations and flight maintenance. For example, one of the largest airlines in the world tells us that the adoption of iPod has cut maintenance delays in half. Apple services are also making their way onboard, including growing adoption of Apple Pay for food and beverage purchases, and in-flight access to Apple Music.

We’re also seeing significant iOS traction with large enterprise platforms, which are the face of complex back-end systems to tens of millions of employees around the world. The end-user employee experience is vital to engagement and productivity, and with the increasing mobility of today’s modern workforce, those experiences are best on native iOS applications. We see great momentum through the growing number of iOS SDK’s being delivered by the world’s largest enterprise platforms. For instance, SAP’s SDK for iOS continues to gain strong traction with their customers, growing by more than 40 percent in the last six months. And this past quarter, SalesForce released its SDK, enabling developers to build native iOS applications directly on top of the Salesforce platform.

And finally, our enterprise channels continue to build momentum. In February, our Apple at Work initiative was launched with AT&T. This extension to our ongoing collaboration with AT&T will make it easy for more customers to choose the best Apple products for their needs in the enterprise and modernize their business. AT&T will will enable business services for Apple products, to help companies with their I.T. strategy, including device management, security, productivity, and collaboration.

Let me now turn to our cash position. We ended out the quarter with 225 billion in cash plus marketable securities. We also had 101 billion in term debt and 12 billion in commercial paper outstanding, for a net cash position of almost 113 billion. As a result, we are in a very strong position that allows us to invest confidently in all areas of the business while continuing to return value to our shareholders. Just last year, we announced a commitment to contribute more than 350 billion to the U.S. economy over the next five years, including the creation of 20,000 jobs. More recently, we’ve announced a major expansion in Austin, Texas, and in other cities across the country. All these efforts are essential investments to make sure that we’re incorporating innovative ideas and top talent wherever they emerge. As we execute those initiatives, we’re also able to return over 27 billion to investors during the March quarter. We began a 12 billion accelerated share repurchase program in February, resulting in the initial delivery and retirement of 55.1 million shares. We also repurchased 71.7 million Apple shares, for twelve billion, through open market transactions, and we paid 3.4 billion in dividends and equivalents.

Our priorities for cash have not changed over the years. Most importantly, we always want to maintain the cash we need to run our business, maintain strategic flexibility, and invest in our future. We are well on our way towards meeting the investment projections we laid out early last year. We also want to work towards a more optimal capital structure, and as we said before, it is our plan to reach a net cash neutral position over time. Given our confidence in Apple’s future and the value we see in our stock, our board has authorized an additional 75 billion for share repurchases, and because we know many of our investors value income, we are also raising our quarterly dividend for the seventh time in less than seven years, to 77 cents—an increase of about 5 percent from the previous amount. We’ve paid over 14 billion dollars in dividends and equivalents over the last four quarters alone, making us one of the largest dividend payers in the world. Going forward, we continue to plan for annual increases in dividends per share.

As we move ahead into the June quarter, I’d like to review our outlook, which includes the types of forward-looking information that Nancy referred to at the beginning of the call. We expect revenue to be between 52.5 and 54.5 billion dollars. This guidance range comprehends 300 basis points of negative foreign exchange impact year over year. Also, as a reminder, in the June quarter last year our services revenue included a favorable 236 million one-time item in connection with the final resolution of various lawsuits. We expect gross margin to be between 37 and 38 percent. We expect OpEx to be between 8.7 and 8.8 billion. We expect OINE to be about 250 million, and we expect the tax rate to be about 16.5 percent. Also reflecting the approved increase, today our board of directors has declared a cash dividend of 77 cents per share of common stock, payable on May 16 2019 to shareholders of record as of May 13, 2019. With that, I’d like to open the call to questions.

Shannon Cross, Cross Research: Tim, can you talk a bit more about what you’re seeing in China? Clearly it looks like things are improving sequentially. You also mentioned that last two weeks of the quarter were stabilizing in emerging markets, I believe. So what are customers saying there, what are your partners saying in China?

Tim Cook: In the iPhone space we saw a better year over year performance in the last weeks of the quarter as compared to the full quarter or November and December, which appears to be the trough. I think there’s a there’s a set of reasons for this. One, we made some price adjustments, essentially backing out the weaker currency effect and then some. There’s stimulus programs that the government has executed including—and this happened in early April—VAT being reduced from 16 to 13 percent. So they’ve been aggressive in the stimulus side. Three, our trade in and financing programs that we’ve implemented in our retail stores have been very well received there. And I’m happy with the results to date there. And four, there’s an improved trade dialogue between the U.S. and China and from our point of view this has affected consumer confidence on the ground there in a positive way. And so I think it’s a set of all of these things and we certainly feel a lot better than we did 90 days ago.

Shannon Cross, Cross Research: Thank you. And then I’m sure you’re probably expecting a question on Qualcomm settlement. So what would you like to say on the settlement? How are you thinking about your component providers going forward? And how should we think about this with regard to your development plans in the future, because I’m sure you’re not going to talk about when you’re gonna do 5G, but clearly it helps that path.

Tim Cook: We’re glad to put the litigation behind us and all the litigation around the world has been dismissed and it’s settled. We’re very happy to have a multi-year supply agreement and we’re happy that we have a direct license arrangement with Qualcomm which was I know important for both companies, and so we feel good about the resolution.

Samik Chatterjee, JP Morgan: Tim, you talked about China responding well to the pricing actions that you’ve taken in that market. Do any of those learnings kind of carry through into how you decide pricing in the remaining emerging markets like India etc. as you get ready for the next product cycle?

