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Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-22 14:40
This week, on the most irreverent tech podcast with three guys named Dan, Lex, and John, the guys discuss Facebook’s latest pickle, Apple’s meager cloud storage offerings, how to pronounce “MicroLED”, and the business model behind boxes that unlock iPhones. And, in a rare strong disagreement, we take on the risks of autonomous driving technology.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-21 19:33, modified at 19:34
I’ve been thinking a lot about 4K video lately. I own a 4K TV (although it doesn’t have HDR support, alas). I can watch some stuff at 4K resolutions—Netflix and Amazon streams, some movies from iTunes. I’m thinking of buying a larger 4K TV with HDR support. But the entire world of 4K HDR video is a mess.
Let me back up. 4K and HDR are the buzzwords of the moment, so let me define them. 4K generally means a picture with 4000 horizontal pixels, but when we’re talking about TVs (and devices like the Apple TV 4K) it’s generally referring to an image comprised of 3840 × 2160 pixels. This is also often called UHD (Ultra High Definition) or 2160p, because it’s twice the vertical resolution of the larger of the two dominant HD video resolutions. 4K video has four times the pixels of the 1080p video you’d find on a Blu-Ray disc.
HDR is short for High Dynamic Range. There are a few different competing HDR standards, but to summarize, HDR is about increasing the amount of brightness and color information in a picture, and on the display side, in creating screens that are capable of displaying that information. A movie in HDR format on an excellent HDR-capable display should show deep blacks, bright whites, and brilliant colors.
For most people, HDR is a more noticeable improvement on the viewing experience than 4K (which really only matters when you’re close to a large screen), and that may be why TV manufacturers have largely lumped them together in a general category of “better than your current HDTV.”
Okay, sounds good. I saw “Black Panther” a couple of weeks ago in a theater, and the picture looked worse than the OLED TV I saw on display at Costco. Raising the bar on picture quality in general sounds great.
There’s just the trick of how 4K HDR video will come into my home. And on that front, I’m just not sure how things will shake out.
In the U.S., the transition to HD pictures took years, not just in terms of broadcast, but in terms of getting cable and satellite companies to align. (My cable company still insists on carrying SD channels. In 2018.1) It took ages to get here, and “here” is not great. On top of that, of course, many cable and satellite providers downscale and re-compress HD video to fit it in their system, so what we get isn’t really full quality even at the limited quality levels of the original channels. (I bought a few episodes of “The Magicians” on iTunes last year and was shocked at how much better they looked than the ones I’d been DVR’ing.)
Where does 4K video come in to this mess? I suppose that it’s possible one day broadcast and cable will truly embrace 4K, but it sure seems like streaming is going to be the place where 4K video takes off. Netflix, Amazon, and Apple are already there to some degree. So what if you’re HBO (with “Westworld”) or Starz (with “Counterpart”, which you should absolutely be watching) or FX (with “Legion”)… you’re cable channels with a streaming component, and on cable you can’t muster more than 720p or 1080i.
Do these channels want to get in the 4K HDR game? They can, but right now they’d need to use streaming to do it. Can you imagine HBO offering a new season of “Westworld” on cable in HD, but offering a 4K HDR version via the HBO Go and HBO Now apps? Would that drive people off of their cable boxes and onto their streaming boxes even faster? (For what it’s worth, I already watch all of HBO’s shows on my Apple TV rather than my TiVo… because they show up three hours earlier there. HBO GO doesn’t discriminate against the Pacific time zone; HBO’s feed on my cable service does.)
It gets weirder. There’s a 4K Blu-Ray of “Westworld” season 1. So could HBO upgrade the HBO Go/Now apps to support 4K video and start streaming this stuff at higher resolution?
Weirder still: “Westworld” is shot on film, scanned at 4K resolution… but completed at 2K resolution. That means that it’s not really 4K after all… that 4K Blu-Ray benefits from having support for HDR, better sound, and a higher bit rate, but actual extra pixels? Not really. (This has got to change at some point, right? If 4K HDR is the future, at some point TV studios are going to have to bite the bullet and build 4K masters of their shows just so they aren’t left out when non-4K video is abandoned like standard-def and black-and-white were.)
That opens yet another can of worms: bit rate. If you buy a 4K Blu-Ray of a movie and compare it to the 4K version streaming from iTunes or Netflix, you will discover that it looks way better on the disc. That’s because even on a blazing fast Internet connection, streaming services have to massively compress the video so that it can fit through the pipe. Depending on your eyes and the size of your TV, it might not matter—but it’s a real effect. (I always figure that the 4K versions of Netflix movies look better on my TV not because they’re 4K, but because they’re offered at a much higher bit rate and more efficient video codec than the HD versions.)
So if I want the best version of “Wonder Woman”, I guess I should buy the 4K HDR Blu-Ray. Except I do not want to buy a 4K Blu-Ray player. I don’t want to buy more discs. And yet the streaming providers and movie studios won’t let me download 4K HDR movies, so I’m left with what fits through my Internet connection or a spinning plastic disc.
I’m kind of excited about our 4K HDR video future…. but as for the present, it’s a mess.
I assume some regulation is to blame, but it would be great if cable companies could dump SD channels and offer people with old SD sets a converter box. ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-21 18:54, modified at 18:55
This week, on the 30-minute tech podcast that’s shorter than a line at the DMV, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Heather Kelly and Shahid Kamal Ahmad to discuss the latest Facebook uproar and what we should take away from it, Amnesty International’s assessment that Twitter violates women’s rights, what Apple might discuss at its education event next week, and the risks and implications of autonomous driving technology in light of this week’s crash.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-21 17:07, modified at 17:11
As a part of the release, The Iconfactory’s Craig Hockenberry linked to an old blog post about how he uses Linea, and it’s instructive in seeing how a “sketching tool” can have applications far beyond people who like to draw pretty pictures:
My iPad Pro is still a great device for reading in a comfy chair, but now it makes a daily journey to my office. If you’re a professional developer, I bet Linea will become a fixture on your desk, too.
Linea Sketch is a carefully designed, full featured sketching app. If you use an Apple Pencil—or have wondered if you should—it’s worth reading Craig’s post and checking out the app.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-21 16:09, modified at 16:10
I was surprised last week when I woke up to discover that Apple had announced a media event for March 27. Even more surprising was the location: a high school in Chicago. It’s not the first time Apple has taken an educational field trip—its January 2012 event at the Guggenheim in New York City was all about education. So what’s in store for next Tuesday’s event in Chicago? Here’s some educated speculation.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-19 18:42, modified at 18:45
I’ve written about the Mac server I keep in my house so many times that I sometimes forget that people don’t keep a catalog of everything I’ve written in a database somewhere, tagged by topic.1 So when I wrote about using a hacked Intel NUC as a replacement for my Mac mini server last week, I got a bunch of questions about what I was using my server to do.
Fair enough. I’ll explain, but first let me tell you a little about the history: I’ve been running a Mac server since before there was a Mac mini, back when I first got a dedicated Internet connection for the first time. (It was DSL, and for the decade I had it, it went from being miraculously fast to horrendously slow.) My first server was a beige Power Mac G3 I picked up from an employee sale at Macworld, and it was replaced by my Power Mac G4 when I migrated to a G5. The G4 was replaced by the first Mac Mini, then an Intel Mac Mini, and finally by a Core 2 Duo model.
In the mid-90s I co-wrote a book about using Mac OS as a server, so the moment I could have a server in a closet in my house, I did it. In the early days I used it as a web server (for InterText, my fiction magazine. I used FileMaker to build a few web databases, including a home-built app that let me run a fantasy football draft before there were web-based tools that let you do that.
I also ran my own email server for a while, using MailShare (later Eudora Internet Mail Server), a remarkably robust Mac email server. In the end I gave up and switched to Gmail for all of my mail, not because MailShare let me down, but because the sheer volume of spam connections to my mail server were swamping my slow DSL connection. (Plug for an occasional podcast sponsor: If I had been using MailRoute to pre-screen my inbound mail, I could’ve kept running it.)
Over the years all of those uses fell away, but new ones replaced them. For years it’s been really convenient to have an always-on computer somewhere on my local network, attached to a large hard drive (or multiple hard drives), containing my media library. In the early days, that meant thousands of MP3s. iTunes and the Slim Devices media server meant that I could play anything from my music collection on a laptop or my stereo. These days my music streams over the Internet, but I’ve still got a sizeable collection of video files that are served up to my various devices via the Plex server. I also store a lot of large archival data sets—old podcast projects, mostly—on my server.
In 2004 I set up a weather station in my backyard; to get that data on the Internet, I needed to attach a radio receiver to my Mac via a PC serial-to-USB adapter. It worked, but it was janky and required the computer to be close enough to the weather station to receive its signals. At some point, the manufacturer of my weather station offered a new add-on module that gave the station’s indoor display console an Ethernet port and automatically uploaded data to the cloud.
WeatherCat, the Mac weather-station software I use, can talk to that module directly, so my computer no longer needs to be within radio range of the weather station itself. While I could just rely on cloud services like Weather Underground to display my weather data, I’ve built up a large database of historical data—all generated by WeatherCat and served by my server using its built-in web server. So I keep using WeatherCat, and keep promising myself to update the web templates I created 15 years ago.
Late last year I started running HomeBridge on my server, which allows non-HomeKit devices in my house to be visible to Apple’s Home app. It has worked quite well, and it’s awfully nice to have a single unified interface for all the smart devices in my life.
As for the many large hard drives I used to have attached to the server, a few years ago I replaced them all with a Drobo 5D (disclaimer: it’s another former podcast sponsor), which is an even larger hard drive, with some added redundancy in case of a drive failure. (A few drives have failed; so far, all I’ve had to do is pop the dead drive out and pop in a fresh one. I keep a spare drive or two around just in case of failure, and yes, I do back up all the important data to the cloud, because RAID is not a backup.)
So, long story short, today my server is acting as a file server, weather station, HomeKit bridge, and web server for a few miscellaneous files. Could I do the same thing with a NAS box, or if I just installed Windows 10 or Linux on that Intel NUC instead of hacking it to run High Sierra? Sure, but I am vastly more comfortable with macOS. And as someone who tends to travel without a Mac, sometimes I find my self in desperate need of one. Most often, someone hands me a file—usually a QuickTime movie recorded by Call Recorder—that I just can’t process on iOS. I can use an app like Screens VNC to connect securely to my home server, drag the file from my Dropbox folder and drop it onto a conversion utility, and then disconnect. The converted files go right back into Dropbox, and I return to my iOS workflow. I know, it’s cheating—but it’s awfully useful to have a Mac on call if you run into a brick wall in iOS.
If you do, please don’t tell me, and also stop hacking into my home network. ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-19 17:28, modified at 17:30
This week on Upgrade, Apple’s holding a media event at a school in Chicago, and next week Jason will be there to report back about what got announced. But in the meantime, it’s time for another draft, as Myke and Jason attempt to predict what will be shown on stage in Chicago. Apple also announced WWDC dates this week and made some more moves to grow its unannounced video service.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-19 15:33
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Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-19 12:51, modified at 15:17
In late 2017, for the first time, engineers managed to manufacture fully functional MicroLED screens for future Apple Watches; the company aims to make the new technology available first in its wearable computers. While still at least a couple of years away from reaching consumers — assuming the company decides to proceed — producing a functional MicroLED Apple Watch prototype is a significant milestone for a company that in the past designed hardware to be produced by others.
Apple’s trend has been to control more and more of its critical components, so there’s no surprise here. Screens are integral to pretty much every device it makes, and up until now, it’s been highly dependent on products from Samsung, Sharp, LG, and other large electronics firms. It would be more shocking if Apple hadn’t tried to develop its own displays.
It also makes sense that Apple would try to raise the bar by focusing on the next-generation MicroLED tech instead of OLED.
At the moment, MicroLED appears to be labor-intensive and not terribly cost efficient. If Apple continues the investment, that will no doubt change, but as Gurman says, don’t expect to see these in any products for a least a couple years. And if you’re holding out for a MicroLED iPhone, that’s going to be even longer.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-16 14:00, modified at 17:21
Over the last few years, Apple has often held an event in March, and in that regards, this year will be no different. The company sent out invitations to press today, inviting them to an event on Tuesday, March 27. (Jason will be there!)
But in pretty much every other way, this will be a different event. For one thing, Apple’s explicitly saying that this event is about education, including the tag line “Let’s take a field trip.”
And where will that field trip take us? Well, rather than the event being held in the Bay Area, as the company usually would, or at one of its less frequent locations, like New York City, this event will be in Chicago1, at the Lane Tech College Prep High School.
Given the education focus, we can narrow down a few of the things Apple is likely to announce. Low-cost iPads aimed at education, probably. Software improvements? A fair bet. And the last time Apple held an education-focused event—January 2012 in New York City—it also included some announcements about iBooks. There have been rumors that Apple’s e-book store and software are ripe for an update, and this would seem to point in that direction.
Other rumored announcements, like a new iPhone SE or the AirPower charging mat would seem to be less probable for this event, though it wouldn’t be out of character for Apple to release them around the same time.
This might also provide a venue for the official launch of software updates like iOS 11.3, which recently hit its fifth beta, and similar releases for Apple TV, macOS, and so on.
Unless I’m mistaken, this marks the first time an Apple event has ever been held in Chicago. ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-16 13:40, modified at 14:44
Between its ardent defenders and its harshest critics, it’s clear that Siri, Apple’s voice-based intelligent agent, inspires strong opinions. If nothing else, that speaks to both the theoretical and practical utility of the virtual assistant, and its importance to Apple going forward.
Despite my frustrations with Siri—and they are many—I still find it a vital part of how I use my Apple devices every single day. Here’s a few of the ways I use it with each of my devices, and, just as telling, things that I don’t use Siri for.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-15 14:34
This week, on the irreverent tech show voted “most likely to pun” by its high school class, we discuss the new Fitbit smartwatch and band offerings, Apple Music’s subscriber numbers, some old school (and new…school?) games, and our thoughts on cryptocurrencies. Plus, get in on the ground floor of Lex’s new cryptocurrency. We totally won’t be abusing that at all.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-14 22:44, modified at 23:10
Over the past year I’ve written frequently about my love of the Mac mini. There has been a Mac mini running as a server in my house basically since it was first introduced in 2005. The specific uses for that server have grown and changed over the years, and I’ve bought new models and upgraded them when necessary. But I need to admit something: for nine months, no Mac mini has been running in my house. Instead, I’ve been running a different device as my server.
The Mac mini was last updated 1245 days ago, in October of 2014. (And that was a lackluster upgrade.) Taking a cue from my dreams about what a modern Mac mini might be like, I bought a tiny Intel NUC PC and installed macOS on it. My Mac mini was becoming unreliable and I was hoping to experiment with Intel’s hardware in advance of a real Mac mini being released.
This was intended to be a temporary experiment. And, in fact, I hope to replace the NUC with a real Mac mini just as soon as Apple finally releases that all-new Mac mini that’s hopefully percolating inside Cupertino. But in the meantime, I have been running macOS on non-Apple hardware, and it’s been an instructive experience.
I’m not going to go into great detail on how I installed macOS on a PC. There are plenty of instruction guides out there; I used this one and it worked well enough, though it took many hours and I had to repeat a few steps because I hadn’t followed the instructions to the letter. (If you miss even a small step, you will regret it. And please don’t email me asking for support if you decide to try.) Suffice it to say that this is not something that a non-technical user will ever want to do, and this is probably enough of a barrier to keep all but the most dedicated people from attempting it.
There are plenty of disadvantages even when you’re up and running. Software updates are opportunities for disaster, so you have to apply them sporadically and carefully. Some hardware isn’t supported properly; I had to install a copy of Windows 10 on the PC so I could write down a string of numbers that would allow my macOS installation to use the Samsung SSD I bought, the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi don’t work, and you can’t put it to sleep.
That all said… I have to say that as a server, it’s been a dream. It’s vastly faster than my old Mac mini, and it takes up a fraction of the space. My server has a 2.21GHz seventh-generation Intel Core i5 processor with 16 GB of RAM and a 250GB SSD. It’s got four USB-A ports, one USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port1, Gigabit Ethernet, and HDMI video out.
The cost of all that hardware? It was $383 for the NUC itself, $133 for the RAM, $146 for the SSD, and $9 for an HDMI adapter. All in, $671. Compare that to the currently on-sale Mac mini: a fourth-generation Intel processor, 16GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD will run you $1099. That’s depressing—$428 more for a computer powered by a processor that’s three generations older. But I prefer to look on the bright side, namely that there’s plenty of profit margin available for Apple to release a new Mac mini with specs and design that echo the box currently acting as my server.
I love the NUC hardware, mostly because it’s just so impossibly small. No, I don’t expect that Apple would make a box quite this ugly—those two USB ports on the front of the case would be the first to go—but Apple could definitely make a smaller Mac mini that had plenty of power and went all-in on flash storage.
I hope it does, and soon. I’ll be first in line to buy one. But in the meantime I’ve stuck an Apple logo on this Intel NUC and I’m just going to pretend that it’s a Mac.
I added a Thunderbolt 3-to-Thunderbolt 2 adapter and attached my RAID to it. Works like a charm. ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-14 21:05, modified at 21:07
David Smith has some data from how his apps are used on Apple Watch:
I’ve been watching the Apple Watch adoption curve within my apps (specifically Pedometer++ for this analysis) quite carefully. My personal hope is that this summer when we get watchOS 5 it will drop support for the Series 0 and free Apple to really push forward on what is possible for developers. But in order for that wish to be realistic I imagine Apple will need the daily use of those first watches to have died down significantly….
So far the data is looking promising that this dream of mine might actually be possible. The Series 3 is being adopted incredibly quickly and just last week became the most popular Apple Watch overall amongst my users with 33% of the overall user-base. The Series 0 is steadily falling, currently at around 24%.
My wife has a stainless steel Series 0, and it still works pretty well (though it’s slow to kick off a workout). I wonder if this fall she’ll be getting a new one…
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-14 17:31, modified at 17:32
This week on the 30-minute tech podcast that’s surprisingly pie-focused, Dan and Mikah are joined by Kathy Campbell and Russell Holly to discuss cryptocurrencies, the tech gadgets we are resistant to upgrade, our favorite “smart” devices, and the contentious issue of whether or not we take our phones into the shower.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-14 16:17, modified at 16:18
Keyboards are important. While speech-to-text technology has come a long way, I suspect there will always be value in writing one letter after another with your hands. Apple clearly thinks to, too, because in recent weeks there have been reports about several new Apple patents regarding keyboard technology. From those patents to the controversial innovations that drove the latest generation of MacBook keyboards, Apple’s continues to push the boundaries of text input.
So what do Apple’s current technology directions suggest about where the company might be innovating in the future when it comes to keyboards?
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-13 18:48
WWDC is happening June 4-8 this year, and it’s still in San Jose. We’ll probably hear about new versions of iOS, macOS, tvOS, and watchOS, and Apple’s likely got some other announcements to drop as well. Jason and I will both be there in some capacity, so there’s always a chance to say hi.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-13 12:57
Incisive analysis (as always) from Ben Thompson at Stratechery on the administration blocking Broadcom’s acquisition of rival chip-maker Qualcomm on national security grounds:
The entire issue is that the structure of the deal itself said far more clearly than anything else that Broadcom wanted to feast off of Qualcomm’s past innovations and contribute far less to future ones than Qualcomm would on its own. And, given ever-increasing Chinese dominance of wireless, that is indeed a national security problem.
