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Permalink - Posted on 2018-11-12 20:37, modified at 20:38
After a week with the new iPad Pro, it’s time for our in-depth review of what we like and don’t like about Apple’s latest tablet hardware. Which size is the best? Why does Jason want to cover his Smart Keyboard Folio with stickers? Does the new Apple Pencil pass Myke’s tests? And why is Jason so angry about Apple’s pro apps?
Permalink - Posted on 2018-11-12 16:44, modified at 16:45
Most of the time, the iPhone stands at center stage in the iOS world. But every now and then, the iPad gets a moment. With this week’s release of new iPad Pro models, people are talking about Apple’s tablet and its laptop-equivalent power and price. The debate about whether the iPad can ever truly serve as a replacement for a conventional PC rages on.
But let’s take a break from all that talk about iPads and PCs and instead ponder a different question: What is Apple doing on the iPad that could, one day, benefit the iPhone?
The new iPad Pro inherits numerous features from the iPhone X family of devices, including Face ID, shrunken-down bezels for an edge-to-edge look, a Liquid Retina display reminiscent of the iPhone XR’s screen, a version of the A12 processor and the absence of a headphone jack. But it’s also not hard to imagine the iPad leading its smaller iOS cousin in a few new product directions.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-11-09 12:42
The recent Apple event in New York City had a lot going on, and we’re still working through all the new products the company showed off. But as the dust clears, there’s one lasting impression about which I feel remarkably certain.
There’s a sea change coming.
John Gruber alluded to this in his piece at Daring Fireball about the new MacBook Air:
Look at the iPad’s A12X compared to the iPhone’s A12 and you can see how much attention Apple is paying to the iPad’s system architecture. There’s no reason they won’t pay as much or more attention to the Mac’s custom silicon when they switch from Intel to their own chip designs. It should be downright glorious.
That line in the middle, delivered in a matter-of-the-fact fashion, has stuck with me. Not “if they switch.” “When.”
Like many other Apple watchers, I’m considering this transition a foregone conclusion. I’ve already put a stake in the ground that Apple will ship a Mac with custom silicon by 2020 at the absolute latest, and I stand by that.
The question is: which Mac goes first? There are, to my mind, two major contenders in this space.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-11-08 22:06, modified at 22:09
If it seems like just a couple weeks ago that we were getting news on Jon Favreau’s live action Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, that’s because it…was. But Disney has already announced it’s working on a second live action series set in the Star Wars universe, this one following Rogue One’s Cassian Andor. Actor Diego Luna will return to the role for the show, which will center on espionage adventures prior to the events of Rogue One, for obvious reasons.
Honestly, I was just thinking about Cassian the other day and how I was bummed we wouldn’t get more about him. That said, I’m fascinated to see how they draw his character; when we meet him in Rogue One, he’s not exactly the nicest of guys. Will this be a darker series in tone?
Given Solo’s apparently disappointing box office and the death of the Boba Fett movie, this seems to point to Disney repositioning Star Wars into a serialized TV format. (This makes three series, including the currently airing Resistance animated show, and not including the forthcoming conclusion to the Clone Wars series).
In some ways, that pivot’s no surprise, given the era of Peak TV we live in now, plus the ability to build ongoing original content for the company’s upcoming streaming service. The question is whether viewers will show up for this content in a way that they didn’t necessarily for the feature films. Right now Disney’s Episode IX is still scheduled for December 2019, and there is a trilogy in development from The Last Jedi’s Rian Johnson as well as some number of films from Game of Thrones producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss—but little is known about any of those movies.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-11-08 15:52
This week on the irreverent tech show where only two out of three of us are doing fake Scottish accents, we continue to take a look at Apple’s recent product announcements, including the Mac mini that can be made surprisingly pricey, the MacBook Air that confounds Apple’s laptop lineup, and even a little bit of the iPad Pro and how it hints at a future for Apple’s custom chips. Plus all of Dan’s former co-workers are disappearing inside Apple, like some sort of very monochrome horror movie.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-11-08 13:27, modified at 13:44
Update: The guide linked below uses some pictures from the 2014 Mac mini model, and though they are apparently similar to the 2018 in many ways, those looking to do their own upgrades will be better served by waiting for an official guide from iFixit.