Tim Cook: We have made some adjustments in India, and we’ve seen preliminarily some better results there. Everything that we do does advise everything we do in the future, so we try to learn the best we can and fold that into our thinking, and we’ll obviously do that with this as well.

Samik Chatterjee, JP Morgan: Luca, we see that you are getting to higher operating expenses. How much of that incremental is going in to support the new services that you’re planning to launch later in the year?

Luca Maestri: Yeah, of course we are supporting both our products and services business, and you can see the trajectory of our OpEx over the different quarters. Clearly as we add new services, we will need to make the necessary investments to support them. Our services business has multiple streams, in total it is accretive to company gross margins. You’ve seen the latest, we’re running services margins at over 60 percent, so it’s a very important business for us in many ways, for our ecosystem and for our ability to monetize it. And so clearly we will make all the necessary investments to ensure that the new services are successful and we’re really encouraged by the level of customer response that we’ve received so far in anticipation for the launch of these services.

Katy Huberty, Morgan Stanley: Luka, if I look back over the past five years, June quarter revenue typically declines about 15 percent from the March quarter. You’re guiding to an 8 percent drop this year. So can you just talk about which regions or product segments you think can outperform that typical seasonality?

Luca Maestri: Yes, Katie. And keep in mind, by the way, we are reporting this guidance including a 300 basis point negative impact from foreign exchange, so actually in constant currency the numbers would be would be even stronger. At the product category level we expect that we will continue to have strong revenue growth from the non-iPhone categories, as we’ve had for the first half of our fiscal year. We’re also expecting a relative improvement in our iPhone performance on a year over year basis in Q3 versus the first half. As Tim said, March was the strongest month of the quarter on a year over year basis, and so this has given the confidence to provide the guidance you’ve seen. Geographically, of course, as you’ve seen from our results for the March quarter, China is it is the geo where we we found some challenges, but we believe the trajectory should improve over time.

Katy Huberty, Morgan Stanley: And then just as a follow up, Shannon said you’re not going to talk specifics around the timing of the 5G phone, but Tim maybe you can talk about how the company approaches a new technology like this, given the higher costs, but also potentially significant benefit, how you think about the right timing for coming to market with a product with those characteristics? And then just generally how meaningful you think 5G is as a demand driver for upgrades in your iPhone installed base.

Tim Cook: Katy this is one that I’m going to largely punt on as you would probably guess. We look at a lot of things on different technologies and try to look at and select the right time that things come together and get those into products as soon as we can. And certainly from a cost point of view, technologies have had cost pressure over the last couple of years or so. But on the flip side of that, there’s a number of things in the commodity markets going in the other direction at the moment, like DRAM and NAND. And so it’s difficult to project what happens next, but it’s the aggregate of all of it that really matters from a price point of view.

Jim Suva, Citi: In your opening remarks, Tim, you mentioned about pricing adjustments that you made in some of the markets, and then about the strength of the trade-in program. Can you help us understand about what type of lessons or elasticity you’ve learned about pricing and the trade-in programs of how it impacts like revenues and COGs and margins and things?

Tim Cook: Jim, in the opening remarks I was really talking about China, specifically, and I mentioned four things that I believe are responsible for the better year over year performance in Q2 relative to Q1, and also the the final weeks of March being better than the Q2 average, and the price reductions, that’s one of them, but there are three others, and one of the others is the trade in and finance programs that we instituted in our retail stores. Clearly what we’ve learned here—and it’s not a surprise, really—is that many, many people do want to trade in their current phone. It does, from a customer or user point of view, the trade-in looks like a subsidy. And so it is a way to offset the device cost itself. And many people in literally every market that we’ve tried this in—there is a reasonable number of people that want to take and pay for something on installments instead of all at once. And so, it’s a little different in each market in terms of what the elasticity is. But you can bet that we’re learning quickly on all of those.

The other two items that are not insignificant in China, that I don’t want to lose here, is that the stimulus programs I believe are having an effect on the consumer. And you know, the one that got the most visibility and that happened in early April was the VAT reduction from 16 percent to 13 percent, so it’s a very aggressive move. But there are other stimulus programs as well that likely have an effect at the consumer level. And then, finally, and this is not to be underweighted either, I think the improved trade dialogue between the countries affects consumer confidence in a positive way. And so I think it’s sort of the sum of all of those things.

Luca Maestri: And Jim, if I may add on the gross margin level, as we look at pricing actions, of course, anytime you do a pricing action it is gross margin percentage diluted, but what really matters to us and what we look at when we look at the elasticity of these programs is to see the impact on our gross margin dollars and the experience that we’ve had in a few of these emerging markets has been positive in that respect. And so that’s that’s what we think matters the most, really.

Wamsi Mohan, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch: Tim, you shared a lot of color around trade-ins, but I was also hoping maybe you can characterize what sort of dynamics you’re seeing across your installed base on these trade-ins. What type of devices are being traded in? Is the profile someone who has a really old iPhone, or are you seeing folks that have newer iPhones trading in, and what sort of incentives are you providing beyond sort of the financing to drive that? And do you see this as something that can accelerate replacement cycles here over the next year or so.

Tim Cook: Actually the product that’s being traded in is all over the place, to be honest. It’s 6, 6 Plus, 6S, 6S Plus, 7, 7 Plus, and then fewer 8 and 8 Plus, but there’s some of of each of those. And so you get customers that are on the two-year cycle, and some customers on a one-year cycle, and then customers as well on the three and four year cycles. And so it’s really all over the place and the incentives we’re offering, currently in our retail stores, a trade-in value that is more than sort of the “blue book” of the device if you will, for lack of a better description. And so we have topped those up to provide an extra benefit to the user. The installments are different in each geography. I would say that at the moment the geography that is doing the best in installments would be China. And we have a bit of a unique offering there, I think, versus what you can get in the regular market. And so that probably further helps us there.