Thompson goes on to point out that national security isn’t the only issue here; it’s also largely about patents, and the impetus for and control over innovation.
This is especially interesting given Apple’s relationship with Qualcomm, both in terms of their ongoing legal tiff, as well as the fact that Apple is poised to ditch any dependence on Qualcomm in future iPhones. That would probably do a number on Qualcomm’s bottom line, which is going to further complicate matters for the company if they can’t take Broadcom’s buyout offer.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-12 23:42, modified at 23:43
This week on Upgrade: What are our top five Apple products of the past five years? Jason and Myke list their choices in something that is almost, but not quite, a draft. Also: Did Jason accurately predict the extended survival of the MacBook Air? A watchful Upgradian provides the answer. We also muse about the future of keyboards and discuss Netflix as a future home for a former president.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-12 15:59, modified at 18:40
Apple today announced it signed an agreement to acquire Texture, the digital magazine subscription service by Next Issue Media LLC, which gives users unlimited access to their favorite titles for one monthly subscription fee.
Texture is broadly described as “Netflix for magazines,” in that a monthly subscription fee provides access to some 200 magazines, including Vanity Fair, Esquire, Elle, Fortune, and The New Yorker. I wonder a little bit about who the audience is for this, but clearly Apple thinks it’s broad enough to merit buying the service.
I imagine integration with Apple News is the intended goal, since it could provide a way to let readers easily buy access to a variety of titles that would otherwise be blocked by paywalls. But there have also been rumors that iBooks is due for an overhaul, so this could have a part to play there as well.
Update: Apple senior vice president Eddy Cue confirmed that Texture will be integrated into Apple News in an appearance at the South by Southwest conference.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-09 22:39, modified at 22:43
I was happy to be asked back on The Talk Show by John Gruber this week, and we talked for a very short 150 minutes:
Topics include Apple and China, the 10th anniversary of the iPhone SDK, the future of the MacBook Air, and more. No baseball talk, except a little.
In addition to discussing the MacBook Air, which is unquestionably the biggest hot-button issue of our time, we also covered how and if Apple should do business with the authoritarian government of China, and the company’s policy regarding the National Rifle Association’s Apple TV channel. Pretty usual stuff.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-09 17:37, modified at 17:41
Stephen Hackett talked to Kristen Gallerneaux, curator at the Henry Ford Museum, about the unheralded first Jobs-Wozniak collaboration, an illegal Blue Box used for phone phreaking:
I think Jobs’s business and marketing mind really took flight with the Apple 1 in 1976, but the blue box was the foundation for that in 1972. It was the origin point for Woz and Jobs working together on a commercial product, and to learn about one another’s working style. Jobs saw potential to monetize the blue box-I believe they cost around $40 to produce, and were marked up to around $150. To meet sales demands, a few helpers were brought in to help out with assembly for large orders.
This was all spectacularly illegal, but they never got caught—and a few years later they were selling Apple I computers instead.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-09 17:31, modified at 17:35
Power grids are vital to our existence and stranger than you’d think.
Continental Europe boasts the world’s largest synchronous electricity grid—energy flows freely across the borders of 25 countries, at a fixed frequency of 50 Hz that is maintained by close coordination between the region’s power companies….
According to the European Network of Transmission System Operators (ENTSO-E), [Kosovo] was from mid-January to this week consuming more energy than it produced, to the cumulative tune of 113 gigawatt hours.
Initial speculation was that energy might have been stolen by cryptocurrency miners, but it seems that the sapping of the European grid has more to do with the northern region of Kosovo (which is largely loyal to Serbia, a country that does not recognize Kosovo’s independence) continuing to use power while not being billed by the Kosovo government.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-09 13:35
Hope springs eternal. Or, in the case of Apple, our hopes are eternal that spring will bring with it new products from Cupertino.
Apple’s main events are in June and September, but there’s a bit of pleasing symmetry when the company makes announcements in March, as it often—but not always—does. In addition to refreshes on some of its less prominent devices, the spring is sometimes a venue for wildcard releases: think last year’s Product(RED) versions of the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, or the release of its video-editing software Clips.
This year, in addition to the omnipresent rumors of new Apple products, consumers are awaiting more news on devices that Apple has already discussed. So, then, here is a rundown of a few products that we could hear about in March, if Apple is so inclined.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-08 22:59, modified at 23:02
Recode’s Peter Kafka breaks down Netflix viewing stats:
You can watch Netflix in almost every country in the world, on any device you want. But the odds are very good that no matter where you watch Netflix, you’re going to watch it on a TV screen. Netflix says 70 percent of its streams end up on connected TVs instead of phones, tablets or PCs.
That number isn’t a shock — Netflix has been clear about the importance of TVs for a long time, and it’s why the company has spent a lot of energy working out integration deals with pay TV distributors like Comcast and Sky — but it’s a good reminder that not everything is moving to the phone.
It’s not TV, it’s Netflix… but it’s probably on your TV.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-08 15:40, modified at 16:42
While the Lex is away, James Thomson will join Dan and John to play. We talk about the rumors of the MacBook Air’s resurrection, 10 years of the iPhone SDK (and how it’s aged us), the dumb design of Apple’s new campus, and MoviePass not hiding the fact that it’s just spying on you. Plus, why virtual assistants are this generation’s text adventures.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-08 15:04
Apple’s been releasing an annual report on health, labor, and environmental practices in its supply chain since 2007. The company touts its transparency on investigating issues in its supply chain, whether they involve unsafe working conditions or bad environmental practices, as well as programs for educating and protecting the employees of its suppliers.
This year’s highlights include the fact that all of the company’s final assembly sites for the iPhones are now zero waste to landfill, a report on the health awareness program for women that was launched last year, and the new Factory Line Leader Program that aims to bring workers additional training, as well as internships and possible full-time employment.
In the company’s audit of Labor and Human Rights at 756 suppliers, it uncovered 44 Core Violations, including falsification of working hours, bonded-labor, and underage labor.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-07 19:59
Shannon Liao at The Verge on perhaps the creepiest thing Alexa has ever done:
Over the past few days, users with Alexa-enabled devices have reported hearing strange, unprompted laughter. Amazon responded to the creepiness in a statement to The Verge, saying, “We’re aware of this and working to fix it.”
That or Alexa has finally become self-aware.
I haven’t noticed this, but last night I had a few friends over and both Alexa and Siri responded to false positives and started babbling away about things, prompting one friend to exclaim “How many robots do you have?!”
Too many, my friend. Too many.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-07 18:56
This week on the 30-minute show that never falls back or springs forward, Dan and Mikah are joined by Justin Michael and Lisa Schmeiser to discuss our smart and dumb home thermostats, the fractured state of net neutrality laws, the potential resurrection of the MacBook Air, and AI technology in military hands.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-07 18:06, modified at 18:07
As someone who has been a user of the MacBook Air since the very beginning, I want to take a moment to lament its passing. But I can’t, because how can I miss it if it won’t go away? The MacBook Air, with its classic USB ports, previous-generation Apple keyboard, and big silver bezels around a non-Retina screen, is a time capsule of early 2010s Apple hardware design—and you can still buy one, brand new.
What the heck is going on?
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-07 17:57, modified at 18:00
I love a good mystery story, especially when there’s a satisfying end. And that’s what Cabel Sasser of Panic Software has written:
A few months ago, a complaint started popping up from users downloading or updating our apps: “Geez, your downloads are really slow!” …We started noticing it ourselves when we were working from home. When we’d come in to the office, transfers were lightning fast. But at home, it was really, seriously getting hard to get any work done remotely at all.
Because software developers are ingenious and curious people, Panic wrote a test tool, analyzed the data, and discovered the source of the problem. What happened next, as the saying goes, will surprise you.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-06 16:40, modified at 16:47
Ten years ago, Apple released the official iPhone Software Development Kit for third-party developers. The run up to the launch of the App Store had begun.
Craig Hockenberry has written a stupendous history of those days, which start quite a bit more than 10 years ago. Then on March 6, Apple held an event to launch the new iPhone software, dutifully transcribed by yours truly.
In the end, we had about four months to get our apps ready. Thanks to what The Iconfactory learned during the Jailbreak era, we had a head start understanding design and development issues. But we still worked our butts off to build the iPhone’s first Twitter app.
It’s hard to believe it’s only been 10 years, but here we are.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-05 20:34, modified at 20:35
This week on Upgrade: Would Apple really update the MacBook Air at this late date? We break down the possibilities, plus Jason finally finishes his HomePod review, Netflix and Apple keep investing in original video content, and then we take off and nuke the site from orbit as Myke at the Movies revisits 1986’s “Aliens.”
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-02 18:35, modified on 2018-03-06 16:38
I’ve spent the past few weeks listening to Apple’s HomePod. In my office and in my living room, on top of a piano and down on an end table. I’ve listened to it while working, cooking, and lazing on the couch. I’ve played it at full volume and low volume.
It’s a very good speaker that excels at connecting me to my Apple Music library and playlists. As a voice assistant, it’s got a lot of issues. Two years ago, the HomePod could’ve taken a bite out of the Amazon Echo’s market presence; today it’s just a face in the crowd, by no means a bad product but one that’s not necessarily different enough to stand out.
I am not an audiophile or a professional audio reviewer, but I do like music and listen to an awful lot of it. There’s been at least one networked music player in my living room for fifteen years, dating back to Slim Devices’ groundbreaking SLIMP3. In recent years most of my music playback in my house’s common spaces has either come from products from Sonos (a Sonos Connect attached to the speakers in the living room and a Play:1 in the bathroom) or Amazon (the original Echo and now the Echo Show, in the kitchen).
Adding voice control to music, especially in an open space like your house, is a major step forward. Instead of needing a remote control or an app, with just a few words you can conjure up just about any music you can think of—especially when a voice-controlled player is connected to a streaming service’s huge music library. The more time you spend using your voice to control music playback with a device like an Echo, HomePod, or Sonos One, the more you resent needing to find an iOS device in order to start a new playlist going.
All the reviews of the HomePod compare its audio quality to the Amazon Echo, because it created this product category, but it’s not really fair—the Echo (whether it’s the original, the new version, or even the Show) is not a device optimized for music quality. In head-to-head tests, all of these high-end connected speakers—HomePod, Sonos, and even the Google Home Max—reveal themselves to be speakers of far better quality than those in the Echo. If you really care about playback quality, they all provide a better experience.
That said, plenty of people enjoy listening to music but don’t care about playback quality. Growing up, most of the music in my house came via AM radio—a format so bad at reproducing music that it’s since been entirely abandoned to talk and news. Eventually I found rock FM radio stations and cassettes and CDs, but my first love of music came from an atrocious listening experience. The Amazon Echo reminds me of that, a little—though it provides a decidedly better audio experience—because for a whole lot of people it’s good enough. Even in my house, where we have access to far better speakers than the Echo, it’s ended up as the preferred player because of the ease of voice control.
In any event, the HomePod’s audio is really good. It’s slightly better than my Sonos Play:1, with better bass and clearer treble. Both of them are essentially mono speakers, even though HomePod boasts seven different tweeters arrayed in a ring. If you play a song with familiar left and right panning on the HomePod, you won’t hear any of that directional stuff. Instead, the HomePod will do its own processing and try to separate items in the soundscape. For true stereo effects, you’ll need a second HomePod (or a second Play:1 or Sonos One) and in the case of the HomePod, you’ll need to wait for a forthcoming software update that will enable stereo pairing.
The HomePod’s processing of audio can lead to interesting results: Some of my favorite music sounds spectacularly good when processed by HomePod, while some of it sounds flat and lifeless. I suspect HomePod has also been tweaked with specific kinds of music in mind; modern stuff tended to sound a lot better than studio stuff from the 80s, for whatever reason.
While I’m happy with the sound of the HomePod, it’s not what I’d call a room-filling speaker. The fact that it broadcasts in a full 360 degrees makes it superior than something like the Sonos Play:1, which has a sweet spot right in front of it. The Sonos Play:5 will fill a room, but it’s directional and quite large—I’ve got one and it doesn’t live in my living room because there’s just no good place for it. The HomePod is compact, so it fits just about anywhere and is audible throughout the room. That counts for a lot, but in larger rooms it may disappoint.
The HomePod is a remarkable physical specimen. It’s a curvy cylinder wrapped in fabric that’s slightly squishy to the touch and surprisingly dense. I bought the Space Gray model (it’s also available in white) and have been impressed at what a good job it does at blending in wherever I put it. This is what a product like this should do. As I mentioned above, the HomePod’s compact size is one of the things I like about it, in that I was able to find a half dozen different places in my kitchen and living room where I could plop it down and have it do its job without getting in my way.
The top of the HomePod features a glowing blob that pulsates in various colors to indicate when Siri is active. It’s also got three touch-sensitive areas—one over the blob that works more or less like a headphone clicker, with one tap for play or pause, two taps to move to the next track, and so on. There are also plus and minus symbols that light up and which you can touch to adjust the volume.
It’s the weak point in the HomePod’s design. Since the top is not visible unless the HomePod is lower than your vision, forget putting the HomePod high up. I placed the HomePod on the top of our upright piano and my wife complained that she couldn’t tell that Siri was activated—she couldn’t see the color blob. In contrast, the Amazon Echo’s colored activation ring goes around the edge of the device, so it’s visible even if you can’t see the top. You can’t feel for the volume controls, either, because there’s no tactile element to them at all. Even when I could see the top of the HomePod, I frequently tapped in the wrong place. I get why Apple doesn’t think physical buttons are cool, but the top of the HomePod isn’t a screen—and it would be better served with three buttons and an indicator light (that’s visible from the side as well as above).
The bottom of the HomePod has a silicone ring that can apparently interact badly with certain types of stains or oil finishes on wood. I never experienced any issues with the HomePod and my furniture, but I have seen bad interactions between silicone and wood in the past—a glow-in-the-dark banana slug from UC Santa Cruz once melted itself into the top of a bookshelf; the outline remains more than a decade later. It’s unfortunate that this happened, and it would’ve been a good idea for Apple to test this and provide guidance for HomePod buyers, but it’s not even the only device in its class to have this issue. If you have really nice wood furniture you might want to put the HomePod on a coaster or a doily. My mom used to put doilies under just about everything we owned; then again, she listened to music on AM radio. Your mileage will assuredly vary.
One of the most important features of HomePod is its support for voice control. This is the first device from Apple to sit in your house and listen to commands, something I’ve been dreaming about since 2016. I know that Apple’s been building devices that listen to your voice for years, but it’s different when it’s a device sitting in a common area waiting for anyone to trigger it.
On the hardware side, HomePod excels at listening for commands. I was able to trigger it while it was blaring music by saying its name at a completely natural volume, which felt like witchcraft. Its multiple microphones and the signal processing capabilities of its chip are doing their job, and quite well.
However, Apple’s still got some work to do when it comes to arbitrating which device gets to act on a “Hey Siri” command. At several points I discovered my Apple Watch was intercepting HomePod commands because I had made the mistake of lifting my arms just before speaking. Friends who have lots of devices with “Hey Siri” turned on report that it’s a real crapshoot about which device activates when they provide a command. Apple’s devices are trying to do the right thing, but they’re failing more often than they should. There’s more work that needs to be done here.
Compounding the issue is that Siri is not so much a product as a loose confederation of different products on different platforms. So if you try to give a command to your iPhone and the HomePod intercepts it, that command may fail—because Siri on HomePod can’t do all the same things that it can on iPhone. Likewise Apple Watch and Mac.
This is not good for a few reasons. Siri needs to be better everywhere, but it also needs to be more consistent across platforms. Why can’t I use Siri on macOS to control HomeKit devices? No idea. You can’t start a phone call from HomePod, even when an iPhone is linked and nearby—instead, you have to start the phone call on the iPhone and then tap to transfer the audio to HomePod.
And all of these Siri-enabled Apple devices need to talk to each other. If I give HomePod a command that only works on the iPhone, why does it not let the iPhone handle that command? Or offer to transfer it? I realize that this isn’t an easy problem to solve, but it’s one that needs to be addressed for Siri to be more usable, especially when you’ve got a HomePod listening to everything you say with its remarkably discerning microphones.
Once Siri is activated, it’s… fine. It makes mistakes, and I’ve seen reviewers take Apple to task for them as they should, but as an Amazon Echo user for several years I think it’s fair to point out that all of these voice assistants are unreliable. Siri may feel a bit less reliable than Alexa, but in the grand scheme of things I’d categorize both as occasionally brilliant but frequently frustrating.
Because I’m an Apple Music subscriber, I’m happy to have voice access to my playlists, and Siri does an admirable job playing them. I’m less impressed with its choices when it comes to playing individual songs—I frequently got live versions when I asked for songs, which I just don’t understand. Shouldn’t the canonical studio album version always be the choice when you ask for a specific song? Apparently Siri doesn’t think so, because several times I had to construct lengthy commands that named the song and the album before I could get the right track to play.
On the bright side, Siri does provide seamless access to Apple Music and tracks I uploaded from iTunes that don’t appear on the service; I was able to play a track from a friend’s album that I digitized from the cassette he sent me 20 years ago without any trouble. That was pretty cool.
Because the HomePod is a device whose primary interface is Siri1, it really exposes all of Siri’s flaws. I admit to being a bit mystified by where Siri is today compared to when it launched in 2011. Yes, it’s better, but it hasn’t evolved as fast as I expected, and it’s lost ground to competitors like Alexa and the Google Assistant.
I’d like to believe that a product like HomePod, which is so dependent on Siri, would be a prompt for Apple to dramatically upgrade Siri, but when I give it a little more thought, that’s a silly thing to believe. The HomePod may expose Siri’s flaws more dramatically, but Siri is also a key component in the iPhone, the product line that accounts for two-thirds of Apple’s revenue. If the iPhone hasn’t been successful motivation for Siri to get dramatically better and leapfrog its competitors, there’s no point in hoping that HomePod would do the trick.
But I don’t want to avoid praising Siri in the places where it has advanced, so here’s a good one: You can play podcasts on Siri now, and it works quite well. When I said, “Hey Siri, play the Clockwise podcast,” after a few seconds the latest episode began to play. That’s a good step forward. There just need to be many more of those.
The HomePod is the Siri Speaker I dreamed about in 2016. Unfortunately, it shipped in 2018, and it’s got a lot more competition now. With the launch of Apple Music, Apple had a great opportunity to come out with a superior voice-controlled music device and claim the high ground in this market; HomePod is good, but it feels like a product that’s two years late to market (and yet still has features missing, such as stereo pairing and multi-room support).
The Sonos One may not sound as good as the HomePod, but it’s awfully close—and you can pick up two for the price of a single HomePod and put them in a stereo pair today. The Sonos One even supports Apple Music—but not with voice control, as the built-in Alexa assistant works with Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, and a few other services, but not Apple’s.
So where does the HomePod fit? In the end its biggest differentiator is that it’s the only way to listen to Apple Music via voice commands. Even as someone who fits in the target demographic for HomePod, that’s slicing a market awfully thin. If you’re the user of another music service, you can use AirPlay to play music from your phone to the HomePod, but at that point, why would you choose HomePod over something like Sonos One? Keeping in mind that Sonos One is half the price.
Two years ago things would’ve been different. But the competition in this category is fierce, and Apple has some catching up to do. Will HomePod end up being, like the Apple TV, an expensive product that is notable because it supports Apple’s ecosystem in a way that no other product does?