Glad as we all are to see Apple didn’t solder the RAM to the motherboard in its latest Mac mini update, the process still isn’t as simple as in days of yore. Rod Bland has posted a guide on iFixit detailing the process, which requires a few specialized tools.
I’ve upgraded Mac minis in the past, and while everything is friendlier than the first models, which famously required a putty knife to open, this is yet another reminder that the days of easily upgradable computers are waning. It’ll be interesting to see what the company’s forthcoming Mac Pro looks like in this department.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-11-08 00:08, modified at 00:10
There was a time when magnets were the most terrifying things in computing. Magnets erased floppy disks and tape cassettes and even hard drives. But in the modern era, magnets are our friends. Apple has used them for various important tasks over the years, from the convenient breakaway charging cable of MagSafe to the sensor that knows you’ve closed your MacBook’s lid—and the attraction that helps keep it closed.
But in the last few years, Apple has brought the rules of magnetic attraction to the Apple Watch, the iPhone, and now the iPad. How do they work? You don’t need to know to appreciate what magnets do for modern Apple devices. And that goes double for the new iPad Pro, with its 102 magnets—as cited in Apple’s launch video about the product, no less—and all of the magnetic accessories that go along with it.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-11-07 21:45, modified on 2018-11-08 13:12
Ars Technica’s Samuel Axon scored an interview with Apple’s Phil Schiller and Anand Shimpi all about Apple’s custom silicon in the new iPad Pro. It’s an interesting read, and a rare dive into the nitty gritty technical details.
The iPad Pro outperforms every MacBook Pro we tested except for the most recent, most powerful 15-inch MacBook Pro with an 8th generation Intel Core i9 CPU. Generally, these laptops cost three times as much as the iPad Pro.
“You typically only see this kind of performance in bigger machines—bigger machines with fans,” Shimpi claimed. “You can deliver it in this 5.9 millimeter thin iPad Pro because we’ve built such a good, such a very efficient architecture.”
Ars also gets into the more interesting context to these chip discussions: namely, how does Apple’s venture into custom silicon affect the future of the Mac? That remains one of the most interesting and exciting potential stories of—likely—the next year or two, so it’s interesting to pick up the breadcrumbs here and there.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-11-07 18:11
This week, on the 30-minute tech show that will always share its cookies with you, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Heather Kelly and Casey Liss to discuss products we’d like to see resurrected, how we cope with living in Dongletown, whether tech helped or hindered our voting, and tech decisions we’ve reversed ourselves on. Plus, we all learn a little something about Casey’s aspirational headwear.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-11-06 11:00, modified on 2018-11-07 17:38
When the Mac mini was introduced at Macworld Expo in 2005, what caught the eye was the $499 base price, the lowest price ever for a Mac 1. In an era where the iPod was in the process of entirely rehabbing the Apple brand in the eyes of the general public, the Mac mini was for switchers—people who decided that the iPod was so good, maybe a computer made by Apple would be better than whatever PC they were using right then.
It was a good idea, and I suspect that the Mac mini drove a lot of switchers—or at least got them into an Apple Store, where perhaps they ended up walking out with an iMac instead.
Apple and the Mac are in very different place today, though. Most of the Macs it sells are laptops. The concept of the low-end desktop switcher feels outmoded. (Which is not to say there aren’t any, just that there maybe aren’t as many as there might have been in 2005.)
In the intervening 13 years, the Mac mini has become something different. As the one Mac without a built-in monitor that isn’t an expensive and large Mac Pro, it’s become a bit of a Swiss army knife, fitting as a tiny Internet or file server (I’ve had a Mac mini running in my house more or less constantly for more than a decade), running lights and audio in theaters and at rock concerts, and thousands of other small niches that are vitally important for the people who live in them.
Just last week, hours after an Apple media event, I found myself in an edit bay at the offices of Stitcher in midtown Manhattan, recording a podcast. The multi-microphone, multi-display audio setup was powered by—you guessed it—a Mac mini.
Apple has witnessed how the Mac mini has gone from being the best Mac it could build for $499 to one that’s a vital tool for professional and home users in a variety of contexts. And so, after a long time in the wilderness, the Mac mini has at last been updated—the right way. The last time the Mac mini got updated, Apple took away the highest-end configurations. This time, the Mac mini has been built with those many niche uses in mind.