And so you can bet that we’re learning on each of these, finding the parts that the user likes the most. I think the key is, we’re trying to build something into the consumer mindset that it’s good for the environment and good for them to trade in their current device on a new device. And we do our best to getting the current device to someone else that can use that, or, in some cases if the product is at an end of life, we are recycling the parts in it to make sure that it can carry on in another form.

Wamsi Mohan, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch:Luca, can you just clarify if the settlement with Qualcomm is creating either a headwind or tailwind to your gross margins in the near term, and does your guidance contemplate incremental pricing actions that could be creating some gross margin headwinds?.

Luca Maestri: As Tim has explained, we’ve reached this comprehensive agreement with Qualcomm. As part of this, we have agreed that we’re not going to share the financial terms of the agreement, so we we plan to honor that. What you see in our gross margin guidance for the June quarter, we guided 37 to 38 percent, fully comprehends the outcome of the agreement with Qualcomm.

Mike Olson, Piper Jaffray: So you have more than 1.4 billion active devices, and at your event you announced services that leverage that installed base. And you have obviously a remarkable position with kind of this Trojan Horse of devices out in so many households. So I guess the question is, and I know some of these services aren’t even live yet, but should we expect a continuation of the building out of new services categories like what we saw at the March event? Is there a pipeline of new services in the works, or have we kind of seen what we’re likely to see on that front for the near to intermediate term.

Tim Cook: Yeah, I wouldn’t want to get into announcing things on the call, but obviously we’re always working on new things. But right now we’re really focused on getting these four out there. We have the News+ in the market today, we’ll have the Apple Arcade and the Apple TV+ products in the market in the fall, and Apple Card will go out in the summer timeframe, and so we’ve got lots in front of us, and we’re very excited about getting these out there.

Mike Olson, Piper Jaffray: You mentioned the App Store search ad business a couple of times in the prepared remarks. Is that reaching a point where it’s become material and maybe moving the needle for overall services revenue, or is there anything you can quantify related to that? I also imagine that this is a high margin business, at least maybe higher than the overall services margin, but wondering if you can confirm if that’s the case or not.

Tim Cook: It’s growing very, very fast, Mike. I think it was up around 70 percent over the previous year. We’re expanding into new geographies as well, and we still have more geographies out there that we think can move the dial further. So it is definitely a a business that is big and getting bigger.

Louis Miscioscia, Daiwa Capital Markets: Tim, when you look at the four things that you have announced, and I realize they have different dates when they’re coming out, but which ones would you say over the next 12 months has the most potential to help your services line, and then maybe which one has the best long-term potential.

Tim Cook: We’re going to wait till we get these things out, and what I can tell you right now is that we’re taking sort of consumer interest on the Apple Card and there’s been a significant level of interest on that, and we’re excited. As you know, gaming is the top category on the App Store. And so the Apple Arcade will serve some of that market, and it serves it with a different kind of game, which we think will be great for developers and great for users. The TV+ product plays in a market where there’s a huge move from the cable bundle to over-the-top. We think that most users are going to get multiple over-the-top products and we’re going to do our best to convince them that the Apple TV+ product should be one of them. And then we’re working very hard to get everyone to give Apple News+ a look because we think it’s a very unique product, and I love magazines, and we have really wanted to support the publishers. And so we’re working very hard but at the very beginning of the ramp there. We wouldn’t do a service we didn’t think could be meaningful. So that’s that’s sort of the way I look at it. You know, these aren’t hobbies.

Louis Miscioscia, Daiwa Capital Markets: Follow up on India. Obviously market share there is well, well below China. I believe you’re looking to start manufacturing there. Obviously the potential could be huge, but the market already seems to be pretty dominated on the Android side. So maybe if you could just talk about trying to really aggressively ramp up share there.

Tim Cook: I think India is a very important market in the long term. It’s a challenging market in the short term, but we’re learning a lot. We have started manufacturing there, which is very important to be able to serve the market in a reasonable way. And we’re growing that capability there. And we would like to place retail stores there, and we are working with the government to to seek approval to do that. And so we we plan on going in there with sort of all of our might. We’ve opened a developer accelerator there which we’re very happy with some of the things coming out of there.

It’s a long term play. It’s not something that’s going to be an overnight huge business. But I think the the growth potential is phenomenal, and it doesn’t bother me that it’s primarily an Android business at the moment, because that just means there’s a lot of opportunity there.

Apple second-quarter 2019 financial results

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-30 20:26, modified on 2019-05-02 17:39

Apple’s quarterly results are in. The company posted revenue of $58 billion, down 5% from the same quarter a year ago. iPad revenue was up 22% and Services revenue was up 16%, but Mac revenue was down 5% and iPhone revenue was down 17%.

We’ve got lots of charts below, as well as a transcript of CEO Tim Cook and CFO Luca Maestri’s conference call with financial-industry analysts.

Why did last night's 'Game of Thrones' look so bad?

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-29 20:39, modified at 20:40

HBO’s “Game of Thrones” may be the most expensive TV show ever produced, and last night’s episode, “The Long Night”, was a 90-minute-long special-effects extravaganza where two armies clash in a series climax 70 episodes in the making. The money was up there on the screen, tens of millions of dollars of it… if your eyes could make anything out, that is.

Devin Coldewey at TechCrunch did a good job of breaking down a lot of the details about why, even if you had a 4K HDR television set, you might have struggled to understand what you were seeing on your TV last night:

Last night’s episode of “Game of Thrones” was a wild ride and inarguably one of an epic show’s more epic moments — if you could see it through the dark and the blotchy video. It turns out even one of the most expensive and meticulously produced shows in history can fall prey to the scourge of low quality streaming and bad TV settings.