The good news is, it’s still the very earliest days of voice assistants. Apple has plenty of time to catch up to Alexa and Google Assistant and the rest. As a leader in wearable hardware, though, Apple needs to keep pushing Siri forward—because when you’re wearing your computers, a voice interface becomes that much more important. There are a lot of janky things about Alexa, but right now it does a better job than Siri, which is why even though there’s a HomePod in my living room, I’m keeping an Echo in my kitchen.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-02 18:08, modified at 18:13
On Thursday Rogue Amoeba announced that its venerable internet radio streaming app, Nicecast, was being discontinued. The era of streaming your own Internet radio stations was a long time ago, and the Internet has mostly moved on. Nicecast is an old 32-bit app that’s at the point where it either needs a major update or retirement, and its user base isn’t big enough to merit the update. (32-bit apps like Nicecast will probably be deprecated beginning with the next version of macOS.)
Which is not to say that Nicecast doesn’t still have its users—if you listen to a live stream from The Incomparable or Relay FM, for example, it’s almost certainly being transmitted from a Mac to the streaming server via Nicecast. I use Nicecast along with Rogue Amoeba’s Loopback and Audio Hijack to do all of my live streaming.
Fortunately, Rogue Amoeba is well aware of this use case:
While Nicecast is now retired, we are considering future solutions to help users broadcast to more modern streaming options. In particular, we know many podcasters provide a live stream using Nicecast, and hope to eventually provide a more comprehensive solution for that use case.
I look forward to seeing what Rogue Amoeba might come up with to allow us to keep streaming audio for live podcast sessions. In the meantime, Rogue Amoeba has posted a more detailed item showing how to use Audio Hijack and Loopback with the free Mac streaming app Ladiocast to broadcast live streams without Nicecast.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-02 17:45
As the Apple Watch prepares to turn three, Apple’s preeminent wearable has hit an interesting inflection point. It’s neither the raw, “does everything and the kitchen sink” device that it was when the company first announced it, but neither is its path forward obvious. Apple’s added low-hanging fruit like GPS and LTE, and attempted to make the Watch more self-sufficient, but it’s hardly about to supplant an iPhone for most people. At best it’s a device you don’t mind carrying if you’re going some place that you can’t take your phone.
But Apple has shown that it still views wearables as an important category. Tim Cook has drawn attention to its performance in the last few quarterly financial results, grouping together sales not only of the Watch but also of AirPods and Beats headphones.
With an Apple Watch Series 4 probably on the horizon, what is there left to expect? What’s going to keep the Apple Watch ticking away—if you’ll pardon the expression—into the next decade.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-02 17:12, modified at 17:13
Last week we heard the latest report that Apple is working on updates to AirPods, the wireless headphones it introduced in the fall of 2016.
This report about forthcoming new generations of AirPods hit me in a strange way. Usually anyone who follows Apple (or any tech company, really) has a wish list of features—realistic ones for the short term, wild dreams for the long term. But the AirPods? They emerged from Apple as a fully formed product. I don’t have a lot of complaints about them—they basically exceeded my expectations in every area, and they’re now my go-to headphones for all circumstances where I don’t need zero-latency audio (podcast editing) or to block out loud noises (flying on planes or mowing the lawn).
How do you improve a product that’s got so little to prove? I know, I know: continual improvement to its products is how Apple rolls. Let’s start by recapping the report by Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman: Apple is working on improvements to the AirPods due later this year, though some improvements might not come until later. Features include a new wireless chip, support for Siri voice activation, and improved water resistance.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-03-01 15:39
Apple may be working on over-ear headphones, and Dan’s the only one who’s really excited, because Moltz has his AirPods and Lex is agog over his new pair of Beats X. We also discuss rumors of three new iPhone X-inspired models and the imminent(?) launch of the AirPower. Plus, Apple gets closer to the metal than ever with its plan to get cobalt directly from the mines. Also, we get political on calls for Apple to break ties with the NRA.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-28 18:24
This week, on the tech show that’s never longer than the month of February, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Joe Rosensteel and Megan Morrone to discuss Apple’s foray into healthcare, the one thing that we’d like to see Siri improve, where we stream most of our content, and our true feelings about the latest social network, Vero.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-27 15:49
I’ve got fond memories of sitting in my dorm room while my friends and I took turns trying to top each others’ best times in Star Wars Episode I: Racer1 on my Blue & White PowerMac G3. While there hasn’t been an update to that game in almost twenty years, the redoubtable Alexis Dos Santos built this incredible version entirely using LEGO Mindstorms.
Probably, we can all agree, the only good thing to come out of The Phantom Menace. ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-26 23:45, modified at 23:48
Mark Gurman and Debby Wu at Bloomberg:
Apple Inc. is preparing to release a trio of new smartphones later this year: the largest iPhone ever, an upgraded handset the same size as the current iPhone X and a less expensive model with some of the flagship phone’s key features.
In other words, an iPhone X Plus and an iPhone 9 that inherits a lot of styling from the iPhone X, but with less expensive parts, including an LCD screen. Seems like a confirmation of much of Ming-Chi Kuo’s report from January.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-26 20:21, modified at 20:22
This week on Upgrade we discuss rumors about new AirPods and this fall’s iPhones, speculate about what makes a good Apple TV app, revisit the idea of ARM Macs in the context of Windows 10’s ARM limitations, and save a moment to praise Alto’s Odyssey.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-26 16:22, modified at 17:05
Also beginning May 25, security changes will prevent Apple TV (1st generation) from using the iTunes Store. This device is an obsolete Apple product and will not be updated to support these security changes.
The first-generation Apple TV, which came out the same year as the original iPhone, was a weird beast. It ran a version of the Front Row interface that used to be in OS X, and originally was more like an iPod that you connected to your TV: you had to sync content to its internal hard drive. It wasn’t until 2008 that Apple added software to turn it into a standalone device with access to the iTunes Store.
I can’t imagine that there are too many of these still in use—the second-generation and onwards were much cheaper and far more usable.1
This is where I get a bunch of emails from people who have hacked their first-generation Apple TV to do stuff you can’t do on the later ones, right? ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-26 16:10, modified at 17:10
Endless runners are not usually my cup of tea. There’s something about that “endless” aspect that usually tires me after a while—it feels fruitless and futile, and the fun goes out of it.
But if you’re going to do a game of this genre, you’re going to be hard-pressed to do better than Alto’s Odyssey. The followup to Alto’s Adventure sees our titular snowboarder migrate to more arid climes, and the team at Snowman has upped the ante considerably in the three years since that game’s release.
The mechanics of Alto’s Odyssey are largely similar to its predecessor: you’re coasting down slopes and you can tap on the screen to make Alto (or any of the other snowboarders) do a jump or tap and hold for a backflip. Along the way you collect coins, attempt to complete challenges, and outrun the occasional lemur. If you’re looking for a totally new game, you’re not going to find it here, but if you enjoyed Alto’s Adventure, chances are you’ll appreciate what’s the same about Alto’s Odyssey: it’s more of the same, only better.
What sets this game apart from so many of the endless runners is the ridiculous amount of polish. I’d thought the previous game was among the most beautiful I’d played at the time, and Alto’s Odyssey leaves it in the dust1. Stunning backgrounds, absolutely gorgeous lighting, and a gamut of weather effects contribute to what is rightfully a work of art. Likewise, the music and sound effects are top-notch, and the animations are lively. There’s much more dynamism in Odyssey, too: balloons rise slowly into the air with lines of flags—ready-made for grinding—between them, vines snap and give way as you traverse them, and waterfalls cascade into deep pools that you can skim or dive into. The game’s three “biomes” provide different types of terrain to navigate, each of which is gorgeously brought to life.
What keeps me playing Alto’s Odyssey is its level progression, each of which features three challenges to complete. They’re tricky, but generally not impossible—the biggest difficulty in many is simply waiting around for the right set of circumstances to present themselves. But, so far, they always feel achievable: after each inevitable crash, there’s always that drive for one more game.
As with Alto’s Adventure, there are a handful of in-game items you can buy with the coins you collect in game, some of which are one-time usage, and some which provide game-changing mechanics. The Sandboard enables you to ride on walls, for example, which is required for a bunch of challenges. The Compass lets you, once purchased, switch to different biomes, which can be handy if you have one of the frustrating challenges that requires waiting for a particular piece of terrain to come along—but at 1000 coins per switch, it’s a bit on the steep side. I haven’t yet ponied up for the wingsuit, which was—for me—the most frustrating part of the first game. I’m content to just stay on my board for now.
Perhaps the most welcome part of Alto’s Odyssey is the Zen Mode, which lets you ride endlessly: no challenges, no coins, no crashes. Just enjoy the beautiful scenery. That’s got the potential to keep bringing me back long after I’ve gotten weary of trying to beat the latest challenge. And even if I don’t, well, the ride is well worth the price of admission for the amount I’ve put into it already.
Alto’s Odyssey is $5, and available on iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV (but I’ll say that it looks best, to me, on the iPhone X’s phenomenal screen).
Or sand. ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-23 17:04, modified at 17:08
In quoting Mark Gurman’s piece about AirPods yesterday, I noticed (and actually removed) some of the cruft that clogs his work now that he’s at Bloomberg and working with Bloomberg’s copy desk. I didn’t mention it, but Charles Arthur did, and his take is delightful:
Note in passing all the fol-de-rol of formal American newswriting: the amazingly dull headline, the requirement to describe Apple as “the Cupertino-based technology giant”, in case you were trying to find them on a map; the inability to just say “my sources”; the strangulated “as soon as this year” instead of “perhaps this year”. It’s like a weird grammar of its own.
Gurman’s writing was far clearer when he was at 9to5 Mac. But at Bloomberg he’s subject to its stylebook. Apparently Bloomberg requires a boilerplate mention of a company’s hometown so you don’t confuse the world’s largest technology firm with a local apple-picking farm. The Bloomberg style quirk that always gets me is the construction “the people,” which is how Bloomberg likes to refer to anonymous sources (“people familiar with the matter”) after they’ve been introduced. To quote the AirPods story:
The Cupertino, California-based technology giant is working on a new version for release as soon as this year with an upgraded wireless chip, the people said.
Style guides get infested with bizarre quirks not because a sadistic copy editor likes messing with writers and readers alike, but because providing clarity and consistency across a large news organization is a good idea. But over time, the original reasons some rules were created will vanish over the horizon, leaving nothing but a rule to be followed because Rules Are Made To Be Followed. Even if the result is, as Arthur says, “fol-de-rol.”
Anyway, Mark Gurman’s an excellent reporter. No matter what “the people” said.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-23 13:53
With the addition of the HomePod to my arsenal of smart speakers, we’ve reached a dangerous tipping point in my household: there are roughly double the number of smart speakers as people.
The past couple weeks of living with the HomePod has given me a bit of time not only to see what the device has to offer right now, but has also helped me sketch out some ideas about where the future might be able to take it.
In many ways, the HomePod reminds me a lot of the Apple Watch. But whereas the chief criticism of the latter upon its release was that it tried to do too much, the HomePod follows more of a tried-and-true Apple pattern: it starts small.
But perhaps it starts too small.
As the Apple Watch evolved, it benefited from slimming down its portfolio to focus on a few key areas, but the HomePod instead has a lot of room to improve by deepening its focus on the areas that it’s already in.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-23 00:24, modified at 00:25
Here’s some sage advice from Marco Arment to app developers who are worried about being ripped off in the app store, but it can be applied more broadly than that:
Nobody else will care as much as you do. Nobody cares who was first, and nobody cares who copied who. The public won’t defend you… This feels unfair when it happens to you, but it’s just how it goes, and the entire ecosystem benefits. Every app — even yours — includes countless “standard” and “obvious” features and designs that, at one time, weren’t. Everything is a remix.
There are out-and-out rip-offs that are worth taking on—a couple of times I’ve found that some other podcast is using the art I commissioned for The Incomparable—but beyond the most obvious and egregious, it’s not worth the effort. Part of the cost of doing business on the Internet is that people—some shady, some just tough competitors—will try to take the thing you create and use it for their own ends.
It’s not fair, but that’s life. You can rage about it and waste time and energy and money on it, but in most cases it’s better to just put your energy toward something positive.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-23 00:09, modified at 00:19
Mark Gurman of Bloomberg is reporting on the future of development for Apple’s AirPods:
[Apple] is working on a new version for release as soon as this year with an upgraded wireless chip, the people said. A subsequent model for as early as next year is planned to be water resistant, they added, asking not to be identified discussing private product plans…. The model coming as early as this year will let people summon Apple’s Siri digital assistant without physically tapping the headphones by saying “Hey Siri.”
Being able to activate Siri via voice makes sense. Given the AirPods’ nature (for now?) as an extension to another device, I’d imagine that all the upgrade would need to do is provide a low-power way to constantly be monitoring for the trigger phrase, at which point your iPhone or Apple Watch would be passed the actual contents of the Siri request for processing. Currently you have to trigger Siri by double-tapping on an earbud, but with support for “Hey Siri” you could control without touching the earbuds at all. (Upgraded water resistance makes sense, too, given that people sweat and run in all sorts of weather.)
I never expected to love AirPods, but I do. They’ve replaced wired in-ear monitors for just about everything for me except podcasting and locations where I need noise isolation (like on airplanes or when I’m mowing the lawn).
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-22 22:49, modified on 2018-02-25 15:08
Siri is a thread that runs through all of Apple’s platforms now, and it has subtly different features on most of them. At best, this means adapting to the particular vagaries of each device—for example, Siri on the Mac can look for files, while Siri on the Apple TV can understand jumping to particular timestamps or turning on captions.
But sometimes there seems to be a divide even on a single device.
Here’s a little experiment for you. Bring up the search field on your iPhone and type in a flight number—for example, WW126. Near the top of the results will be an option to bring up flight status. Tap that and you’ll get a nice little map of the flight as well some other info, like destination, duration, and so on.
Now, try asking Siri for the status of the same flight. I’ll wait.
Right. You’ll notice that Siri doesn’t seem to know anything about flight status, and instead goes straight to a web search.
How bizarre is that? The information is there, and Siri can clearly correctly parse the query; it just either doesn’t know how to hand it off or there’s some other weird reason it can’t.1
My default assumption is that there are byzantine rights issues involved in cases like this. Or, in short, the reason is “lawyers.” Technically both the voice assistant in iOS and its search are powered by Siri’s intelligence, so it’s odd that the features don’t line up. I’m sure there are other examples of situations like this—let me know if you’ve found some. ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-22 22:45
Today, I found myself in the good old Mac App Store after trying to dismiss another notification and came face to face with the High Sierra banner, imploring me to upgrade. Trying to deal with this annoyance, I right clicked on the banner. To my surprise, I was given a prompt to “Hide Update”!
I generally wait to do a big system update on my Mac mini, since it’s the house file server and I don’t want to mess with it, but I hate dealing with this stupid Kobayashi Maru notification. If this works, it’ll make me a very happy camper indeed.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-22 20:00
We kick it all off with recommendations for wireless headphones that might surprise you, then it’s on to discussion of Alto’s Odyssey, our TV show recommendations, and some brief discussion of the other technologically pressing issues of our day. We wrap it all up with some music to play us off…
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-21 18:19
This week, on the only tech show that talks (and ticks?), Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Christa Mrgan and Anže Tomić to discuss our reading habits, how we use tech to consume news, our thoughts on the demise of Twitter for Mac, and whether we think facial recognition truly has superseded fingerprints as a way of accessing our phones.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-19 22:27, modified at 22:32
Veteran journalist Charles Arthur’s MacBook Pro broke, so he started doing his job on an iPad Pro:
A few years ago, this would probably have been impossible. I wouldn’t have contemplated it. Now? Getting along fine. In a number of ways, the iPad is preferable - particularly weight and connectivity. In only a couple of ways is it worse (the most notable being “lappability”).
The ability to use a tablet and attached keyboard comfortably in your lap (and not on a table) is definitely an issue; these days I travel with the Brydge Keyboard, which lets me use my iPad in a laptop configuration when I want to.
In any event, Arthur’s piece is a great overview of the pros and cons of working on an iPad, including using cloud syncing and tools such as Workflow and Pythonista to automate building his newsletter.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-19 22:21, modified at 22:22
This week on Upgrade: What does the death of Twitter for Mac say about the future of Mac software? Is Apple making big changes to how it releases software, and how will it impact the quality of the Apple product experience? We ponder these questions, note some surprising additions to Apple’s video programming, and briefly discuss how Jason permanently scarred his bookshelf.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-16 15:10
With Dan’s triumphant return from Iceland—no blizzard can stop him!—the team reunites just in time to discuss a veritable onslaught of HomePod controversies. How is the sound? What’s with the white rings? Does Dan have way too many smart speakers? Why is John talking about Zip Drives? Will Lex ever stop making groan-worthy puns? Why are there so many questions this week?! The answer to at least a couple of those awaits.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-16 12:39
Traveling is a great chance to put technology through the wringer. It’s a time when you have to be economical about the gear you carry, when your environments challenge you, and when you start seeing places where your devices could go further and do more than they already do.
Last week, my girlfriend and I spent nine days in Iceland (it was supposed to be seven, but a blizzard stranded us for an extra forty-eight hours). During that time we covered roughly half the country, from snowy lava fields in the west to black sand beaches—also with their share of snow—in the south. We carried more than a few pieces of tech with us, which gave us ample time to see what worked well and where we could use some improvement over the status quo.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-15 19:45
MarsEdit developer and good friend Daniel Jalkut on his experiences with HomePod:
Any attempt to “Hey Siri” another device is met by a loud interruption by Siri either of the music, or of the silence of the room. It’s bad enough that it assumes all requests are being made to it, but it’s even worse that it insists on chiming in even when it isn’t capable of serving the request. Just to remind everybody that it’s not configured for personal requests.
Funny enough, just a few moments before I read Daniel’s post I had my first experience of the iPhone fielding a “Hey Siri” request instead of the HomePod, even though both were only a foot or so away from me on my desk.
But Daniel’s experiences overall mesh with some of my first observations. In particular the “Siri is Siri” point: I like Apple’s virtual assistant well enough, but some of the holes in its functionality are baffling. Daniel calls out not being able to set separate timers, which is definitely annoying—to that I’ll add that Siri on the HomePod can’t tell me anything about my calendar, which is kind of puzzling.
Seeing what decisions Apple makes about the future of the HomePod seems like it might be the most interesting part of the device’s story. In particular, I’m hoping this drives significant attention to Siri—the company can get by without making too many changes to it when it’s just an ancillary interface, as it is on all of Apple’s other devices, but when it’s as central as it with the HomePod, well, that’s a different story.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-15 16:55, modified at 16:56
The HomePod doesn’t behave like most other Apple devices. Unlike the Apple Watch, there’s no dedicated app. It supports AirPlay, so it shows up in the list of audio sources—but it’s also remote-controllable like an Apple TV. And to configure it, you don’t visit the Settings app, but the Home app. Here’s a quick guide to where and how you can control the HomePod from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-15 16:54, modified at 20:37
When traveling, I generally pack a headphone adapter—this five-port Belkin model, even though it’s kind of overkill—so that my girlfriend and I can watch videos together on the plane.1 It’s a perfectly fine solution, and generally one without problems, given how low-tech it is.
But on our most recent flight back from vacation, we were in the midst of our ascent and were about to watch a video when my girlfriend realized that she’d pulled out her Lightning earbuds instead of the standard minijack pair. Not a problem once we could get up and get to her bag in the overhead, but a minor inconvenience in the meantime.
Given the opportunity, however, I decided to do a little experimentation. After all, I had my Bose QC-35s, which work over either Bluetooth or via a standard minijack. It occurred to me that we could plug in her Lightning headphones and connect the QC-35s to the iPad at the same time.
Unfortunately, this is where we ran up against an iOS limitation. Currently, there’s no way for it to pipe audio to multiple outputs, even if we’re talking about two headphones that are physically connected to separate ports.
Now, this probably isn’t an issue that people run into on a daily basis. Even on the Mac, you still need to resort to a tool like Audio MIDI Setup in order to push the same audio to multiple outputs.
However, I’d also imagine I’m not the only person who’s frustrated by having to carry around an extra dongle, so it’d be awfully nice if there were an option to let you connect multiple audio outputs and play the same audio to all of them.
What makes this interesting is that the upcoming AirPlay 2 will allow iOS devices to output audio to multiple AirPlay devices at the same time. The screenshots floating around of the iOS 11.3 beta, which includes this, feature show the ability to send audio to, for example, several Apple TVs. This has also been one promised feature for the HomePod, even though it didn’t coincide with the device’s arrival.
So, as long as we’re sending audio to multiple outputs, why not the ability to, say, connect two pairs of Bluetooth headphones to a single iOS device? The Mac can accomplish this via the Audio MIDI Setup app, so it seems like it ought to be feasible to do the same thing on an iOS device. Or, for that matter, to a set of Lightning earbuds and minijack headphones. Or a set of minijack headphones and Bluetooth headphones.
As of iOS 11.3, the interface for sending audio to multiple AirPlay speakers will already be there, so it’s more a matter of supporting Bluetooth or physical audio connections. Then again, Apple may simply have no interest in spending the time and resources to support those options and instead push users towards AirPlay-compatible devices.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that we’ve hoped for bolstered audio capabilities in iOS, though we’ve previously focused on letting more than one app use an audio input to facilitate podcast recording. So here’s hoping that a future version of iOS features more robust audio support across the board.
Thanks to the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, when we’re in a hotel or Airbnb, I’ve mainly just resorted to using the built-in speakers, which are plenty good enough. ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-14 18:55
This week, on the 30-minute tech podcast that’s chock full of romance, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Casey Liss and Aleen Simms to discuss our most essential travel tech, our most romantic uses of technology, our biggest tech disappointments, and our thoughts on the first few days with HomePod.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-14 00:19, modified at 00:23
Back in 2015 I first started talking about emoji fragmentation, the concept that since there’s no single canonical source for emoji images, it’s possible for the same character to be interpreted entirely differently across platforms.1
In any event, let’s also consider that perhaps there is an opposing force—an understanding among the many platform owners who determine what emoji symbols their users see—that it’s not in anyone’s best interest to have symbols that are dramatically different than what people on other platforms or seeing.
As detailed by Burge at Emojipedia, Samsung this week upgraded its Pistol emoji to match Apple—namely, Apple’s semi-controversial decision to turn the depiction of a handgun into a green plastic water pistol.
This isn’t the first example. In 2016, Apple redesigned Beaming Face With Smiling Eyes to have a smile rather than a grimace on its mouth. The poo emoji has evolved similarly, with Apple’s smiling anthropomorphized soft-serve pile driving the alignment.
Or consider Woman Dancing, once a fragmented space offering a lady high-stepping in a red dress (Apple), Disco Stu and/or a seductive blob-man (Google), a funky fresh bathroom symbol (Microsoft), or a kid pretending to dance (Samsung). Over the past five years all the other players have followed Apple’s lead, so that all four platforms now feature a lady in a red dress, showing some leg, with one arm up and one arm down.
This is good news. While each platform owner has to commission its own emoji art and wants each image to be stylistically consistent, it’s better for users if there aren’t wide disparities in the content of the image being depicted by any given emoji. So perhaps, in the end, emoji fragmentation can simply be solved by time, as different emoji sets converge together.
Jeremy Burge of Emojipedia thinks I may have coined the term, which is possible, but if so it’s only because I had been reading so much of his great coverage of the evolution of emoji as a form of communication. ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-13 23:58, modified on 2018-02-14 00:04
A few weeks back on Upgrade, talking about the low scores for software quality in the 2017 Apple Report Card, I mentioned that while those of us on the outside could judge the outcome of Apple’s internal processes, it was harder for any of us to prescribe solutions, because there are very few people who have managed the development of software platforms used by millions of consumers. Maybe Scott Forstall (Apple) or Steven Sinofsky (Microsoft), some others, but it’s not a long list.
Well, after Mark Gurman’s Bloomberg report about changes to Apple’s software process, who spoke up about the topic but former Microsoft Windows head Steven Sinofsky! (It’s a long tweetstorm, but in Medium form it’s a short article.)
Here’s his summation/final tweet:
So to me on Apple, even as an outsider, I feel confident saying that this isn’t reactionary/crisis or a response to externalities. Importantly it isn’t a massive pivot/”student body left”. It’s a methodical and predictable evolution of an extremely robust and proven system.
The entire thing is worth a read. You can agree or disagree, but there’s no denying that Sinofsky has a unique perspective—he’s been in that seat, he’s had to deal with these kinds of processes, and he knows exactly what the big issues are.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-13 16:37, modified at 16:38
This week on Upgrade: After a weekend with the HomePod, it’s time for Myke and Jason to discuss what they like and dislike about Apple’s new connected speaker. Is it so loud that Myke is angering his neighbors? Will Jason replace his Amazon Echo? How does the HomePod match up with other products in the category? Plus, Apple introduces its new battery interface and one of the company’s first big TV shows loses its creative team.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-08 21:50, modified at 23:43
In what one writer called “the biggest leak in history,” someone posted the source code for the part of iOS that is responsible for booting the system on GitHub, Motherboard reported Wednesday:
Having access to the source code of iBoot gives iOS security researchers a better chance to find vulnerabilities that could lead to compromising or jailbreaking the device….. That means hackers could have an easier time finding flaws and bugs that could allow them to crack or decrypt an iPhone. And, perhaps, this leak could eventually allow advanced programmers to emulate iOS on non Apple platforms.
On Thursday Apple responded with a statement confirming the news. (GitHub has removed the code after a takedown request by Apple.) Here’s Apple’s statement:
Old source code from three years ago appears to have been leaked, but by design the security of our products doesn’t depend on the secrecy of our source code. There are many layers of hardware and software protections built in to our products, and we always encourage customers to update to the newest software releases to benefit from the latest protections.
Security researcher Will Strafach told TechCrunch that while it gives hackers some hints about how iOS boots that might become useful vectors of attack, it probably doesn’t mean much to iPhone owners:
“In terms of end users, this doesn’t really mean anything positive or negative,” Strafach said in an email. “Apple does not use security through obscurity, so this does not contain anything risky, just an easier to read format for the boot loader code. It’s all cryptographically signed on end user devices, there is no way to really use any of the contents here maliciously or otherwise.”
Not great, Bob, but it sounds like this is more likely information that would be used to build a jailbreak than something that could fuel a zero-day attack on modern iPhones.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-08 18:48, modified at 18:49
The HomePod is coming Friday, and with it, even more attention is being paid to Siri, Apple’s voice assistant that serves as its primary interface. The early HomePod reviews are in, and most of them suggest the device is an excellent speaker that’s hampered by Siri’s limitations.
I haven’t used a HomePod yet, so I can’t speak to that, but as someone with a constellation of Apple devices, it does seem to me that Siri could stand to use some improvement. (Couldn’t we all?) So let’s leave the details of the HomePod aside for the moment and think bigger. Where does Siri need to go from here?
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-07 19:31, modified at 19:36
It’s official: The new emoji list for 2018 is out. Jeremy Burge (the emoji subcommittee of the Unicode Consortium) writes at Emojipedia:
Emoji 11.0 today reached its final form and includes emojis for redheads, curly hair, superheroes, softball, infinity, kangaroo and more. Emoji 11.0 marks the first time new components are available for hair color. Options are provided for red hair, curly hair, white hair, and baldness and these are available for use in sequences for men and women of any skin tone. Other notable inclusions include emojis for popular activities such as sewing, knitting, lacrosse, and skateboarding.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-06 16:44, modified at 16:52
Messaging service Slack—once a leader in embracing emoji as a means of expression thanks to custom emoji, emoji reactions, and an easy emoji input method—has fallen behind recently. New emoji have been continually added to the lexicon, but for the last couple of years, Slack has not responded.
Well, right now Slack is finally rolling out a major update to its emoji support that finally supports new emoji introduced in the last couple of years. But there’s a big catch. My friend Erika Ensign spotted this last week, when all of a sudden the emoji images she was used to (which are based on Apple’s emoji set) disappeared from her Windows PC running Chrome, replaced by the emoji images that are standard on Android.
When I suggested to Erika that perhaps her settings had changed, and she could go into Slack’s settings to see which emoji set was selected, I expected her to see Slack’s (unusual) option to choose from among several different emoji sets:
Turns out, on her copy of Slack this option was gone. And now that’s been confirmed today by the best source, Jeremy Burge at Emojipedia. If you’re using Slack with a non-Apple platform, you’re going to see Google’s emoji designs.
You can’t copyright letters, and emoji sometimes seem like the modern equivalent, but each emoji image is itself a copyrightable piece of artwork. The Unicode Consortium, which defines the emoji specification, does not provide artwork to anyone. As a result, every platform owner is left to commission its own artwork, and they do, generally.
Apple’s emoji designs have carried a lot of weight, with the success of the iPhone leading many people viewing Apple’s designs as definitive. Some apps, like Whatsapp and Slack, actually used Apple’s emoji set on other platforms. Last fall Whatsapp unveiled its own emoji set, and with Slack removing Apple’s images from non-Apple platforms, you get the sense that someone at Apple has nudged developers who were re-using Apple’s copyrighted artwork on other platforms and suggested that they stop.
As Burge points out at Emojipedia:
While Apple’s emoji font is entirely owned and copyrighted by Apple, Google’s emoji font (named Noto Color Emoji) is provided with an open source license which allows other projects to use this within the terms set out in the SIL Open Font License. Given this, it’s possible that Slack believes it is on firmer ground to be using Noto Color Emoji rather than embedding Apple emoji images on competing platforms.
The result is emoji fragmentation, where different users of Slack will see different versions of the same general concept. Also, users like my friend Erika might prefer one set of emoji designs to another, but they no longer have a choice in the matter.
That’s the bad news. The good news, at least, is that Slack is rolling out support for new emojis, including gender splits and skin tones, that it previously didn’t.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-05 21:55, modified at 21:57
So something interesting happened during the Super Bowl. An ad spot ran that was for a forthcoming film, not surprising—several had already run by this point. But this one promised answers to some of the questions that drove 2008’s “Cloverfield” (a movie that I really enjoyed). A surprise Cloverfield sequel, called “The Cloverfield Paradox”? Sounds cool. I wonder when it’s coming out.
Then came the Netflix logo. And the words “Coming Very Soon.” Wait, what? Netflix? And what does “very soon” mean? They couldn’t mean…
Sure enough, “The Cloverfield Paradox”, originally slated to be released into theaters in April, was instead promoted and premiered on Super Bowl Sunday as a Netflix exclusive release. What a massive and exhilarating surprise.
The movie itself? Well, about that. Josh Spiegel at the Hollywood Reporter:
“The Cloverfield Paradox” was originally called “God Particle”; most importantly, up until only a few weeks ago, it was going to be released theatrically by Paramount Pictures, just as Cloverfield and 10 Cloverfield Lane were. For various reasons, including rumored troubles with the film, God Particle kept getting pushed back.
In some respects, the experiment has worked remarkably well. Super Bowl advertising is ideal even for theatrically released films with release dates months in the future. What Netflix did Sunday night was to potentially take away from NBC’s broadcast of its buzzy drama “This Is Us”, which enjoyed a cushy post-game slot.
The film is getting dismal reviews, with some industry observers noting Paramount may have been wise to unload it rather than face embarrassing box office prospects. Last month, sources told THR Paramount chairman Jim Gianopulos was spearheading a culling of the studio slate he inherited when he took over last spring.
So: The movie itself may not be great. (I haven’t seen it yet; I watched “Star Trek: Discovery” and another episode of “Altered Carbon” last night instead.) And the deal seems to have emerged from serious changes in management at Paramount. That said, Netflix got to make headlines for the cost of a distribution deal and a couple of Super Bowl ads, Paramount got to unload a film it didn’t want to distribute, and “The Cloverfield Paradox” probably got more viewers than it would’ve ever gotten during a theatrical release.
In this era of streaming entertainment, not only can all the rules be broken, you get the feeling that all of them will be.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-05 21:03
This week on Upgrade: Apple reaches a record high in revenue and profit, but what’s up with the iPhone and Mac sales figures? This week we break down Apple’s huge holiday quarter, including the calendar quirk that has cut Apple both ways.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-05 00:39, modified at 00:41
My thanks to DuckDuckGo for sponsoring Six Colors.
Over the years, DuckDuckGo has offered millions of people a private alternative to Google, serving over 16 billion anonymous searches. Now they’ve launched fully revamped versions of their browser extension and mobile app, with built-in tracker network blocking, smarter encryption, and, of course, private search - all designed to operate seamlessly together while you search and browse the web.
The DuckDuckGo app and extension are available across all major platforms - iOS, Safari, Chrome Firefox, and Android - so that you can easily get all the privacy essentials you need on any device with just one download.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-02 16:58, modified at 16:59
Three months ago, Apple boldly asserted that the holiday quarter of 2017, its first financial quarter of this fiscal year, would be the company’s biggest in history. They weren’t wrong. In fact, Apple’s holiday quarter generated $88.3 billion in revenue, blowing past even the high side of Apple’s estimates.
By just about any way you measure it, this was a great quarter for Apple. But of course, the devil’s in the details, whether it’s line items in the corporate reports or in tidbits revealed during the company’s regular phone call with analysts. So here’s a look at four tidbits we learned about Apple’s big quarter.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-02 16:29
Apple may have embraced the pro market on the Mac hardware side with the recent release of the iMac Pro and forthcoming Mac Pro, but the software side, well, that’s a slightly different story.
A quiet post on Apple’s support site last month revealed that the company is significantly dialing back the capabilities of its macOS Server package, the $20 add-on software that turns your Mac into a full-featured piece of server hardware. Gone are features like web and mail hosting, VPNs, and more. Instead, Apple says it is re-focusing macOS Server on “management of computers, devices, and storage on your network.” Or, in other words, on managing all your other Apple devices.
Still, that’s a shame for a number of reasons, not least of which that macOS has long been a powerful (if somewhat under-the-radar) network server option. As someone who’s dabbled in running servers in the past, I’ll be sad to see macOS Server go—but I’m not exactly surprised.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-01 23:33, modified at 23:38
Every quarter Apple executives hop on an hourlong call with financial analysts and provide “a little more color” about its quarterly financial results. This quarter was no different. Here’s a complete transcript of the call, right down to the latest attempt by an analyst to get Tim Cook to reveal future iPhone product decisions seven months early. (Spoiler alert: It didn’t work.)
Before we dive into the quarter, I’d like to take a moment to talk about a significant milestone we’ve recently crossed. Apple’s active installed base reached 1.3 billion devices in January, and is at an all-time high for all of our major products. One point three billion devices represents an astonishing 30 percent growth in just two years. It speaks to the strength and reliability of our products and our ecosystem, as well as the loyalty, satisfaction and engagement of our customers. It’s also fueling tremendous growth in our services business, which I’ll talk about a little later in the call.
Turning to the December quarter, we’re thrilled to report Apple’s biggest quarter ever which set new all-time records in both revenue and earnings. We generated revenue of 88.3 billion dollars, which is above the high end of our guidance range, and it is up almost 10 billion dollars or 13 percent over the previous all-time record we set a year ago. It’s also our fifth consecutive quarter of accelerating revenue growth, with double-digit growth in each of our geographic segments around the world.
What makes this even more remarkable is that the quarter we’re reporting today was 13 weeks long, while the year-ago quarter was 14 weeks. When we look at the average revenue per week in the December quarter this year compared to last year, our growth was a stunning 21 percent. Our growth was broad based, and a key driver was iPhone which generated its highest revenue ever.
iPhone X was the best selling smartphone in the world in the December quarter, according to Canalys, and it has been our top-selling phone every week since it launched. iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus rounded out the top three iPhones in the quarter. In fact, revenue for our newly launched iPhones was the highest that any lineup in our history, driving total Apple revenue above our guidance range. I want to take a moment to recognize the tremendous amount of work that went into creating iPhone X. Our teams carried out an extremely complex launch from both an engineering and operations perspective executing an outstanding product ramp that required years of research and development. One that introduced innovative features, like an edge-to-edge Super Retina display and the True Depth camera which enables Face ID. Our customers love these new features, and the new gestures, like simply swiping up from the bottom, which make using iPhone even more intuitive and enjoyable.
Our team has put the technology of tomorrow in our customers hands today, set a standard for the next decade of smart phones, and we are very proud of their achievements.
It was another very strong quarter for services, with revenue of 8.5 billion dollars up 18 percent over last year, and we’re on pace to achieve our goal of doubling our 2016 services revenue by 2020. The number of paid subscriptions across our services offerings passed 240 million by the end of the December quarter. That’s an increase of 30 million in the last 90 days alone, which is the largest quarterly growth ever.
We had an all-time record quarter for the App Store, with our best holiday season ever. We’re seeing great excitement around Augmented Reality, with customers now enjoying over 2000 ARKit-enabled apps spanning every category in the App Store. In December when Pokemon Go released its new augmented reality features built with ARKit, it jumped to the top of the App Store charts. Last week on a stop in Toronto, I met developers who are hard at work on creative applications using ARKit, from art appreciation to e-commerce, and I was very impressed with what I saw. Just four months after our kit launched to the public. We’ve already released ARKit 1.5 in beta to developers around the world and the response has been tremendous. Augmented reality is going to revolutionize many of the experiences we have with mobile devices, and with ARKit we’re giving developers the most advanced tools on the market to create apps for the most advanced operating system running on the most advanced hardware. This is something only Apple can do.
In addition to the App Store, several other services had their biggest quarter ever, including Apple Music, iCloud, and Apple Pay, all of which saw growth in both active users and revenue. Apple Pay has reached an important milestone in the U.S. As a result of 50 percent year over year growth in merchant adoption, it’s now accepted at more than half of all American retail locations, which includes more than two-thirds of the country’s top 100 retailers. Now available in 20 markets, global Apple Pay purchase volume more than tripled year over year, and we’re delighted to be expanding to Brazil in the coming months. Today you can use Apple Pay to take the subway in Guangzhou China, see a concert at London’s Wembley Stadium, or buy a souvenir in Yosemite National Park.
In the U.S we launched Apple Pay Cash in December and it’s off to a terrific start. Millions of people are already using it to send and receive money with friends and family quickly, easily, and securely, to split a bill, pay someone back, or send a last minute-gift right from the messages.
It was our best quarter ever for the Apple Watch. With over 50 percent growth in revenue and units for the fourth quarter in a row, and strong double-digit growth in every geographic segment. Sales of Apple Watch Series 3 models were also more than twice the volume of Series 2 a year ago. Apple Watch is the most popular smartwatch in the world, and gained market share during the quarter, based on the latest estimates from IDC.