This is a story about choices made by the show’s production team—which decided to set the battle at night in the snow—and about how television shows get from their editing bays to our eyes, via lossy compression techniques that crunch an entire TV show into relatively low bit rates on cable or streaming.

(Podcast) Upgrade #243: Fiddling Around With Folders

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-29 20:35, modified at 20:41

Jason struggles between the Mac’s insistence on file management and iOS’s lack of it, Podcasts take a step toward going viral with some help from Overcast, and we prepare for the Upgrade Summer of Fun with a new arrival from Dongletown.

3 ways iOS 13 will make you more productive (Tom's Guide)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-27 15:32, modified at 15:33

We’re less than six weeks out from Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference, and rumors about the future of Apple’s platforms abound, particularly for iOS 13. Most notable have been the leaks from 9to5Mac’s Guilherme Rambo, who reported numerous tidbits about the future of the operating system that runs iPhones and iPads.

This year, Apple’s giving iOS developers the ability to deploy their apps on macOS, which will change the Mac dramatically. But as you might expect, Apple’s been cooking up some improvements to iOS that are especially exciting. Here are some of the rumored features that have caught my eye.

It’s about time for a Mac with a touch interface (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-26 14:21

A house divided against itself cannot stand. But with its dual stewardship of macOS and iOS devices, Apple is in some ways a house divided into two different ideas of what a computer should be. (And that’s without even getting to a semantic argument about what exactly “computer” means.)

This week, rumors stirred the pot further, with the suggestion that support for pointing devices like mice and trackpads—traditionally the domain of the Mac—may be supported in an iOS release later this year. The takes have flown fast and furious, ranging from those suggesting this would be a huge improvement to productivity on the iOS to those decrying it as a totally useless feature.

Me, I don’t have a horse in that race. Because what I want is not an iOS device where I can use my trackpad, but instead—yes, I’m going to say it, at the risk of being ostracized by my fellow Mac fans—a Mac where I can touch the screen.

(Podcast) Clockwise #291: My Fingers are My Meese

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-24 17:23, modified at 17:24

This week, on the 30-minute show that just keeps getting older, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Heather Kelly and Jeremy Burge to discuss rumors that the iPad will add pointing device support, our favorite tech flops, drone deliveries, and our tips for selling our old tech. Plus, a very special Avengers-themed bonus topic.

The Mac is becoming more like iOS--and I like it (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-24 15:19, modified at 15:20

I fell in love with the Mac nearly 30 years ago, in the fall of 1989. It’s been the center of my tech world ever since, and I’ve been writing about it professionally for 25 years. And yet these past months, I’ve noticed something strange creeping into my thoughts occasionally while I sit at my desk working on my iMac Pro: iOS does this better.

It’s disconcerting, after three decades, to suddenly find that manipulation of files and folders in the Finder has gone from being business as usual to seeming like it’s more fuss and effort than is necessary. And yet that’s where I am now, thanks to a couple of years of using an iPad Pro rather than a MacBook Air whenever I’m away from my desk. The iPad, she has infected me. And I fear there is no cure.

(Podcast) Rebound 235: Any Phone Is Foldable

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-24 14:30, modified at 14:23

This week, on the irreverent tech show that sometimes takes lengthy digressions, we discuss the debacle that is the Galaxy Fold, John’s pulling back from Instagram, Lex’s daughter’s surprisingly macabre game of The Sims, and Dan’s experiences with Alexa and Apple Music. Then everybody takes a trip down memory lane to reminisce about classic digital cameras and old video games.

(Podcast) Upgrade #242: Myke and the Modems

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-23 19:43, modified at 19:44

What’s next for macOS and iOS? This week we discuss all of last week’s reporting by Guilherme Rambo about the future of Apple’s platforms, from Find My Friends to support for external displays and pointing devices, to the complicated future of automation on macOS. Jason also extolls the virtues of the Kindle, Apple and Qualcomm come to terms, and YouTube goes back to basics.

Where does automation fit on macOS?

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-21 18:17

Here’s Dr. Drang with a deeper dive into the issues about bringing Shortcuts to macOS:

Regardless of what comes to the Mac in 10.15, it seems inevitable that Marzipanification will eventually lead to a Mac Shortcuts app. Which raises the question of how Shortcuts will fit within the Mac automation environment.

Lots of good questions here and a lot of uncertainty. My guess is that what we get in 2019 will not be entirely satisfying and that we’ll have to wait a while before things settle down. But as Drang points out, if apps that you rely on for automation get turned into Marzipan versions that are inaccessible to scripting, things will be unpleasant.

Shortcuts coming to the Mac?

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-19 21:43, modified at 21:44

Guilherme Rambo of 9to5 Mac brings news of another possible addition to macOS 10.15—Siri Shortcuts and, more interestingly, the Shortcuts app:

It’s also likely that the Shortcuts app - a result from the acquisition of Workflow - will be available on macOS, the inclusion of system-wide support for Siri Shortcuts on macOS 10.15 strongly suggests it. On iOS, the Shortcuts app is not bundled with the system, users have to download it from the App Store. It’s possible that the same will be true for macOS: users will download a Marzipan version of Shortcuts from the Mac App Store.

Supporting the feature on macOS is important so developers of iPad apps can more easily port their Shortcuts-enabled apps to the Mac, with the new SDK becoming available at WWDC. According to sources, only Marzipan apps will be able to take advantage of the Shortcuts support on macOS. Engineers are also working on bringing the assistant on macOS closer to its iOS counterpart by porting over features such as the ability to set timers and alarms and ask about air quality, currently unavailable on the Mac.