It was the third consecutive quarter of growth for iPad revenue, thanks to the strength of both iPad and iPad Pro. Based on the latest data from IDC we gained share in nearly every market we track, with strong outperformance in emerging markets. Worldwide, almost half of our iPad sales were to first-time tablet buyers or those switching to Apple. And that’s true in some of our most developed markets, including Japan and France. In China, new and switching users made up over 70 percent of all iPad sales.
For Mac, we launched the all new iMac Pro in mid December. It’s an entirely new product line designed for our Pro users who love the all-in-one design of iMac and require workstation-class performance. It’s the fastest, most powerful Mac ever, delivering incredible computational power for simulation and real-time 3D rendering, immersive VR, and complex photography, audio, and video projects. Worldwide 60 percent of our Mac sales were to first-time buyers and switchers, and in China that number was almost 90 percent.
We’re looking forward to getting HomePod in customers hands beginning next week. HomePod is an innovative wireless speaker which delivers stunning audio quality wherever it’s placed in a home, thanks to the advanced Apple-engineered hardware and software. Together with Apple Music, HomePod gives you instant access to one of the world’s largest music catalogs. And with the intelligence of Siri it’s a powerful assistant you control through natural voice interaction. We’re very happy with the initial response from reviewers who’ve experienced HomePod ahead of its launch, and we think our customers are going to love this new product.
We believe one of the key issues of the 21st century is education. And because of that, we’ve strengthened our commitment and investment into initiatives like Everyone Can Code. To find the innovators of the future, we need to nurture the students of today. Our App Development With Swift curriculum, which is available free on iBooks, has been downloaded more than 1.2 million times worldwide, with almost half of those coming from here in the United States. It’s also being taught in dozens of community colleges across the country, putting practical skills in the hands of today’s job seekers.
I was in London two weeks ago as we announced that the program was expanding to more than 70 colleges and universities in Europe. Millions of students around the world will have the opportunity to add Swift to their coding vocabulary and gain skills that are essential for today’s economy.
This is an exciting time at Apple, and with the best lineup of products and services we’ve ever had, and a set of initiatives that show how business can be a force for good in the world. We could not be more excited about our future.
Now, for more details on the December quarter results I’d like to turn over the call to Luca.
Thank you Tim. Good afternoon everyone. Our business and financial performance in the December quarter were exceptional, as we set new all time records for revenue, operating income, net income, and earnings per share. Starting with revenue, we’re recording an all-time record 88.3 billion up nearly 10 billion, or 13 percent, over the prior record set last year. It is our fifth consecutive quarter of accelerating revenue growth. As you know, the December quarter a year ago spanned 14 weeks, compared to 13 weeks this year, which is important to consider as we assess the underlying performance of our business this year.
When we look at average revenue per week, our growth rate was even higher, 21 percent, with growth across all product categories for the third consecutive quarter. Our results were terrific all around the world with double digit revenue growth in all our geographic segments, and all-time quarterly records in the vast majority of markets we track, including the U.S., Western Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia, and Korea, as well as mainland China, Latin America, the Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe, and India. In Greater China, we were very happy to generate double digit revenue growth for the second quarter in a row, and in emerging markets outside of Greater China we saw 25 percent year-over-year growth.
Gross margin was 38.4 percent, at the high end of our guidance range. Operating margin was 29.8 percent of revenue. Our net income was 20.1 billion, an all time record, and up 2.2 billion over last year diluted earnings per share were $3.89, also an all time record, and cash flow from operations was very strong at 28.3 billion.
During the quarter we sold 77.3 million iPhones, the highest number ever for a 13-week quarter. Average weekly iPhone sales were up six percent compared to the December quarter last year, with growth in every region of the world, despite the staggered launch of iPhone X.
We established all time iPhone revenue records in nearly every market we track, with double digit growth in all of our geographic segments. iPhone ASP increased to $796 from $695 a year ago, driven primarily by the launch of iPhone X and the success of iPhone 8 and 8 Plus.
We exited the December quarter towards the lower end of our target range of five to seven weeks of iPhone channel inventory, with less than 1 million more iPhones in the channel compared to the December quarter a year ago, in line with our growth in average weekly unit sales. Customer interest and satisfaction with iPhone are very, very strong for both consumers and business users. The latest data from 451 Research indicates U.S. customer satisfaction ratings of 96 percent or higher across iPhone models. In fact, combining iPhone 8 iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X, consumers reported an amazing 99 percent satisfaction rating. And among business customers planning to purchase smartphones in the next quarter, 77 percent plan to purchase iPhone. Our customers are also incredibly loyal, with Kantar’s latest U.S. research reflecting a 96 percent iPhone loyalty rate, the highest ever measured.
Turning to services, we had a terrific quarter with revenue of 8.5 billion, up 18 percent year over year and up 27 percent in terms of average revenue per week. That is an acceleration to the 24 percent services growth run rate that we experienced in the September quarter.
The App Store set a new all-time revenue record. The Store’s all new design is off to a fantastic start with quarterly store visitors transacting accounts and paying accounts reaching new all time highs. During the week beginning December 24, a record number of customers made purchases or downloaded apps from the App Store, spending over $890 million in that seven-day period, followed by $300 million in purchases on New Year’s Day alone. And according to App Annie’s latest report, the App Store continues to be the preferred destination for customer purchases by a very wide margin, generating nearly twice the revenue of Google Play.
Across all our services offerings, paid subscriptions reached 240 million, with growth of 58 percent over last year, and they were a major contributor to the overall strong growth in services revenue.
As Tim mentioned, it was our best quarter ever for Apple Watch. And when we add the results from Beats and AirPods, our total revenue from wearables was up almost 70 percent year over year. In fact, wearables were the second-largest contributor to revenue growth after iPhone, which is impressive for a business that started only 3 years ago. In total, our Other Products category said a new all-time record, with quarterly revenue exceeding $5 billion for the first time.
Next, I’d like to talk about the Mac. We sold 5.1 million Macs during the December quarter, which translates to a 2 percent year over year increase in average sales per week. Mac performance was particularly strong in emerging markets, with unit sales up 13 percent year over year, and with all time records in Latin America, in India, Turkey, and Central and Eastern Europe. On a worldwide basis, the active installed base of Macs was up double digits year over year to a new record.
It was also another growth quarter for iPad. We sold 13.2 million units, with average iPad sales per week up 8 percent over last year’s December quarter. iPad stays grew strong double digits in many emerging markets, including Latin America, the Middle East, Central and Eastern Europe, and India, as well as developed markets including Japan, Australia, and Korea. The active installed base of iPad has grown every quarter since its launch in 2010 and it reached a new all-time high in December thanks to extremely high customer loyalty and large numbers of first-time iPad users.
NPD indicates that iPad had 46 percent share of the US tablet market in the December quarter, up from 36 percent share a year ago. And the most recent surveys from 451 Research found that, among customers planning to purchase tablets within 90 days, 72 percent of consumers and 68 percent of business users plan to purchase iPads. Customer satisfaction is also very high, with businesses reporting a 99 percent satisfaction rating for iPad.
We’re seeing great traction in enterprise, as businesses across industries and around the world standardize on iOS. For example, Intesa Sanpaolo, one of Europe’s leading banks, has chosen iOS as the mobile standard for its entire 70,000 employee base in Italy. Choosing iOS for its security, user interface, accessibility, and reliability, Intesa Sanpaolo will deploy native apps to improve employee productivity in customer support, human resources, and marketing across the company. And LensCrafters, one of the largest optical retail brands in North America, will be using over 7000 iPad pros to enable digital eye exams and digital optical measurements in a personalized and interactive experience.
We’re also rolling out a new initiative called Apple At Work to help businesses implement employee choice programs more easily and offer Apple products companywide. Resources from both Apple and our channel partners will enable enterprise I.T. and procurement teams to buy or lease Apple products more efficiently, streamline the setup of iPhone, iPod, and Mac, and deliver a seamless onboarding experience for employees. We launched the program with CDW in the U.S. last week, and we will be expanding to more channels and regions later this year.
The December quarter was extremely busy for our retail and online stores, which welcomed 538 million visitors. Traffic was particularly strong during the four weeks following the launch of iPhone X, up 46 percent over last year. And across the quarter our stores conducted over 200,000 Today at Apple sessions, covering topics including photography, music, gaming and app development, and art and design. Just last weekend, we opened our first store in Seoul, Korea, and we’re looking forward to opening our first store in Austria in a few weeks. These newest openings will mark the expansion of our retail store presence to 21 countries.
Let me now turn to our cash position. We ended the quarter with $285.1 billion in cash plus marketable securities, a sequential increase of sixteen point two billion. $269 billion of this cash, or 94 percent of the total, was outside the United States. We showed seven billion in debt during the quarter, bringing us to $110 billion in term debt and $12 billion in commercial paper outstanding, for a total net cash position of $163 billion at the end of the quarter. We also returned $14.5 billion to investors during the quarter, we paid $3.3 billion in dividends and equivalents and spent $5.1 billion on repurchases of 30.2 million Apple shares through open market transactions.
We launched a new five billion dollar ASR program, resulting in initial delivery and retirement of 23.6 million shares, and will retire 3.8 million shares upon the completion of our 12th ASR during the quarter. We’ve now completed over $248 billion of our $300 billion capital return program including $176 billion in share repurchases against our announced $210 billion buyback program, with $34 billion remaining under our current authorization.
Turning to taxes. Due to the recently enacted legislation in the U.S., we estimate making a corporate income tax payment of approximately 38 billion dollars to the U.S. government on our cumulative past foreign earnings. This amount is very similar to what we have been accruing on those earnings in our financial results through fiscal year 2017. Including the $38 billion payment, we will have paid over $110 billion dollars of corporate income tax on our total domestic and foreign earnings during the last 10 years, for a cash tax rate of about 26 percent. Our tax rate of 25.8 percent for the December quarter was close to our guidance of 25.5 percent, as the lower U.S. statutory rate from the new legislation was effectively offset by the re-measurement of deferred tax balances.
As we move ahead into the March 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 60 and 62 billion. We expect gross margin to be between 38 percent and 38.5 percent. We expect OpEx to be between 7.6 billion and 7.7 billion. We expect OINE to be about 300 million, and we expect the tax rate to be about 15 percent.
Tax reform will allow us to pursue a more optimal capital structure for our company. Our account net cash position is one hundred and sixty three billion, and given the increased financial and operational flexibility from the access to our foreign cash, we are targeting to become approximately net cash neutral over time. We will provide an update to our specific capital allocation plans when we report results for our second fiscal quarter, consistent with the timing of updates that we have provided in the past.
Finally, today our Board of Directors has declared a cash dividend of 63 cents per share of common stock, payable on February 15, 2018 to shareholders of record as of February 12, 2018.
With that I’d like to open the call to questions.
Shannon Cross: Luca, I wanted to talk a little bit more about your comments on capital structure. I realize you don’t want to give us any specifics about what you’re actually going to return and the timing, but just maybe you can talk about how much cash you, I guess, you think you need to have to run the business, and then in terms of ongoing cash flow, since the overseas cash will no longer be encumbered, does that change your thought process in general?
Maestri: Of course, you know, we’ve been talking about the importance of tax reform over the years because we believe it’s really beneficial to the U.S. economy. What it means to us as a company, of course, is that we have additional flexibility right now from the access to the foreign cash. And in the past we’ve been addressing this issue by having to raise debt, as the cash was overseas, the majority of the cash was overseas. And so we are now in a position where we have $285 billion dollars of cash, we got $122 dollars of debt, for a net cash of $163 billion. And we have now the flexibility to deploy this capital. We will do that over time, because the amount is very large. As I said earlier, we will be discussing capital allocation plans when we review our March quarter results, and when you look at our track record of what we’ve done over the last several years, you’ve seen that effectively we were returning to our investors essentially about one hundred percent of our free cash flow. And so that is that is the approach that we’re going to be taking. We’re going to be very thoughtful and deliberate about it. Obviously we want to make the right decisions in the best interest of our long-term shareholders.
Shannon Cross: Tim, could you talk a little bit more about what you’re hearing from customers in terms of the iPhone demand, you know, how you’re thinking about the potential “decay rate” for lack of a better term, with the high end phones, over a thousand dollar phones, versus balancing that with now your ability to ship phones down below $400 because you’ve expanded the product line so much when you launched your phones in 2017.
Cook: The revenue growth from iPhone across all the geographic segments was in the double digits. And I think as Luca said earlier, when you change that to an average weekly sales basis it’s actually 22 percent. So it was a stellar quarter for iPhone. The iPhone X was the most popular and that’s particularly noteworthy given that we didn’t start shipping until early November and were constrained for a while. The team did a great job of getting into supply-demand balance there in December. But since the launch of iPhone X it has been the most popular iPhone every week since, and that is even through today actually, through January. And so we feel fantastic about the results. The most important thing for us isn’t really the numbers, though, it’s the customer satisfaction. And customer satisfaction is literally off the charts on iPhone X. If you think about the advances in technology that were a part of the iPhone X, we went from Touch ID to Face ID. Face ID has been incredibly well received. The wireless charging, the edge to edge Super Retina display, and totally new gestures, the user experience is different. And so it’s great to get that kind of feedback.
Now if you look at sort of the overall iPhone line, which gets to the essence of the question I think, I reviewed the top many markets, I’ll talk briefly about the top four. In urban China and the U.S., the top five smartphones last quarter were all iPhones. And in Japan and the U.K., six of the top seven were iPhones. And so in a market that is as large as the smartphone market is, people want some level of choice, and they’re deciding which which ones to buy, but we feel fantastic, particularly as it pertains to iPhone X.
Katie Huberty: Growing double digits off such a large revenue base is impressive in itself, but if I look at March quarter guidance it does assume a slower average weekly growth in total revenue, as well as I think on my math, iPhone shipments, when you compare it to the December quarter. So just how should we read into a modest slowdown in average weekly growth as it relates to the last question around the decay of demand around the higher-priced products, or any impact that you might be seeing from the lower-priced battery replacements or anything else in the market?
Maestri: We are we are going to 60 to 62 billion. It’s strong double digit growth, 13 to 17 percent. In context it’s 7 to 9 billion dollars above last year. So when you put things in perspective and you add the 10 billion dollars of growth that we had in the first quarter, and the 7 to 9 billion that we’re guiding to for the second quarter, you’re talking about 17 to 19 billion dollars of growth in six months. This is at the macro level.
We typically don’t go into this level of detail, but I think it’s important this quarter to give you additional color. And maybe the two most important messages are that we believe iPhone revenue will grow double digits as compared to last year during the March quarter, and also and importantly, that iPhone sell through growth on a year over year basis will be actually accelerating during the March quarter as compared to the December quarter.
Let me explain the factors that we took into consideration as we came up with our iPhone units and ASP that are embedded in our guidance. Historically, because of the channel fill and the holiday season, our selling volume during the December quarter is generally higher than sell through. This year, the difference was further magnified because we shipped iPhone X in November rather than the September quarter. We had a very successful product ramp. We were able to reach supply-demand balance in December, which placed the entirety of our channel fill for iPhone X in Q1, and this will have an effect on both units and ASP in Q2.
Now for units there is a second point to consider. We typically reduce channel inventory for our newest iPhone’s in Q2 because they enjoy very large demand in the initial weeks of sales, which are compounded by the holiday season in Q1. So we anticipate doing that in Q2 this year as well. For ASPs there’s also another element that we need to consider. As you know, our newest products this year have higher ASPs than they had in the past. And so as a result, as we reduce inventories of these newest products, the overall ASPs for iPhone in Q2 will naturally decline sequentially by a higher percentage than we have experienced historically. So in summary, our guidance for iPhone, we’ve got double digit year over year growth and acceleration of sell-through growth on a year over year basis.
For the balance of the company, in the aggregate, we expect to grow strong double digits year over year. And particularly very strong performance in services and in wearables like like we’ve seen during the December quarter. I hope this helps.
Katie Huberty: I just have a follow up on gross margin. Guidance for flat gross margin in marches it’s pretty seasonal, but you do have the tailwind from currency. And so I think just comment on how you think that flows into the model of the next couple of quarters, the weaker dollar, and and what your outlook might be around component costs in the near future.
Maestri: Yeah let me walk you through you know the sequential first. So we’re guiding about flat sequentially, in spite of the loss of leverage, right? That that is the largest element that we need to take into account because of our typical seasonality. And we expect to offset the seasonality impact with cost improvements and with mix. FX on a sequential basis is fairly muted, because as you know we’ve got a hedging program that protects us from the volatility of currencies in the short term. Certainly, weaker dollar in the long term, if it holds, will be a positive but it’s not something that you’re going to be seeing translate into gross margin tailwind quickly. So I think we need to keep that in mind. We also need to keep in mind that we continue to experience a difficult memory pricing environment, which we think is going to start improving as we move into the second half of this year. But it still has a negative impact in the March quarter.
Mike Olson: I know you don’t talk about future products, which is often the preface to questions about future products, and I’ll give it a shot. When you think conceptually about the path for iPhone X-style devices going forward, is there any reason the roadmap wouldn’t consist of multiple devices, as we’ve seen with past iPhone upgrades? In other words, the X was unique amongst recent iPhone launches because it’s a singular device, potentially limiting the shots on goal for upgrades given limited options. How do you think about that going forward.
Cook: Mike, you did a good job of answering your question, I think, at the beginning, we don’t really comment on future products. But I would tell you that we are thrilled with the reception to iPhone X. And as we said when we launched it, we were setting up the next decade, and that is how we how we look at it. And so that’s the reason it’s chock full of incredible innovation. So you can you can bet that we’re pulling that string.
Mike Olson: And then how do you think about AR beyond the iPhone? You’ve created the world’s largest AR platform, you’ve got developers generating a wide variety of apps. I realize it’s still early days, but do you see Apple as a provider of a larger ecosystem of AR-enabled devices beyond the iPhone and iPad in the coming years, or should investors focus on the opportunity within your existing device portfolio for at least the foreseeable future?
Cook: I see our as being profound. AR has the ability to amplify human performance instead of isolating humans. And so I am a huge believer in AR. We put a lot of energy on AR. We’re moving very fast. We’ve gone from ARKit 1.0 to 1.5 in just a matter of months. I couldn’t be happier with the rate and pace of the developer community how fast they developing these things and I don’t want to say you know what what we may do but but I could not be happier with how things are going right now.
Toni Sacconaghi: You commented on how your installed base over the last couple of years has grown 30 percent and iPhone is clearly the largest component of that. And so iPhone install base is probably growing close to that number, perhaps less, call it 20 percent or 25. Yet if we look at iPhone unit growth for fiscal 18, sort of what’s implied with your guidance, fiscal 17 and fiscal 16, it’s been relatively flat. So you have an installed base that’s 20-plus percent higher and a unit growth that’s relatively flat, which would suggest that your upgrade rate is going down, or your replacement cycle is elongating. And I’m wondering whether you agree with that and whether investors should be worried about that. And maybe if I could just add one other wrinkle, to potentially get your response on is, given consumers’ heightened awareness of their ability to replace batteries going forward as opposed to upgrades, isn’t that also something that investors should potentially be concerned about in terms of its impact on upgrade rate going forward?
Cook: I think it’s up to investors as to what things they would like to focus on. So I don’t want to put myself in the position of that.
The way that I look at this, and the numbers you you’ve quoted, I have a different view of them. But generally what we see with iPhone is, the reliability of iPhone is fantastic. The previously-owned market has expanded in units over the years. And you see in many cases carriers and retailers having very vibrant programs around trading an iPhone in, and because iPhone has the largest residual rate on it, it acts as a buffer for the customer to buy a new one, and it winds up with another customer somewhere else that is perfectly fine with with having a previously owned iPhone. And so I view all of that to be incredibly positive. It’s, “more people on iPhones, the better.
I would like to point out that every major product hit a high on the active installed base, and so that’s iPad, it’s Mac, and those are those are huge numbers as well. And so as we’ve always said, the vast majority of the services kind of map to the installed base instead of the quarterly sales. This quarter is no different on that.
On the battery, Toni, we did not consider it in any way, shape, or form what it would do to upgrade rates. We did it because we thought it was the right thing to do for our customers. And sitting here today, I don’t know what effect it will have. And again, it was not in our thought process of deciding to do what we’ve done.
Toni Sacconaghi: And just to follow up maybe maybe I could clarify two little things. One, Luca, on tax rate, you talked about 15 percent for Q2. Is that how we should think about the tax rate on an ongoing basis? And then just back to you on your response, Tim, I guess maybe you could just comment on whether you believe the upgrade rate has decreased over the last couple of years? Because again, just sort of mechanically, the installed base is growing 20 and units are relatively flat over that period. Isn’t that telling me upgrade rate is it going down or am I not thinking about other considerations.
Maestri: On the on the tax rate, I will make two comments. First of all, the new tax law in the United States is complex and I think we, as many other companies, are really trying to absorb what this all means. And I think we’re going to be receiving over the next few months implementation guidance so we’ve taken some provisional estimates in coming up with our tax entries for the quarter. And we will have to do that as we go forward during the year. So it may be a bit bumpy in the short term as we understand the law in full, it actually gets explained in full. But I would say that for the current fiscal year, the guidance that we provided for Q2 should be approximately what you should be seeing. As we get into a new fiscal year, so many things change, and we need to take that into account. You know, the geographic mix of our products and so on. But I would say for the remainder of the year, it’s what we’re guiding to.
Cook: I think on the replacement cycle Toni, the answer probably looks different by geography. In those geographies that in the early days of the smartphone market had very traditional subsidies where you paid $199 out the door, $99 or whatever, I think it’s accurate to say those type of markets, the replacement cycle is likely longer. Where that isn’t the case, I’m not nearly as sure on that. I would point out that that happened some time ago. And so it’s very difficult currently to ever get a real-time handle on replacement rate, because you don’t know the replacement rate for the products you’re currently selling, you only know that in a historical sense. So it’s not something that we overly fixate on.
Laura Martin: I love the 1.3 billion devices you gave us, updating from two years ago, and I love the on-ramp as you spread out the pricing. Do you get the sense that we have more unique users in that 1.3 billion than we had unique users back there in 2016? Do you see 1.4 devices owned per person? Do you think it’s now 1.2 or 1.6?
Cook: Well that 1.4, I don’t know where that came from, it did not come from Apple. So that’s one of those things that kind of flowed out there and I want to divorce Apple from that number. We’re not releasing a user number because we think that the proper way to look at it, is to look at active devices. It’s also the one that is the most accurate for us to measure. And so that’s our thinking behind that.
Laura Martin: OK, switchers in the quarter? You often give us Switchers.
Cook: It is so early on this product cycle, particularly with the iPhone X only starting in November, that we do not feel we have data at this point that would be very meaningful to share. And so I’ll punt that question until next time around.
Steve Milanovich: Tim, you said you don’t want to tell investors what to do, but the first point you made was talking about the size of the installed base. Later you talked about the importance of customer satisfaction. Given that this doesn’t look like a super cycle in terms of unit growth, are you nudging us to focus on the size of the installed base, the annuity opportunity here, and you have confidence that you can monetize that installed base through additional hardware and services?
Cook: What I said on the investor part is I think every investor has to look at their own situation and conclude the things that they think are important. What I think is important, I think the active devices are hugely important and that’s the reason that we release the number two years ago, and the reason that we’re releasing that again today. That number speaks to the strength of the the product, the loyalty of the customer, the strength of the ecosystem. And so we do put a lot of weight behind that. And it obviously also fuels the services business. So I have long believed that a 90-day clock on unit sales is a very surface way to view Apple. I think that the far bigger thing is to look over a longer period of time, and customer satisfaction, and engagement and number of active devices are all a part of that.
Steve Milanovich: Could you address the positioning of HomePod? What category is it in? Is it a music speaker. Is it a home assistant, since people seem to be trying to position it versus Amazon and Google’s offerings? And is the target market primarily Apple Music users?
Cook: HomePod is an incredible product that gives a unbelievable audio experience in a very small form factor with a super digital assistant in Siri that knows an enormous amount about music, but also can handle requests to, like, home automation to close your garage door, open your door, turn the light on, turn the fireplace on, change the thermostat. All of the things that you would like to do in home automation, but takes it further because you can do it right from the Home app and set up scenes so you can say, “Hey Siri, I’m reading,” and your room will change to the things you would like happening in that particular room for when you read. Maybe it’s a particular light, maybe it’s a type of light, maybe it’s the fireplace, so on and so forth. It also, obviously you can also do things with HomePod like use it as a speakerphone. And so if you’re talking to your parents, or they’re talking to their grandkids, it’s unbelievable audio quality for speakerphone. You can also have Siri call for you. You can send messages, you can get a Uber car or a Lyft car. And so there’s just a whole variety of things, and so I think the use cases on this, much like our phones, will be broad based. Some people will use it significantly for music, and others may use it significantly as a digital assistant. And I think the majority of people will likely use all of it and use all of the functionality of it.
Amit Daryanani: Can you just touch on what you’re seeing in China in terms of underlying trends right now? I think growth was up double digit year over year, but essentially in line to what you said in September, I would have thought that would have accelerated a little bit with iPhone X? Just the puts and takes in China would be great.
Cook: It’s a good question. Keep in mind that this year had 13 weeks, last year had 14 weeks. And so even though we were reporting a similar year over year growth for Greater China, if you change that reporting to an average weekly sales, which is probably a much better way to look at it, there was actually a really nice acceleration. Specifically, the numbers this quarter as reported are 11 percent increase for Greater China year over year. But on an average weekly revenue basis we were up 19 percent. Also, mainland China, we had an all time record for revenue in mainland China and of course a key part of that was iPhone. And as I mentioned before, Kantar reported that the top five selling smartphones in urban China were all iPhones. And so we could not be more pleased with how we’re doing, and we obviously grew share for iPhone in the quarter, but we also grew share in iPad and Mac during the quarter and wearables were extremely strong there in the quarter. And so, you know, everywhere I look I feel really good about how we’re doing in China.
Amit Daryanani: When you talk about reducing Apple’s net cash levels to zero effectively over time, I think that implies the number goes from 163 billion today to something like zero. What does “over time” mean for Apple? Is that one year, three years, 10 years? Just how do you define “over time.” And does this change your thoughts around M&A at all, and is that one reason to get that number from 163 to zero, does it change your M&A thought process?
Maestri: Our thought process around M&A has always been the same, and really doesn’t change. We’ve been acquiring companies over the years. In calendar 2017, we’ve acquired 19 companies. And the thought process is always to acquire something that allows us to either accelerate our product roadmaps, filling a gap in our portfolio, providing a new experience to customers. So it’s always with the customer experience in mind, right, that we make acquisitions. We look at all sizes, and we will continue to do so. We have plenty of financial flexibility, of course, we had that even prior to tax reform and as I said, we will talk about capital allocation plans when we report the March quarter and that will include talking about timeframes and pace and so on. And as I said, we will try to be to be very thoughtful. As you said, 163 billion is a large amount, and there are even practical considerations around it so we’ll see.
Cook: Just for clarity let me add one thing. What Luca’s saying is not cash equals zero. He’s saying there there’s an equal amount of cash and debt. And that they balance to zero.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-01 20:53, modified on 2018-02-02 00:28
Today Apple reported its results for the holiday quarter of last year, traditionally the biggest quarter of the year. Three months ago Apple said it expected between $84 and $87 billion in revenue, which would have been a record. They beat their estimates, with $88.3B in revenue, on strong iPhone revenue.
Below, find many charts!
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-01 19:09, modified at 19:10
The discovery that in iOS 11.3 Apple is renaming the iBooks app to “Books” seemed… not particularly revelatory. We’ve all read about how Apple’s been slowly stripping away the lower-case-i prefix from older products. New products and services are a generic word preceded with the word “Apple,” as in Apple TV and Apple Watch. This is the conventional wisdom. But is it true?
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-01 15:30
It’s the first show since the HomePod went on sal—well, the first show with Lex, anyway. We recap all the news about Apple’s smart speaker, plus talk about Apple reportedly dialing back on new features in its forthcoming iOS releases. Then it’s on to the conflicting views on iPhone X’s sales, which are either the best or worst thing ever. And we even take a little while to debate the disappearing “i” on Apple’s book-reading app. Because letters, amirite?
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-01 15:18
Apple’s updated the specs page for the HomePod to clarify which audio sources you can play music from:
iTunes Music Purchases
iCloud Music Library with an Apple Music or iTunes Match subscription
Beats 1 Live Radio
AirPlay other content to HomePod from iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV, and Mac
Great that the company finally spelled it out, though it really should have provided this information both earlier and in a clearer fashion.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-02-01 14:20, modified at 14:30
I’m a fairly recent convert to the Nintendo Switch, but there are none so zealous as the converted. In Nintendo’s most recent investor call, it revealed several pieces of news that have got me pretty pumped.
First up: Mario Kart for smartphones. That’s something I’ve been agitating for for years now, and the only downside to this news is that the release window is “the fiscal year ending in March 2019.” Whether the app, which is dubbed Mario Kart Tour, is more of a Super Mario Run-style simplification of the original remains to be seen, though I doubt it will be the full Mario Kart 8 Deluxe experience that you can get on the Switch. (Still, a man can dream.)
Nintendo also announced that the pay version of its subscription service, Switch Online, will debut in September of this year. The $20/year subscription will include not only online multiplayer (which has been free since the Switch’s release), but access to a Virtual Console library of classic games that you’ll be able to play for free as long as you’re subscribed—think the Netflix model. Some of those games will even reportedly be updated to include new multiplayer components where it makes sense. (Nintendo said it is working on “ways to further heighten the gaming experience for consumers” which is mysterious and I guess only a little sinister?)
And, just in case you’ve been wondering how the Switch itself is doing, don’t fret: Nintendo’s sold 14.86 million of the console since it was released—that’s more than the Wii U sold in the just over four years it was available. To no one’s surprise, three Switch titles have surpassed the 6 million sales mark: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Super Mario Odyssey, and Breath of the Wild.
In other words, the Switch’s future seems promising. I may have only had it for a few days at the end of 2017, but it was probably one of my favorite gadgets of all last year anyway. Between new titles like Mario Tennis and crazy cardboard constructs, I’m pretty excited to see what 2018 brings for it.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-31 23:16, modified at 23:17
I love the RAID array I have attached to my Mac mini server, with 16TB of data spread redundantly across five physical drives. But those drives are the only classic spinning-disc hard drives left in my house at this point, and I’ve gotten accustomed to the silence of flash storage. My RAID isn’t particularly loud, but there are still five drives in there and they do make an audible noise when they’re working.
My server backs itself up to the RAID via Time Machine (in addition to a network backup), and my iMac Pro also backs up to the RAID via Time Machine. By default, Time Machine tries to back up every hour, which leads to two backups happening in my office every hour. The result: Lots of clicking from the RAID, which is really distracting.
The solution I use to solve this problem is the free TimeMachineEditor by tclementdev (donation requested), which turns off Time Machine’s automatic scheduling and instead provides its own scheduling system that kicks off a normal Time Machine backup when appropriate. It’s a very simple tool, with three modes of operation: back up when inactive, back up on a regular timed interval, or back up at various times you define. There’s also an override to block out time when backups should never be done.
My server’s boot drive doesn’t have a lot of important data on it, and it certainly doesn’t need to backing itself up hourly. Instead, I’ve set it to back up late in the evening when I’m done for the day. As for my iMac, I’ve set it to back up “when inactive”, which generally has the effect of my Time Machine backup happening when I’m eating lunch or running an errand—and otherwise not around to hear the churning of my backup disk.
Just as these two Macs are different and require different settings, your particular setup may have some very specific attributes. TimeMachineEditor is pretty flexible, especially the Calendar Intervals feature, which will let you schedule backups exactly when you want them. Or maybe you just don’t need a backup every hour, and prefer Time Machine to run every two hours, or 90 minutes, or 10 hours.
Apple hasn’t seen fit to give you those choices when you turn on Time Machine, but TimeMachineEditor gives you that level of control. It’s almost entirely eliminated the sounds I hear from my server, and made my workspace a better place.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-31 20:03
This week, on the tech show that features four topics, no waiting, Dan and Mikah are joined by Scholle McFarland and Dan Frakes to talk about which issues of software quality we’d like Apple to spend some time on, our impressions of the iPhone X and thoughts on sales numbers, our home theater setups, and our favorite tech of the year gone by.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-30 21:18, modified at 21:29
One of my favorite film genres is the documentary about people who care an awful lot about something that you don’t care about. I find the passion and enthusiasm that people bring to… whatever… to be entertaining and inspiring. Watch “The King of Kong” sometime—it’s a documentary about people who are obsessed with setting speed or score records for classic video games. It features one of my favorite moments in film history, when a guy going for a high score at Donkey Kong is being yelled at by his small child who really, really, really needs to go to the potty.
Anyway, video game records are a thing, which leads to this absolutely amazing story from Heather Alexandra at Kotaku about how the records of Todd “Mr. Activision” Rogers have been stripped by Twin Galaxies, the organization that is generally recognized as the arbiter of classic video game accomplishments:
Last year, speedrunner Eric “Omnigamer” Koziel called Rogers’ Dragster record into question. By Koziel’s account, the fastest achievable time should be 5.57 seconds. Using editing tools to allow optimal performance, he created a tool-assisted speedrun and was only able to hit that mark, rather than the 5.51 that Rogers claims.
The Kotaku story led me to this post on Twin Galaxies, in which the creator of the disputed game essentially shrugs. But that article includes this amazing embedded video by Apollo Legend that details the level of deceit that Rogers and an accomplice (who was acting as an official referee and has since gone on to be convicted of horrible crimes) went to in claiming all of these records.
More impressively, the video chronicles the work done by other people to analyze the details of the game and discover what the true “perfect scores” would be, right down to in some cases modifying the game code itself to create an impossibly easy run.
I love this stuff.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-30 16:05
Veteran tech reporter Ina Fried, writing for Axios:
Apple has shaken up its iOS software plans for 2018, delaying some features to next year in an effort to put more focus on addressing performance and quality issues, Axios has learned.
Fried’s been around for a long time, and generally has good sources, so I’d definitely believe there are priorities perhaps being shifted here.
However, it’s always hard to tell what its normal prioritization vs. what is some kind of unforeseen shift. The report suggests that features like a home-screen redesign and CarPlay changes have been pushed into 2019. But it also says that improvements to AR and parental controls will still happen, alongside performance improvements. So clearly we’re not seeing a total abandoning of new features in iOS 12.
It wouldn’t be hard to cast that as a response to the whole iPhone battery kerfuffle, or to repeated calls for improvements to software quality. That doesn’t tend to be the way Apple does business, though—not to say it can’t change; there have been lots of shifts in Tim Cook’s tenure of CEO.
The obvious comparisons are the tick-tock cycle of upgrades that macOS follows, and if that’s the case, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Heck, I was promoting a similar strategy last week, so I can hardly come out against it.
But any major software release is all about prioritization, and I’m sure Apple has done the math of balancing new features vs. optimization pretty much every year. It may just be a matter of seeing behind the curtain this time around, combined with the context of the recent situations that Apple’s found itself in that makes this seem more significant. But it’s hard to say because, again, Apple tends to keep its hand pretty close to its vest.
In short: this is probably no cause for either panic or jubilation.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-29 20:30, modified at 20:31
How did Apple do in 2017? This week on Upgrade Jason and Myke break down the annual Six Colors Apple Report Card, based on a survey of 50 notable Apple-watchers. Also, the HomePod gets pre-orders, a ship date, and a new set of listening parties for journalists. You can check out of the Apple Store any time you like, but you can never leave.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-29 16:32, modified at 16:33
Over the years, DuckDuckGo has offered millions of people a private alternative to Google, serving over 16 billion anonymous searches. Now we’ve taken another major step to simplify online privacy with the launch of fully revamped versions of our browser extension and mobile app, with built-in tracker network blocking, smarter encryption, and, of course, private search - all designed to operate seamlessly together while you search and browse the web. Our updated app and extension are now available across all major platforms - Firefox, Safari, Chrome, iOS, and Android - so that you can easily get all the privacy essentials you need on any device with just one download.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-26 16:06, modified at 16:19
We’ll fix it in post.
It’s a longstanding joke in the podcast community—when somebody flubs a line or misspeaks during recording, we just kick the can down the road and repair it in editing. (For shows that actually do editing, anyway.)
But lately it’s started to seem like a more common occurrence across the tech industry, and even Apple’s jumped aboard the train. We’ve seen a number of places where Apple announced a particular feature shipping in a product—whether it be a new hardware device or a major software update—only to eventually release the product without said feature, promising it in a subsequent software update. The most recent example is the HomePod, which will lack support for multi-room audio, stereo pairing, and AirPlay 2 when it ships next month. But before that, we had iOS 11’s promised Messages in iCloud, Apple Pay Cash (which did ship in a later point release), and, again, AirPlay 2.
These sorts of things do happen, of course, and while you can chart examples back into earlier eras, the high number and profile of these situations recently has me looking back to what might be the root of the issue.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-25 19:33, modified at 21:30
It’s time for our annual look back on Apple’s performance during the past year, as seen through the eyes of writers, editors, developers, podcasters, and other people who spend an awful lot of time thinking about Apple.
This is the third year that I’ve presented this survey to a hand-selected group. They were prompted with 11 different Apple-related subjects, and asked to rate them on a scale from 1 to 5, as well as optionally provide text commentary on their vote. I received 50 replies, with the average results as shown below:
Since I was using the same survey as the two previous years, I was also able to track the change in my panel’s consensus opinion compared to the previous year. The net changes between 2016 and 2017 surveys is displayed below:
Judging by my panel’s responses, 2017 was something of a bounce-back year for most of Apple’s core platforms. But there was still plenty of concern to go around, especially when it came to the quality of Apple’s software.
But enough of this top-level summary. Read on for category-by-category grades and commentary from three dozen different Apple watchers.
Grade: C (average score: 2.9, median score 3, last year: C-)
After a year of frustration in 2016, the Mac in 2017 was more of a mixed bag, which some promising signs—and a lot of residual frustration. Josh Centers of TidBITS described it as “a mixed bag,” and Serenity Caldwell of iMore cited “the highest highs… and depressing lows.” (One procedural note: This survey includes answers from both before and after the iMac Pro began to ship.)
“Tim can say whatever he wants, but the evidence to date is that Apple doesn’t care about the Mac very much at all,” said my former Macworld colleague Rob Griffiths. Developer James Thomson said “it’s still a great time to own a Mac, but it doesn’t seem to be getting the love from Apple right now.”
“I feel like the Mac rallied a bit this year—we got a new file system and nothing blew up,” wrote Mac Power Users host David Sparks. “We’ve had the beginnings of a Mac revival, if not full-on renaissance,” wrote Accidental Tech Podcast co-host Casey Liss.