Unfortunately, the wording of this report is a bit unclear, since it says that Shortcuts coming to the Mac is “likely” or “strongly suggest[ed]”, and then says more certainly that “only Marzipan apps will be able to take advantage” of it. How likely is likely? The existence of inside “sources” suggests that the project is actively being worked on, which goes beyond just inferring its existence from the plan to bring Siri Shortcuts to the Mac. What I’m saying is, it’s hard to gauge just how likely this scenario is.

Automation on the Mac is in danger of becoming a real mess. Automator and AppleScript haven’t changed much over time, and probably won’t ever be able to control Marzipan apps. Bringing over Shortcuts as the macOS automation tool of the future sounds good to me, but if it’s limited to Marzipan apps only, things get weird. The Mac would end up with two entirely different classes of apps, each with their own automation system, both walled off from the other.

I have to hope that Apple will provide some way for the developers of “classic” macOS apps to add support for Shortcuts into their apps. To not do so would be pretty ridiculous. And what’s Apple going to do for its own apps, assuming they won’t all make the move to Marzipan?

In the long run, Shortcuts for macOS needs to be able to access all sorts of low-level Mac features that its iOS counterpart can’t do, via support for shell scripts and AppleScripts. (The ability to run scripts is really Automator’s killer feature.) I hope it will happen some day, but the first step should be to let any Mac app support Shortcuts, not just the ones brought over from iOS via Marzipan.

Google and Amazon bury the hatchet

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-19 21:24

The Verge’s Chris Welch reported on Thursday about Amazon and Google making up when it comes to connecting video services and hardware platforms:

YouTube is returning to Amazon’s lineup of Fire TV products, and the Amazon Prime Video app will be adding Chromecast support and become more widely available on Android TV. Those two developments, jointly announced by both companies this morning, mark the end of a long-running standoff between Google and Amazon, a feud that has kept a native YouTube app off of the Fire TV platform for well over a year. Customers were really the ones who were disadvantaged as soon as these two tech giants entered into this spat, so to see that it’s over is very good news.

Google will bring YouTube back to Amazon’s Fire TV devices “later this year.” The flagship YouTube app will come first sometime within the next few months — there’s no firm launch date as of yet — and it will be followed by YouTube TV, the company’s subscription TV service, and the child-oriented YouTube Kids before the end of 2019. Fire TV will become fully certified for YouTube, signaling that it offers first-rate video quality and minimal buffering. YouTube for Fire TV will also support Alexa voice commands for searching and playing content.

It’s funny—I was bitten by the old state of affairs earlier today. I’m staying in a hotel room with two large flat-screen TVs equipped with Chromecasts. (Cool!) I wanted to watch the “Star Trek: Discovery” season finale, but I get CBS All Access through Amazon Prime Channels, and the Prime Video app doesn’t support Chromecast (yet). To solve the problem I had to sign up for a seven-day trial to CBS All Access within the CBS app, which does support Chromecast.

This is silly. I am glad to see these barriers coming down, bit by bit.

Three ways Apple’s own Marzipan apps can benefit macOS (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-19 12:15

As the Nobel Prize laureate once sang, “The times, they are a-changin’.”

2019 is a big year for Apple, and at the forefront of the questions circling around the company is the future of macOS. Last year’s demonstration of “Marzipan” technology—letting iOS apps run on the Mac with little alteration—shook the foundations of what many people considered a Mac app.

Long time Mac users are, understandably, nervous about what this could imply for the future of their chosen platform. Will apps get “dumbed down” and features lost? Will developers eschew Mac-specific programs for the ease of deploying one app everywhere? As Mac users, we’re used to feeling dour and grim about what’s to come, especially those of us who lived through the dark times of the mid-1990s.

But amidst all of that doom and gloom, there are plenty of glimmers of hope about what this could mean for the Mac. I’d go so far as to say I have optimism that deploying iOS apps could be a boon for not just Apple, but the whole Mac platform, which is not only alive and kicking, but even flourishing.

Samsung Galaxy Fold review disaster

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-18 22:56

Dieter Bohn of the Verge reports that the screen on his Samsung Galaxy Fold review unit broke after a day:

…while the crease and the nicks feel like compromises you could live with, a mysterious bulge that breaks the screen is something else entirely — especially one that appears just a day after pretty normal use. It’s a problem that is unacceptable on a phone that costs this much.

Every phone with movable parts is going to have more points of failure than a fully sealed, static phone. So it’s natural to say that you need to treat it with more care than usual. Before I saw this bulge, my impression was that this phone was much more durable than I expected. The hinge always felt solid and well-built. That impression of (relative) durability is obviously as broken as the flexing screen now.

Numerous Galaxy Note reviewers reported screen failures, some of them after peeling off what appeared to be a screen protector that turns out to be necessary for the functioning of the device.

What baffles me is that this was a planned product roll-out, seeding the device to journalists for the first wave of reviews. My experience is that review hardware is generally vetted before being distributed to ensure that nobody gets a lemon. Did Samsung check out these devices? Did nobody at Samsung do the same sort of testing that these reviewers did, that exposed these problems so quickly? I’m just flabbergasted that these things got in the hands of reviewers if they were in such a delicate state.

I expected the road to foldable phones to be a bit bumpy—that’s the nature of new tech. But not quite this bumpy.

Apple watch authentication expanding on the Mac?

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-18 22:49

Guilherme Rambo keeps rolling out the scoops this week:

According to sources familiar with the development of macOS, the next major version of the operating system will allow users to authenticate other operations on the Mac beyond just unlocking the machine with their watch.

It’s unclear the extent of operations that will be supported, but it’s possible that all operations that can currently be authenticated with Touch ID will also be accessible via the Apple Watch mechanism. It’s also likely that there will be a user interface on watchOS to authorize the process, similar to the current Apple Pay confirmation, since doing everything without user input would not be as secure.

Lost in all the debate about butterfly keyboards and the Touch Bar is that Touch ID on the Mac is really great. We’ve got a couple Retina MacBook Airs in the house and it’s remarkable how quickly you get used to biometrically authenticating to unlock your Mac and open apps like 1Password. When I switch back to my iMac Pro, I’m always disappointed when I have to type my password.

I’ve found my iMac to be reliable when it comes to unlocking via my Apple Watch, but buying things with Apple Pay via the watch has been a bit more of a crap shoot. Sometimes it works, sometimes it spins endlessly without doing anything, and sometimes my Mac demands that I authenticate on my iPhone—which is usually in another room.

I’m dubious that, as an iMac Pro user, I’ll ever be able to use Touch ID via some external sensor. But if I can use my Apple Watch to bypass those authentication prompts, that’ll be the next best thing.

Sonos One finally joins the Apple Music/Alexa club

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-17 18:53

While support for playing Apple Music songs via Alexa rolled out to Amazon Echoes last year, third party devices like the Sonos One were left out in the cold. Yes, you could play songs from Apple Music on those devices, but you couldn’t do so using Alexa—instead, you’d have to rely on the cumbersome Sonos app.

That has officially changed today with the latest update to the Sonos app and the Apple Music Alexa skill.

As someone who’s been holding onto a subscription to Amazon Music, it may be time to cancel now that I can get Apple Music on all of the speakers, computers, and mobile devices in my house.

Review: Kindle Paperwhite (2019) and Kindle (2019)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-17 18:08, modified at 20:37

The $130 Kindle Paperwhite (left) and $90 Kindle.

In the last few months Amazon has released two new Kindles, the $130 Kindle Paperwhite and the $90 base-model Kindle. Both of them are notable improvements on their previous versions, making it harder for me to declare which Kindle you should buy. The base-model Kindle is much harder to write off than it was before, but I think the Paperwhite still has a better combination of features for most users.

Why Kindle?

A lot of people think the entire dedicated ebook reader category has been made obsolete by tablets and smartphones. Not so! If you’ve never used an ebook reader before, you may not realize that their screens are dramatically different from computer, phone, and tablet screens. These are reflective screens—like ink on paper, you read them by light reflected off their surface, rather than light shining in from behind like those other screens.

These screens have some huge advantages: They use very little power, and they’re extremely readable in bright light. But they’re relatively low resolution and can only display black, white, and shades of gray, so they’re inappropriate for much more than text on a page. If you’ve ever tried to read a book while sitting in the sun at the pool, you can see why this sort of display is a perfect match for this category.

What’s more, these devices are unitaskers. You won’t be tempted to flip over to Twitter or get bugged by a push notification or an incoming FaceTime call. When I’m using my Kindle, I am reading, not grazing the internet. When I’m out and about without a Kindle, I’ll read books on my iPhone, but when I get home I’m right back to the dedicated reading device. If you are someone who reads a lot, consider buying a Kindle. (You can probably even check out books from your local library to your Kindle using a service such as OverDrive!)

A word about Kindle pricing

Amazon’s pricing model for the Kindle is complicated. The base prices of each Kindle model include “special offers”, which is Amazon’s euphemism for advertising. With special offers enabled, the screensaver on your Kindle when it’s turned off is an ad for a book, and to turn the Kindle on you’ve got to press the power button and then swipe the touchscreen to dismiss the ad. There are also small ad banners at the bottom of the main navigation screen.

It costs an additional $20 to turn off the special offers. You can order your Kindle without special offers or just pay the $20 later on the device to turn them off. I have talked to many people who find the special offers valuable, because they aid in discovering interesting books and point out sales going on in the Kindle store. I find the addition of an extra step every single time I turn my Kindle on to be enough of an interface impediment that I always pay the $20 to turn off special offers. The choice is yours.

For the Kindle Paperwhite and Oasis, Amazon also offers two storage-size tiers—8GB or, for $30 more, 32GB. Unless you are leaving the internet for years or have decided to use the Kindle as a repository for audiobooks as well as text, you don’t need the larger size. Ebooks just don’t take up much space. You can fit hundreds of books on an 8GB Kindle.

Amazon also offers an alternative networking upgrade on the 32GB models of Paperwhite and Oasis, one that adds “free” cellular connectivity to the party. For an additional $70 (keeping in mind you’re also paying $30 more for the larger storage capacity—though your $20 Special Offers charge is comped at this level) your Kindle will use LTE cellular networking when it’s not able to connect to Wi-Fi. It means you can download books in more than 100 countries without needing Wi-Fi, and you’ll never see a bill (other than that $120 additional charge from Amazon). Wi-Fi is so ubiquitous that this seems unnecessary, but you can pay $250 instead of $130 for a Kindle Paperwhite if you really want all the features.

Base-model Kindle upgrade

The “cheap” Kindle (which now starts at $90, up from $80 with the previous model) has lagged behind the rest of the product line in failing to offer an integrated light (first offered on the Kindle Paperwhite in 2012). There is nothing dumber than needing to clip on a book light in order to read a digital device in the dark.

Those days are over. The new ninth-generation Kindle has an integrated light, four LEDs that shine from the edges of the display to make it readable in any light conditions. It’s an enormous step up that makes the base Kindle a product worth considering as more than a disposable beach-reading device.

In most other aspects, the Kindle is still inferior to other models, though. The integrated six-inch display is the same size as the Paperwhite, but at 167 pixels per inch it’s about half the resolution. This means that text is less crisp and more jagged. If your eyesight isn’t great you won’t notice, but everyone else will. I also found that the Kindle’s display was lower contrast than the Paperwhite’s, with text appearing less black and more dark gray.