“Apple’s apologetic recommitment to ‘pro’ Macs in April is a big step in the right direction,” wrote Accidental Tech Podcast co-host John Siracusa. “But Apple’s track record with Macs in the rest of 2017 is not great. The new Mac Pro is still a promise…. Apple said all the right things about the Mac in 2017, but it hasn’t yet done all the things that need to be done to get the Mac back on track.”
“I miss feeling confident that Macs represented the most stable and trustable part of their ecosystem,” wrote podcaster Merlin Mann. Wirecutter editor Dan Frakes wrote, “For the first time since the early 2000s, there’s no current [laptop] model that I truly enjoy using.”
“I can’t think of a more dispiriting year for Mac users… not in the iPhone era, anyway,” wrote tech columnist Andy Ihnatko. “In an age when Windows hardware is vibrant and flourishing, the Mac is looking shabby and forsaken.”
Writer Glenn Fleishman put it well: “Despite shipments, upgrades, and improvements, 2017 seems like one of the worst years emotionally for the Mac as a platform since it seemed that Apple might be about to go under.”
Grade: A (average score: 4.4, median score 4, last year: B+/A-)
With the addition of the iPhone X to the product line, as well as revisions to the “classic” iPhone line with the iPhone 8, the panel’s general mood about the iPhone was good. The iPhone’s rating returned to the score it received for 2015, after a flagging of enthusiasm in 2016.
“iPhone X, baby. It’s everything I could possibly have asked for in a 2017 smartphone,” wrote Joe Kissell, publisher of the Take Control ebook series. Dan Provost of Studio Neat called the iPhone X “the most exciting iPhone since the iPhone 4.”
“The iPhone X, simply put, feels like a new generation of phones from Apple,” wrote Stephen Hackett of 512 Pixels and Relay FM. “It sheds a decade’s worth of conventions and hardware to usher in something new… it’s a light, shining the way down the road to the next ten years of iPhones. That’s super exciting.”
“Huge breakthroughs in security and ease of use thanks to Face ID, and the screen is beautiful, and the cameras are just stunning,” wrote independent writer Shawn Blanc.
“A heck of a gamble… and Apple seems to have pulled it off,” wrote educator and podcaster Fraser Speirs. Developer and podcaster Marco Arment said iPhone X “took a lot of huge risks, and they paid off… it’s great.”
“I really think no other company would have been able to implement a core UI change like Face ID and make it feel like the most natural thing you have ever used,” wrote Analyst Carolina Milanesi.
“By releasing both a new ‘best’ plus an ‘even-better-than-best’ iPhone, Apple got to freestyle into the super-luxe price point while doing nothing to leave conventional users behind,” wrote Andy Ihnatko. “And the iPhone X is damn purty.”
“It’s a great f—-ing phone,” wrote podcaster and podcast-industry executive Lex Friedman. “Can you say f—-ing on Six Colors?” (Good question, Lex.—Jason)
“iPhone X is a 5. Apple’s messaging on the battery issues was a 1,” wrote iMore’s Serenity Caldwell. “A year that should have been a slam dunk for the company was marred by security issues and battery concerns.” (Most of the responses to this survey occurred before the iPhone battery story broke.)
Grade: A- (average score: 4.1, median score 4, last year: B+)
This was a bounceback year for the iPad, as new hardware and improved sales gave Apple’s larger iOS device a shot in the arm.
Here’s what Federico Viticci of MacStories had to say: “Apple didn’t disappoint with the 2017 iPad Pros - quite frankly, after the lack of updates in 2016, they absolutely delivered with a refreshed 12.9-inch model and the new 10.5-inch one. I love the form factor of the smaller iPad Pro, and its thinner bezels give us an idea of how beautiful an edge-to-edge iPad might be in the future. The ProMotion Display available on both models is hard to describe, but it makes a difference in everyday usage; I recently had to use an old iPad without ProMotion and thought the screen had issues. The combination of iOS 11 and new iPad Pros was a great year for the iPad. Now let’s hope we won’t have to wait another two years for updates on hardware and software…”
Stephen Hackett wrote, “The 10.5-inch iPad Pro is my favorite tablet to come out of Apple. The size and power feel like they are in the perfect balance…. iOS 11 brought a brand-new multitasking system to the iPad, and for the most part, it’s pretty great. I think the idea of pairing apps is limited in some ways, but I understand the concepts behind the choice. Where I struggle is in the differences in iOS 11 between the iPhone X and iPad. Too many implementation details simply clash if you use both apps often.”
“iPad hardware has never been the problem,” wrote Fraser Speirs. “It’s always been about the relative capabilities of iOS in the tablet form-factor. Many were delighted that Apple had done anything at all for iPad in iOS 11, but my view is that many of the core features simply replaced one set of non-scaleable design decisions with another set of non-scaleable design decisions. Notes has evolved into a lovely and mature app… at the same time, other iOS apps like Mail and Calendar are stagnating.”
“Applause break,” wrote podcaster James T. Green. “This is the year that my iPad has become my new general purpose computer.”
“The 10.5” iPad Pro is the best all-around iPad ever made, and iOS 11 got significant iPad productivity enhancements,” wrote Marco Arment. “There’s still a long way to go, but this was a great year.”
“This is Apple at its best,” wrote MacDrifter’s Gabe Weatherhead. “2017 was the year of the iPad.”
So has the iPad reached its zenith? Not hardly. Our panel singled out all sorts of areas that deserve growth and attention.
“I was really hoping to have an improved [keyboard] design with backlight,” wrote Carolina Milanesi. “I still feel that the keyboard is the iPad Pro’s weakest link.”
“As a photographer, I feel that Adobe’s doing a better job of integrating apps with the iPad, but without real file management options, I can’t take my iPad on the road without feeling some pain about image storage, productivity and more,” wrote former MacWEEK and Macworld editor in chief Rick LePage. “I know many people are able to do it, but every time I talk to someone about their iPad workflow, it’s full of ‘then I need to do this’ or ‘I’ll fix this when I get home’ workarounds.”
“I’m still waiting for an even larger, more powerful iPad that can be used for professional creative work that currently requires a Mac—or a Microsoft Surface Studio,” wrote John Siracusa.
Grade: A- (average score: 4.0, median score 4, last year: B)
The only platform in this survey to have improved its score every year, the Apple Watch has seen its standing increase a full point from 2015 to 2017.
“Typically, I put my Apple Watch on every October and stop wearing it sometime in early November,” wrote Josh Centers. “It’s January now and I’m still wearing it, which I think is a testament to how reliable and responsive watchOS 4 is.”
“The new hardware plus the incremental Watch OS improvements have made the Apple Watch a truly good piece of kit,” said software developer Jessica Dennis.
“LTE hasn’t been the game-changer I thought it would be, but I blame my addiction to my iPhone, not LTE or its implementation on the Watch,” wrote Stephen Hackett.
“The Apple Watch Series 3 is simply sensational,” wrote Fraser Speirs. “And Siri on the S3 Apple Watch might just be the best Siri on any of Apple’s devices.”
“The hardware is getting faster and more capable, but the software is still holding things back,” wrote James Thomson. “I don’t get the impression that 3rd-party apps are gaining traction, even now that the devices are a lot faster which makes them feasible to use.”
“While I might not rely on the cellular connection much, it was smartly implemented and it does what it is supposed to: give me an option to leave my phone at home,” wrote Carolina Milanesi.
“I’d give this 5 stars if only Apple’s rollout of the Cellular Series 3 had gone better,” wrote Federico Viticci. “Most plans turned out to be more expensive than what Apple advertised, and Cellular is only available in a handful of countries right now. An uncharacteristically disappointing launch given Apple’s scale and relationships with carriers.”
“The Apple Watch 3 is what we all hoped for when the Apple Watch was first released,” wrote security consultant and writer Rich Mogull. “My watch is now nearly as essential as my iPhone.”
“I wear my Apple Watch about 23 hours each day… and I love it,” wrote Dan Frakes. “That said, when people ask me if they should get one, I rarely answer with an unequivocal ‘Yes.’… Much of this is simply the state of smartwatches as a whole: They’re not yet must-have devices.”
“It’s great to see Apple moving forward in this category,” wrote Tonya Engst of TidBITS. “I have the new cellular-enabled watch and it’s been a great experience, allowing me to leave my (too big) iPhone at home. Paired with AirPods, it’s an especially good experience for working out. I love being able to take calls and issue reminders during a run, with my iPhone left behind.”
Grade: C+ (average score: 3.2, median score 3, last year: C-)
Our panel’s still pretty cranky about the Apple TV, but its scores rebounded this year when a new 4K model was announced and shipped.
“But at $180, [the 4K Apple TV is] ridiculously overpriced,” wrote Josh Centers. “To add insult to injury, the old model is still $150. tvOS hasn’t seen any appreciable advancement this year, and it definitely feels like Apple’s forgotten love child.”
“Adding 4K/HDR is the minimum necessary to keep up with the market, and that continues to be what Apple TV feels like much of the time,” wrote MacJournals’ Matt Deatherage.
“The Apple TV 4K seems like too little, too late, and too expensive,” wrote developer and writer Michael Tsai. “I don’t understand Apple’s strategy here. It’s disappointing that they haven’t fixed the design of the remote yet.”
“I’m not sure why I would recommend an Apple TV to anyone over a Roku or Amazon device or even Google’s equivalent,” wrote Jessica Dennis.
“The TV app evolving and starting to incorporate more streaming services has made it increasingly my go-to location,” wrote Glenn Fleishman. “I hope a future tvOS makes the TV app the primary navigation means, and apps are relegated down a notch.”
Grade: B- (average score: 3.4, median score 3.5, last year: C)
iCloud may still have a bad reputation in many circles, but the panel’s estimation of Apple’s cloud services approach has improved for two straight years.
“iCloud is not perfect, but has become much more reliable over the years—I couldn’t live without it,” write Michael E. Cohen wrote. “Managing it, though, is another matter: it’s full of hidden gotchas, and explaining it to people is an exercise in frustration.”
“The days of iCloud being a joke are mostly behind us,” wrote Stephen Hackett. “iCloud Photo Library, iCloud Drive and the various syncing components of iCloud feel rock solid. With services like keyboard snippets syncing moving to CloudKit, I think other features continue their march toward reliability.
“I think iCloud is still too confusing to consumers and doesn’t just work,” wrote Lex Friedman. “The only iCloud feature I use reliably and consistently is iOS device backup. Apple needs to make iCloud storage unlimited for photos, or significantly larger at the free level, and it’s hilarious that we’re all still saying this. I rely on Google to backup my iPhone photos. That’s nuts.”
Writer Steven Aquino: “I use Apple Music every single day and love it… Apple Pay continues to be magical. The editorial changes on the App Store have made browsing and learning about new apps a much more enriching experience; I’m a big fan of the work there.”
“While I am happy I can finally share my storage with my family, I think Apple has still a lot of work to do when it comes to cloud,” wrote Carolina Milanesi. “Collaboration on iWork is very rudimental compared to Google Docs.”
“This year I moved nearly all of my data out of Dropbox into iCloud Drive and I’ve been really happy with the experience,” wrote David Sparks. “The way it only downloads what it needs on my small SSD laptop but still shows me all files is really nice.”
“[Apple has] done a lot of good work in raising its batting average here,” wrote Andy Ihnatko. “iCloud Drive is even a compelling choice.”
“2017 is the year I stopped worrying about data syncing—iCloud works consistently for me,” wrote Gabe Weatherhead. “Unlike previous years, I’m actually looking forward to more things moving to iCloud. I’d like to see Apple add more Dropbox-like options but I’m pretty happy where they are going with the service.”
“The Files app is still pretty clumsy when it comes to searching and selecting, especially in Dropbox, but syncing through iCloud has become very reliable over the past couple of years,” wrote blogger/engineer/snowman Dr. Drang. “My main beef with iCloud Drive is that it still wants me to organize my files according to the app that created them instead of by topic, which is stupid.”
“I love how good sync has gotten (mostly), but it still seems staggering how terrible, broken, and frustrating the whole Apple ID model is,” wrote Merlin Mann.
“I think that they still have a lot of catching up to do, especially where photos are concerned, and I wish they’d at least let people back up their iOS devices without paying for extra storage, but overall I think it’s fine,” wrote App Launch Map’s Aleen Simms.
“Running cloud service is a thankless job,” wrote John Siracusa. “When everything works well, cloud services are invisible. When things don’t work, people get angry. Apple still has a shaky reputation in this area. Each new cloud service from Apple is viewed with suspicion instead of enthusiasm. This suspicion remains well-founded… It’s going to take many years of steady, boring improvement to change this perception.”
Grade: C- (average score: 2.7, median score 2, last year: D+)
HomeKit’s scores are on the rise, though it’s still got a lot of work to do.
“2017 marked the first time I’d used Apple Home after a long period of exclusive Alexa use,” wrote game developer and podcaster Shahid Kamal Ahmad. “Everything made sense to me when for the first time I could talk to my Apple Watch to tell Siri to turn a Philips Hue lamp on. I suspect I will be using Home a lot more in 2018.”
“Apple made a hugely significant change this year by enabling software authentication for HomeKit,” wrote Dan Moren of Six Colors. “Apple’s also continued to make improvement with the Home app, but it still needs easier ways to build in more complicated automation…workflows, anybody?”
“I can’t lay this one all on Apple—they’ve done a lot to improve HomeKit integration,” wrote Merlin Mann. “But this still feels like the wild west. Hell, it feels like the EARLY days of the wild west.
“HomeKit and the Home app still can’t compete,” wrote Rich Mogull. “I have extensive home automation with well over a hundred devices integrated directly or with Homebridge and Alexa still offers a much better experience…. Apple is still a long way from delivering a smart home experience that meets their own standards.”
“HomeKit has been a real plus for me, and I like the built-in security, although the December security hole with smart locks shows that everything requires vigilance,” wrote Matt Deatherage. “The iOS 11 Home app allows more kinds of simple automation, but needs to go further.”
“HomeKit continues to suffer from bugginess and more limited device availability than other ecosystems,” wrote Marco Arment.
“Alexa and Google Assistant (but especially Alexa) are kicking Apple’s ass here, and every conversation I have with vendors confirms this even more,” wrote Dave Hamilton. “A lot of them choose to support HomeKit as almost an afterthought, where possible, but every single one of them supports Alexa out of the box. That tells the HomeKit story right there.”
“I think Apple has more work to do to make HomeKit broader,” wrote Carolina Milanesi. “I hope HomePod will help.”
“I’m still satisfied with walking over to the switch to turn my lights on and off,” wrote Dr. Drang. “Quite reliable.”
Grade: A- (average score: 4.0, median score 4, last year: A-)
With just a slight dip over last year, Apple’s scores for hardware reliability remained strong among our panel. “Still best in class,” wrote Dan Provost. “Still the gold standard for initial build quality and overall endurance,” wrote Andy Ihnatko. Or as Rick LePage put it: “Listening to friends with Fitbits that don’t work all the time, PCs with broken plastic and poor screens, bad Bluetooth speakers and headphones, I continue to marvel at the continued solidity of the vast majority of Apple’s hardware.”
That all said… there was one issue that kept coming up.
“The thing with the new MacBook Pro keyboards breaking due to dust, and that condition requiring an expensive repair, is really really bad,” wrote Jessica Dennis. “That said, overall I still feel like Apple hardware is of high build quality, with excellent fit and finish.”
“I had a Late 2016 MacBook Pro quoted for a $450 repair after a single keycap broke,” wrote Stephen Hackett. “It’s clear that I’m not alone, and that the keyboards on the MacBooks and MacBook Pros are fragile in a way previous one were not. Apart from the MacBook keyboards, the rest of my modern Apple gear just works.”
“This year it became clear that the new laptop keyboards (regardless of how you feel about their travel) have reliability problems,” wrote David Sparks. “This will be a dark cloud over Apple’s reliability until resolved.”
“Given the obvious hardware issues with their MacBook line, I think they have some room for improvement,” wrote Gabe Weatherhead. “That’s balanced out by nearly flawless iOS device reliability for me.”
Writer John Moltz wrote, “I have a 2016 MacBook Pro and haven’t had any of the keyboard problems others have… My personal problem with the unit is more the trackpad which I keep clicking by accident because it’s so large…. I have used laptops from PC vendors and Apple’s build quality is still so much better it’s not even comparable.”
And for the record, there’s this from Fraser Speirs: “I’m just not hearing about widespread problems from my sysadmin friends who are managing thousands of modern Mac portables.”
Grade: C- (average score: 2.7, median score 3, last year: B-)
In 2017, our panel’s perception of the quality of Apple’s software took a nosedive. Nobody who has been following along to Apple news and opinion for the last year will be surprised.
“Apple’s QA team has dropped the ball this year, with huge bugs in macOS, iOS, and even HomeKit, with often flawed patches for those bugs,” wrote Josh Centers. “Apple looks a bit amateurish lately,” wrote Kirk McElhearn. “It’s getting embarrassing,” wrote Rob Griffiths.”
“I don’t know how quality assurance works inside Apple, but something needs to change,” wrote Brent Simmons. Fraser Speirs wrote, “It’s as good as anyone else’s but it’s not good enough.”
“My family consists of a couple of big nerds, but mostly average users, and everyone agrees software reliability is trending down,” wrote Casey Liss.
“Dear Apple: release less frequently and release better,” wrote Jessica Dennis. “Consumers don’t really mind more time between major revisions; we vastly prefer reliability and stability.”
“Some things are great: iWork, for example, has become better and better,” wrote Michael E. Cohen. “Other software, not so much. In particular, Apple’s almost total neglect of iBooks and iBooks Author discourages me.”
“I think Apple’s fast-paced software development cycles is catching up with it,” wrote Stephen Hackett. “Small bugs stick around for years, and many apps are clearly on a 2-3 year cycle for attention. I’m not suggesting Apple move away from an annual release cycle, just that more attention is paid to the details. That’s where Apple used to shine.”
“There were the much-publicized security issues in High Sierra, of course, but there are still so many flaws and deficiencies in macOS and in apps like Mail and Time Machine that I can’t even,” wrote Joe Kissell. “And iTunes is, of course, every bit the hot mess it has been for years, with the added insult of removing the capability to browse and buy iOS apps. It baffles me that this trend can continue for so long—it’s as if no one at Apple actually uses the company’s own apps.”
“Many apps and areas of the operating systems are in disrepair,” wrote Michael Tsai. “With the tradeoff triangle of schedule/features/quality, Apple has clearly been prioritizing the schedule and (to a lesser extent) features. Major OS releases ship with large numbers of bugs, and there isn’t time to fix them all before the next major release, which introduces more.”
“Not perfect, but not as bumpy as previous years either,” wrote Federico Viticci. “If anything, my main problem has been the poor reliability of text input when using a keyboard attached via the Smart Connector to the iPad Pro.”
“With the addition of machine learning, there’s a non-human element added in there that can sometimes provide unexpected results,” wrote Dan Moren. “I have faith that machine learning will provide even greater capabilities down the road, but right now it’s almost as if we’re in an uncanny valley.”
“They’ve had a few major letdowns/bugs this year and seem to be struggling to consistently meet their own promises, with late or scaled-back features,” wrote Rich Mogull. “It isn’t terrible, and perhaps I’m being too harsh, but this seems like an area they really need to put some focus back on.”