You can see the decreased contrast and resolution in the Kindle (top) when compared to the Paperwhite (bottom).

The Kindle’s display is recessed in its case, with a plastic bezel that surrounds it. Years of using Kindles with recessed bezels has taught me that it’s an inferior design, because the corners where the recessed screen meets the bezel are magnets for dust, crumbs, and other tiny bits of distracting debris. (And of course, since the Kindle screen itself is touch sensitive, you can’t just wipe that debris away—you’ve got to turn the device off and then try to jimmy that stuff out of there.)

The Kindle is the lightest of all three of Amazon’s ereader models, at 5.9 ounces, but all the models are within an ounce of each other, so I’m not sure it matters that much. (The Paperwhite is 6.5 ounces and the high-end Kindle Oasis is 6.8 ounces.)

The overall texture of the Kindle is what you’d expect for a low-end, cheap tech product. It’s hard plastic, and not particularly grippy. In other words, this is a utilitarian product that gets the key parts right—it’s got an E Ink screen and lighting—while avoiding most nice-to-have features that the higher-end models provide.


The $130 fourth-generation Kindle Paperwhite retains its crown as the Kindle most people should buy. It’s a lot cheaper than the high-end Kindle Oasis and appreciably nicer than the base-model Kindle.

The Paperwhite’s screen has 300 ppi resolution, almost twice the base model, bringing it up to more or less “retina” resolution in terms of displaying smooth type that’s hard to distinguish from ink on paper. I found the display to be appreciably better quality than on the base model, with higher contrast and more consistent lighting. The display on the Paperwhite is also flush with the front bezel, so there are no nooks and crannies for lint and dust and crumbs to get stuck.

The biggest improvement to this generation of Paperwhite is IPX8 waterproofing, so you can read in the bath or by the pool without worry. The last time I went to a beach resort I saw a zillion Kindles poolside, so it makes me think that adding waterproofing will be very popular.

Beyond that, the Paperwhite is simply made of better materials than the base Kindle. It’s got a grippy back that feels nicer than the hard plastic of the Kindle, although it’s not quite as swank as the aluminum back of the Oasis.

In other words, this generation of Paperwhite remains the best balance of features and price in the Kindle line. In my opinion, the Paperwhite has been the real Kindle for a few years now, and that remains the case. The base-model Kindle is getting better, but the better display, waterproofing, flush-front design, and nicer overall feel push the Kindle Paperwhite ahead.

Why iOS apps will make the Mac a better place... eventually (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-17 15:45, modified at 15:46

Who knew that a report that Apple was replacing iTunes with new apps brought to the Mac from iOS would open a Pandora’s Box of Mac angst?

But it’s really not that surprising. 2019 promises to be a huge year of change for the Mac, in large part because this fall’s macOS release will open the floodgates to apps originally designed for iOS. When you compare the features of an iTunes (conceived for the Mac of nearly two decades ago) with Music (built for the iPhone and retrofitted for Apple Music), it’s hard not to feel like the Mac is about to get dumbed down.

There’s no denying that if Apple brings these iOS apps straight across to the Mac without any upgrades, they will be far less capable than the app they’re replacing. iTunes started life as an MP3 jukebox and has been the receptacle for every media and device-syncing feature Apple has needed to add to the Mac in the two intervening decades.

(Podcast) Rebound 234: Webdings!

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-17 14:30, modified at 14:06

This week, on the irreverent tech show where nobody is innocent for long, we discuss Disney’s new streaming service—aimed directly at John and Dan—and what it means for Apple TV+, plus iOS 13’s rumored improvements, Lex’s too-automated household, and why everybody is always listening to you anyway.

Qualcomm and Apple bury the hatchet

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-16 19:18, modified at 23:45

Apple just released a PR statement indicating the end of hostilities with Qualcomm:

Qualcomm and Apple today announced an agreement to dismiss all litigation between the two companies worldwide. The settlement includes a payment from Apple to Qualcomm. The companies also have reached a six-year license agreement, effective as of April 1, 2019, including a two-year option to extend, and a multiyear chipset supply agreement.

This is pretty big news. Apple wasn’t able to use Qualcomm’s modem chips in its devices, with Apple turning to Intel for LTE modems and getting kind of desperate about what it would do in the 5G world. The two companies have been suing each other and throwing one another under the bus in the press, but it’s apparently all over now.

The agreement comes the day a trial began in San Diego pitting the two companies against each other, with an Apple attorney creating a labored metaphor about fried chicken and patents. Apparently the trial attorneys can make a KFC run now, because it’s all over.

(Update: And with that, Intel’s now out of the 5G modem game.)

Restoring Mojave's "missing" VPN server with VPN Enabler

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-16 19:10

I recently updated my Mac mini server to macOS Mojave after a long and troublesome ordeal. 1 While the update has been mostly positive, one of the features I was sad to lose was the ability to configure my own VPN server. As you may recall, the VPN server was previously available as part of macOS Server, but was removed by Apple—along with several other features—in that software package’s Mojave-compatible update.


But, as it turns out, all is not lost. The underlying code for running the VPN server is still present in macOS—there’s just no UI for configuring it. I could have just dug into the command line and figured out how to restore it, but it turns out that hard work has already been done for me. Via Twitter, Andrew Flemming pointed me to Bernard Teo’s VPN Enabler for Mojave, a $15 software package that—as its name suggests—provides a simple front-end for configuring a VPN server on Mojave.

I purchased VPN Enabler, set it up, and I would argue that it’s even easier than Apple’s own tools: besides fitting everything in one compact window, VPN Enabler will even suggest appropriate IP addresses so you don’t have to worry about figuring out what portions of your LAN are available. Additionally, it will generate a mobile configuration profile that you can use to automatically set up VPN access on your iOS devices with just a couple taps.

It took me less than 10 minutes to get up and running with VPN Enabler (and a solid few minutes of that was testing to make sure it still works even when the software isn’t open on the mini, which naturally, it does), and it’s working seamlessly. 2

So, if you’ve been holding off upgrading to Mojave because of the lack of a VPN server, I can report that VPN Enabler does the trick. And if you’ve ever wanted to set up a VPN for your home network but been worried it was too complicated, this app takes pretty much all of the guesswork out of it.

  1. I’ve been writing a post about this whole saga which those of you who follow me on Twitter or listen to The Rebound will have heard much of, but it’s very long. Keep an eye out. ↩

  2. I found that the macOS VPN server actually died every once in a while and needed to be restarted, but so far I haven’t had that problem with VPN Enabler.  ↩

The future of the PlayStation

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-16 14:23

Wired’s Peter Rubin has an exclusive chat with Mark Cerny, lead system architect on Sony’s next-generation console, in which they talk about the technology key to that platform, including solid-state storage:

On the TV, Spidey stands in a small plaza. Cerny presses a button on the controller, initiating a fast-travel interstitial screen. When Spidey reappears in a totally different spot in Manhattan, 15 seconds have elapsed. Then Cerny does the same thing on a next-gen devkit connected to a different TV. (The devkit, an early “low-speed” version, is concealed in a big silver tower, with no visible componentry.) What took 15 seconds now takes less than one: 0.8 seconds, to be exact.

We’ve been used to SSDs in our computers and our devices, but game console have lagged behind, in part because there tend to be several years between generations, but also because games are big and large capacity drives have been pricey. The impact on game experiences could be huge, and I’m curious to see just what Sony (and Microsoft) have in mind for the next generation of consoles.

(Podcast) Upgrade #241: The Tweaky Features

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-15 19:43

Disney finally unveils its streaming service at a price that makes us wonder just what game Apple thinks it’s playing; we get a sneak peek at some possible new iPad features for iOS 13; and Jason and Myke ponder the major changes due for the Mac this fall with the departure of iTunes and the arrival of Marzipan.

The end of iTunes: What it means for you (Tom's Guide)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-13 15:04, modified at 15:05

Well, iTunes, it was a good run. According to reports from knowledgeable developers, this fall marks the end of the viable life of an 18-year-old app that started as an MP3 jukebox and ended up as an all-purpose media player, e-commerce engine, and mobile-device synchronizer.

It may be hard to believe it now, but iTunes began as a pretty great music player. iTunes was so good, and so successful, in fact, that Apple turned it into the repository for pretty much every media and device strategy that followed, making iTunes into a hodgepodge of features that was simultaneously unbearable (for users) and unkillable (for Apple).

The end may be nigh, but while iTunes may soon leave active service, it’s not going anywhere for quite a while.

The iTunes break up: What will happen to our favorite features? (Macworld)

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-12 12:30

For a company that maintains multiple major operating systems, has its own productivity suite, and even developed one of the most popular web browsers in use, there was a time that the piece of software most identified with Apple was also perhaps the one most viewed as a necessary evil.

I speak, of course, of iTunes.

Yes, the music-playing/device syncing/media-buying/podcast-listening (and so much more) app was at one time not only a brand unto itself, but also an almost universal experience, as one of the few pieces of Apple software that was ported to Windows computers.

But iTunes may not have much time left on its clock. In recent days, speculation has hinted that the upcoming version of macOS will instead feature separate apps for music, podcasts, TV, and so on, likely based on their iOS counterparts. But those apps lack a lot of iTunes’s more powerful features.

Calls for iTunes’s breakup go back years (including me), but now that it seems to be on the verge of happening, it’s worth considering the things that iTunes actually does well and which deserve to stick around.

(Podcast) Download #99: My Memory is Beyond the Event Horizon

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-11 21:03

Netflix ties its own hands, new Kindles arrive, Amazon gets criticized for cozying up to oil companies while touting its own green-energy efforts, web accessibility is trickier than you’d think, and… is that a black hole?

The human side of voice recognition

Permalink - Posted on 2019-04-11 12:22

Bloomberg’s Matt Day, Giles Turner, and Natalia Drozdiak on the humans who audit recordings from Amazon’s Alexa in order to improve speech recognition:

Amazon.com Inc. employs thousands of people around the world to help improve the Alexa digital assistant powering its line of Echo speakers. The team listens to voice recordings captured in Echo owners’ homes and offices. The recordings are transcribed, annotated and then fed back into the software as part of an effort to eliminate gaps in Alexa’s understanding of human speech and help it better respond to commands.

And just in case you think Amazon’s the only one doing this:

Apple’s Siri also has human helpers, who work to gauge whether the digital assistant’s interpretation of requests lines up with what the person said. The recordings they review lack personally identifiable information and are stored for six months tied to a random identifier, according to an Apple security white paper. After that, the data is stripped of its random identification information but may be stored for longer periods to improve Siri’s voice recognition.

At Google, some reviewers can access some audio snippets from its Assistant to help train and improve the product, but it’s not associated with any personally identifiable information and the audio is distorted, the company says.

There are a couple of different takeaways here: firstly, that our technology apparently isn’t yet good enough that any of these systems can get away without human intervention.

Point two is that there really should be some sort of standard for how this data is treated by companies around the world. If human intervention is required, it shouldn’t be up to each company to decide how it’s going to protect that information, which is occasionally sensitive.