“This is not an illusion,” wrote Dr. Drang. “Apple’s software quality is dropping, and they don’t seem to recognize it. I understand that there’s much, much more to keep track of now than there ever has been, but being sympathetic to Apple’s difficulties doesn’t make me blind to them. When the Finder just stops in the middle of copying files for no apparent reason, that’s an inexcusable error. Apple has long believed that its programmers are far better than those elsewhere. That may be true, but they seem stretched to the breaking point and in need of help. Maybe you don’t need superstar programmers to do some of the fundamental things that are falling by the wayside.”
“I feel as though Apple is generally pretty solid on the OS front, and marginally worse on the app front,” wrote Rick LePage. “The Photos update was good, but Numbers remains a poor spreadsheet app, Keynote really hasn’t been enhanced in years, and Pages is great in some places, and underpowered in enough other places to be relegated to correspondence and notes for me.”
Serenity Caldwell wrote, “Oh, Apple. Get your security house in order, ASAP. Some of the bugs released in iOS and macOS this year were outrageously bad (see: root bug), while mismessaging led decent features (battery CPU throttling) to develop nasty reputations.”
“Apple is moving too fast and cutting too many corners,” wrote Adam Engst. “No user wants a completely new operating system every year, much less four of them. This is thrown into stark relief by the fact that there have been so many quick bug fix releases for embarrassing bugs ranging from the root password security vulnerability to iOS 11.1’s reset loop bug. And it’s clear that APFS is nowhere near baked on the Mac.”
“Apple is moving so quickly in so many directions it would behoove them to have a team that stays behind and maintains and improves the foundations behind them,” wrote Rene Ritchie.
Grade: B (average score: 3.6, median score 4, last year: C+)
What was once a painful area for Apple, its relationship with app developers, seems to have improved an awful lot in the last couple of years.
“The App Store and iTunes Connect keep getting better since Schiller took over,” wrote Marco Arment.
“I’ve had no real problems with developer relations this year, and a number of useful things have been rolled out in iTunes Connect,” wrote James Thomson. “Review times are really quick on the whole. If I had a complaint, it would be that the TestFlight app review process is now slower than full App Review. And TestFlight for the Mac has still not happened, which does make the Mac feel like an afterthought again. But overall, things have been pretty good.”
“Many of the familiar App Store issues are still present, but there have also been many improvements,” wrote Michael Tsai.
“I really think that Apple is already having a bit of a reckoning when it comes to their obsession with secrecy… sooner rather than later,” wrote Casey Liss. “Apple can’t be reliant upon third party developers whilst also petulantly refusing to scratch our backs. The community puts up with it because we have little choice. What I fear Apple doesn’t realize is that this is leaving a gaping opportunity for an otherwise inferior platform to succeed, if for no other reason than because developers are actually respected.”
Grade: B+ (average score: 3.8, median score 4, last year: A-)
We know, this is a weird category. But Apple as a company touches on an awful lot of social and environmental issues: FBI encryption, Learn to Code initiatives, accessibility, medical studies, the working conditions in its supply chain, its investment in solar energy, its commitment to creating a more diverse workplace, and an awful lot more. For a company that talks a lot about making a positive change in the world, it’s worth asking the question: how’s it doing?
“Apple tries, bless their hearts, to be more or less socially and environmentally responsible,” wrote Jessica Dennis. “The new Apple campus is at the very least thoroughly greenwashed (though the open-plan spaces within give me hives); Apple could always go further, e.g. using their pull with local governments to expand public transit for their use and incidentally everyone else in the area.”
“High marks for accessibility and green initiatives,” wrote Dan Provost. “Still lag behind in diversity, should be more outspoken about societal / political issues.”
“So much more could be done to help the poor and disadvantaged, and Apple has the money to do it,” wrote Michael E. Cohen. “I not only want to see more done in education, but I want Apple to be a much more vocal proponent of educational opportunity and enhancement; right now its efforts seems like a hobby.”
Stephen Hackett wrote, “Apple continues to lead the way in environmental and social issues, but diversity within the company — especially at the top — continues to be a problem. I understand this stuff takes time, but I’d like more visibility into what’s going on throughout the company when it comes to hiring and promoting women and people of color.”
“I wish Apple had made a strong stand against the Republican tax bill,” wrote Brent Simmons. “It might look good for Apple, but it’s bad for almost everybody who actually buys Apple products.”
“Apple continues to lead the industry in providing comprehensive assistive tools for its disabled users,” wrote Steven Aquino. “As a person with disabilities, it warms my heart to see Apple again include disabled employees in its annual diversity report. Diversity in tech is more than women and people of color—it’s people with disabilities too.”
“Everyone Can Code and Swift Playgrounds has been an excellent initiative,” wrote Fraser Speirs. “I only hope that they sustain it into the future rather than use it as a one-off PR hit and then let it languish like, say, iBooks Author.”
“Apple’s been too quiet recently as U.S. politics, policy, and discourse are falling apart around it,” wrote Marco Arment. “They’ll make a fortune with the proposed tax changes, and I hope that’s not why they’re staying quiet on other issues. I’d like them to be a stronger advocate for net neutrality, diversity, democracy, and human-rights issues.”
James Thomson wrote, “I applaud Apple’s strong stance on user privacy. Even if sometimes the features might not be quite as good as others can offer, I am not willing to make the tradeoff of being data-mined and sold to advertisers in order to get them. And I gather Apple is doing a lot of work behind the scenes in the current political climate…. Still, I’d like to see Apple do more with its billions to change the world for the better.”
Lisa Schmeiser wrote, “It has been really interesting watching Apple try to negotiate an increasingly politicized landscape, especially in the wake of the Foxconn deal in Wisconsin, the immigration foofarah all year long, and increasing scrutiny of their tax structures…. it will be interesting to see whether Apple is able to spin any of its pro-Apple tenets (access to a talented workforce independent of geographic borders, minimal corporate taxes, etc.) into commercially palatable branding moves.”
I think Tim Cook has become a great ambassador and has given Apple a very human side,” wrote Carolina Milanesi. “I would like to see better numbers in their diversity report next year.”
“The immense positive impact of their health initiatives, plus the speed with which Tim Cook himself will come out in support of progressive issues that affect Americans, is impressive and gratifying,” wrote Andy Ihnatko. “The total lack of interest in cultivating a broader economic range of customers, and their eagerness to stay on the Chinese government’s good side despite the government’s continued exploitation of technology to control and intimidate its own people, is disappointing and worrying.”
Rich Mogull wrote, “Apple continues to lead the way in privacy. Their greatest risk now appears to be global governments, not bad guys. Apple is dancing on a pinhead as they put consumers first in ways we do not see with any other major tech company.”
“Apple says the right things, which is important, but their grade in this won’t improve until we no longer find it worthy of comment when we see a woman or POC on stage at an Apple event,” wrote Dr. Drang.
Serenity Caldwell wrote, “Incredibly pleased to see Apple’s work in health care and accessibility. Not so thrilled with continuing diversity issues inside the company.”
“I am proud of Apple for their public position about tolerance,” wrote Tonya Engst. “I also appreciate that their public position is that they strive for excellence. They appear to be trying hard with regard to the environmental impact of their products.”
Aleen Simms wrote, “While I understand the reasoning, I think it’s kind of bananas for the company to force Tim Cook to use a private jet to travel when they’re also touting how awesome their environmental initiatives are. Maybe they’ll tell us how many green rooftops it takes to offset his jetful use at the next keynote. From a diversity standpoint, I don’t feel like the needle is shifting appreciably. It will take decades for them to have gender parity at the rate they’re going.”
I didn’t participate in the panel. I invited about 75 people to vote, and 50 of them did. The panelists who voted were: Steven Aquino, Marco Arment, Leah Becerra, Shawn Blanc, Serenity Caldwell, Jeff Carlson, Josh Centers, Peter Cohen, Alexandra Cox, Matt Deatherage, Jessica Dennis, Dr. Drang, Michael E. Cohen, Adam Engst, Tonya Engst, Glenn Fleishman, Dan Frakes, Lex Friedman, Rob Griffiths, Stephen Hackett, Dave Hamilton, Myke Hurley, Andy Ihnatko, Shahid Kamal Ahmad, Joe Kissell, Rick LePage, Casey Liss, Merlin Mann, Kirk McElhearn, Carolina Milanesi, Rich Mogull, John Moltz, Dan Moren, Dan Provost, Rene Ritchie, Lisa Schmeiser, Brent Simmons, Aleen Simms, John Siracusa, David Smith, David Sparks, Fraser Speirs, James T. Green, Brett Terpstra, James Thomson, Michael Tsai, Federico Viticci, Gabe Weatherhead, and a couple of people who preferred to remain anonymous. Thanks to Khoi Vinh for the original idea to do this survey. The 2015 report card and 2016 report card remain available for reference.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-25 17:34
It’s clear that Apple is building a video service. That much was obvious the moment it hired veteran entertainment executives Zack van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht. But you can’t flip a switch and create a streaming service—not even if you’re Apple. (You could buy one, but Apple has apparently chosen to build, not buy, at least for now.)
What has to happen between now and the day we all sit down and watch the first episode of van Amburg and Erlicht’s first major acquisition to play through our Apple TVs or on our iPads and iPhones?
Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-25 14:17, modified at 14:18
The HomePod cometh! But withouteth severaleth of its featureseth. Dan, John, and our token Scot, James Thomson, discuss exactly what Apple’s “smart” speaker does now, as well as why the iPhone X may not be long for this world, what a replacement for the MacBook Air might look like, and why drones are seemingly everywhere GET THEM OFF ME AHHH.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-24 19:29
macOS Server is changing to focus more on management of computers, devices, and storage on your network. As a result, some changes are coming in how Server works. A number of services will be deprecated, and will be hidden on new installations of an update to macOS Server coming in spring 2018. If you’ve already configured one of these services, you’ll still be able to use it in the spring 2018 macOS Server update.
Long story short, a whole slew of Server’s components are being shuffled off this mortal coil, including Mail, Messages, Calendar and Contacts servers, as well as web hosting, wiki hosting, and, yes, the VPN server. Apple has listed substitutes for most of the deprecated services, though most will probably require a bit more technical know-how to setup.
The built-in VPN service on macOS Server wasn’t without its problems, but it was a pretty handy—and easy—way to set up a secure tunnel to your network. I’d been hopeful Apple would work out some of the kinks, but it looks like it’s going in the other direction entirely. At least the good news is that you can still roll your own VPN using OpenVPN or similar.
If you already have the above services enabled, they’ll continue to work for a little while, but the writing’s on the wall, so don’t put any trust in them for the long term.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-24 18:26, modified at 19:20
This week, on the show that’s only half as long as an hour is, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Jean MacDonald and David Sparks to discuss whether drones are a fad or our future, how we’re doing on our New Year’s tech resolutions, our thoughts on the HomePod’s missing features, and how we come down on paper vs. digital note-taking.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-24 16:44
A new app from veteran Mac developer Rogue Amoeba is always a reason to celebrate1, but that’s even more the case when the app in question fills an actual need. The latest offering from the team is Farrago, an attractive and powerful soundboard app that is not only impressive in its own right, but also works in harmony with the company’s other audio apps, such as Audio Hijack and Loopback.
For podcasters and live performers, Farrago provides a quick and easy way to have a library of sound effects at your fingertips. You can drag your clips into a grid, each of which is assigned a keyboard hot key; then, during your performance, you can trigger the sound clip with cursor or keyboard.2
Farrago supports separate sets of sound clips, if you need to maintain different groups for different shows, and has a slew of customization options, including multiple volume levels per clip, fade-in and fade-out points, the ability to play a sound as a loop, and keyboard shortcuts to fade in or immediately stop all audio.
If you do happen to use a tool like Rogue Amoeba’s Loopback, it’s a pretty simple affair to mix microphone audio with Farrago, so that, for example, other people on a Skype call with you can hear both you and your sound clips.
Personally, Farrago is a lot more pleasant looking than the last tool I used for this purpose, which was simply QuickTime Player with a bunch of audio clips lined up and routed through Loopback.
There are other soundboard apps that have done what Farrago does, but probably the chief contender, Ambrosia’s Soundboard, hasn’t been updated in almost 5 years. And Farrago benefits from Rogue Amoeba’s long experience with developing audio applications.
You can grab a free, fully functional download of Farrago from Rogue Amoeba’s site, though it will degrade the audio after 20 plays per launch. A license will currently run you $39, a discount on the eventual $49 full price.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-24 14:58, modified at 19:33
While Apple doesn’t preview every point release, the company’s been known to do it before when announcing a midstream update of some significance.
Of the improvements described, the ones that caught my eye were the improvements to ARKit, which include the ability to put virtual objects on vertical surfaces like walls, and the briefly mentioned HomeKit software authentication feature—something that had been discussed during WWDC last year, and I thought had already been included in iOS 11. Apparently not?
Oh, also there are four new Animoji. In case you’re wondering what really drives adoption.
Also of note is that while iOS 11.3 does include a new iMessage-related feature—Business Chat—
there’s no mention whatsoever of the iMessage in iCloud feature that was teased for iOS 11’s initial release, repeatedly pushed back, and eventually disappeared from Apple’s site (Update: As MacRumors notes, Messages on iCloud does appear to be back in the iOS 11.3 beta—at least for now.) . AirPlay 2, which we were yesterday told will arrive later this year for the HomePod in a software update, isn’t included in the iOS 11.3 update either.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-23 13:55, modified at 14:01
Turns out all you have to do is complain on Twitter, and lo and behold, Apple delivers.
HomePod, the innovative wireless speaker from Apple, arrives in stores beginning Friday, February 9 and is available to order online this Friday, January 26 in the US, UK and Australia. HomePod will arrive in France and Germany this spring.
At least one promised feature isn’t shipping on release, though. Apple says that multi-room audio will come later this year in a free software update. According to the now revamped HomePod product page, the same goes for the “stereo pair” functionality and AirPlay 2, which still has yet to materialize, despite being a promised part of iOS 11.
I’m not sure exactly when HomePod preorders start on Friday, but I’m really hoping not to have to wake up at 3 a.m.
Update: Updated at 9:01 a.m. Eastern with more detail on non-shipping features.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-22 19:51, modified at 19:52
This week on Upgrade: What comes next? The iPhone product line may see more changes in 2018, but do the rumors of two new models make sense? Is Apple missing its shot in the voice-assistant market with the delays of HomePod and the limitations of Siri? Is Apple’s move to return its cash hoard to the U.S. a financial diuretic that will boost American productivity? And if you want to get Myke’s reaction to finally seeing “Hamilton”, just you wait… it’s coming at the very end of the show.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-22 14:31
On our most recent episode of The Rebound, my co-hosts and I were discussing our usage of iOS’s very handy Do Not Disturb feature. One of them mentioned the frustration that it doesn’t apply to texts, which reminded me of a lesser known feature that accomplishes many of the same purposes: Emergency Bypass.
Added in iOS 10, Emergency Bypass is a way to ensure that you will always be alerted by a certain contact’s phone calls and/or texts, even if the phone is in Do Not Disturb mode and even if the mute switch is engaged. But this feature is a little bit hidden, so here’s how to turn it on.
First, open the Contacts or Phone app, and go to the selected contact. Tap the Edit button in the top right corner, then scroll down and tap either the Ringtone field or the Text Tone field.
At the top you’ll see a slider for Emergency Bypass, which tells you that you’ll get alerts (sounds and vibrations) when that person calls or texts, even when Do Not Disturb is on. (If you want both call and text alerts to bypass DND, you need to activate this feature for both the ringtone and text tone separately.) Turn that on, tap Done, and you’re all set. You’ll notice the entry next to the tone will now say “Emergency Bypass On” instead of listing the alert sound.
If you want to get alerts, but don’t like the idea of sounds always going off, you can set the Ringtone or Text Tone to None and just enable a vibration instead. That can be handy if you’ve got someone’s ringtone set to Old Car Horn, for example. Not that I would ever do that to anybody.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-19 23:35, modified at 23:58
Janko Roettgers at Variety:
Disney’s BAMTech Media has hired former Apple and Samsung executive Kevin Swint as SVP and GM, Disney SVOD Service, to build, and ultimately run, the company’s upcoming Netflix competitor, Variety has learned.
Most recently, Swint worked as VP product / content & services for Samsung, where he built out the company’s Milk Music streaming service as well as Milk Video, a mobile video aggregation service. Before that, he worked for five years at Apple, heading the worldwide iTunes movie business. Earlier in his career, Swint led digital products and services for Walmart.
Disney is gearing up to launch several streaming services, including an ESPN-branded one focused on sports and at least one more entertainment brand that will definitely be competing with Netflix. Interesting to see that they’ve picked someone who put in time working on movies at iTunes (not running a streaming service). The Apple-Hollywood connection runs both ways.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-19 17:43, modified at 17:44
Four years since Apple last shipped a desktop Mac with the word “pro” in the name, the iMac Pro has arrived. Holding down the high end of the Mac product line until the day (hopefully in 2018) when a new Mac Pro arrives, the iMac Pro fuses the look of the 27-inch 5K iMac with the priorities of a professional workstation.
This is not a computer designed for the masses—a new iMac Pro starts at $5,000 and you can pay five figures for a high-end model. If you aren’t sure if you need the power of the iMac Pro, you almost certainly don’t. If, on the other hand, you are hungry for multi-core performance and a powerful GPU that will let you crank through intense tasks—in video editing, software development, photo and audio processing, science, graphics, and similar applications—this is the new Mac Pro you’ve been looking for, albeit in the shape of an iMac.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-19 16:37, modified at 16:38
If there’s one philosophy that seems to exemplify the vast majority of decisions that Apple has made about their products, it’s this: “We know best.”
Now, I get it. That’s kind of the upside of having a benevolent dictator: decisions get made for you, and you don’t have to worry yourself about making the right ones. Of course, the downside to a benevolent dictator is that they’re still, fundamentally, a dictator.
Apple’s taken its fair share of backlash over these kind of high-level decisions throughout the years, and the latest firestorm is about the company’s decision to make the tradeoff of battery life versus performance in older iPhones. Whether or not the company is right to have chosen for us, it’s now walking that decision back, with Tim Cook saying this week that a future version of iOS will allow users to decide for themselves.
Which, of course, got me thinking about other places that Apple could stand to give users a little more agency instead of making the “best” decisions for us.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-18 20:19, modified at 20:20
The reports are in from the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show, and they’re not good if you’re an Apple watcher: The days of CES being a show full of products trumpeting their connections to the App Store are over. This year, it’s all about smart assistants—and that means Alexa and the Google Assistant, not Siri. It’s bad news for Apple—or is it?
Permalink - Posted on 2018-01-18 17:22
Nintendo, always known for its lateral-thinking, has announced its newest venture: Labo. What is Labo? Well, check out this video:
As someone who just got a Switch a few weeks back, I’ve been hugely impressed with the hardware. But as with the Wii before it, I’ve been impressed at how Nintendo has continued to think outside of the box of traditional consoles. If you don’t want to compete on sheer pixel-pushing power, then compete on innovation. Safe to say you’re not going to see Sony or Microsoft get into the cardboard business.
The Labo sets cost a little more than a standard game ($70 for the Variety Kit, which includes a host of different constructs plus a game cartridge; $80 for the Robot Kit, which turns you into a freaking robot), but the fact that they get you doing something other than staring at a screen is perhaps the most compelling part.
It’s worth remembering that Nintendo started its life as a company that made playing cards, back in 1889. So, to paraphrase Tim Cook, I guess you could say that cardboard’s in their DNA. ↩