For the record, you had to pay an additional $50 for Bluetooth, $79 for Wi-Fi, and $100 for a SuperDrive, and you could max out the Mac mini at $1200 if you tried. ↩
In the last few years, Intel has pushed the idea of extremely small desktop PCs, leading people like me to speculate that perhaps the next Mac mini would be even more mini. That didn’t happen. Instead, Apple has decided to use the existing Mac mini design, a low-lying slab of machined aluminum with curved edges. The only real difference is that now it’s darker, the old silver look replaced with a new space gray finish.
But on the inside (and on the back, where the ports reside), this is an entirely different beast. The ports are different, and versatile. Like the iMac Pro, the Mac mini recognizes that it’s useful to offer both USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 and USB-A ports. There are four of those Thunderbolt 3 ports, two classic USB-A ports, HDMI, a headphone jack, and Ethernet—Gigabit by default, with up to 10Gb Nbase-T Ethernet available as a $100 option. You can hang two 4K displays or one 5K display off of the Thunderbolt 3 ports. You can use adapters to connect to Thunderbolt 3 or Thunderbolt 2 or to give yourself more USB-A or… really, whatever you can think of. It’s a lot of ports.
It was so sad when the four-core Mac mini was discontinued in 2015, leaving only two-core options and disappointing people who really wanted a more powerful device. Not a problem this time—every Mac mini comes with desktop class, eighth-generation Intel Core processors with at least four cores. The entry-level model is powered by a 3.6GHz i3, a higher-end model comes with a 3.0GHz six-core i5, and you can build a model with a 3.2Ghz 6-core i7 processor if you really want to max things out. Go wild. (Those processors can get hot, which is why Apple has taken the interior space regained by eliminating spinning hard drives as an option and used that space for a revamped cooling system.)
The Mac mini can now be maxed out with 64GB of memory, much more than the previous 16GB maximum, and it uses industry-standard SO-DIMM modules that can be swapped out later if you decide you need more memory than you initially ordered. Apple recommends that the upgrade happen at an Apple Store or with an Apple authorized repair person, because to get to the DIMMs requires some pretty nasty surgery on the Mac mini. Old models used to keep the RAM slots right under the computer’s removable base, but that’s the home for the cooling system now. To discourage user access to the insides of the Mac mini, the old base (which had little indentations so you could push with your fingers and twist it off) has been replaced one that’s perfectly flat.
In what’s becoming the standard for all modern Mac models, the Mac mini has an Apple-designed T2 processor that enforces security and acts as a disk controller. Flash storage is the only option on these systems, starting at 128GB and going all the way up to a massive (and expensive) 2TB of storage.
On the graphics side, Apple has chosen not to include a discrete GPU in the Mac mini—all the systems have Intel’s onboard UHD Graphics 630. However, given the Thunderbolt 3, if you’re someone who really wants a massive graphics boost, you can attach an external GPU via Thunderbolt 3.
Apple provided me with a base-model Mac mini to test, and I transferred the contents of my home server and ran it all weekend. Even the base model was dramatically faster than my 2011 Mac mini, no surprise there. That’s the combination of the modern processor, 8GB of RAM, and the speed of the flash storage boot drive. I attached my Thunderbolt 2 RAID to one of the Thunderbolt 3 ports via an Apple adapter.
Whether you’ll want to upgrade from the $799 base model really depends on what you’re planning on doing with your Mac mini. The base model certainly seems capable of running as a home server without skipping a beat 1; if you’re planning on doing more intense work, you’ve got plenty of room to choose to upgrade. I admit to weighing the idea of ordering a model with the upgraded Ethernet port, just so I can max out the speed of the connection between my iMac Pro and my server. Everyone will have their own priorities.
This new Mac mini is exactly what it needs to be. Today the Mac mini is about flexibility and filling niches. This update allows it to span a wide range from basic server needs all the way up to high-end applications that require a great deal of processor power, fast storage, ultra-fast networking, and even beyond (via Thunderbolt 3). The high-end configurations might actually provide enough power for people to consider them over buying the Mac Pro, whenever it comes out. It remains to be seen just what ground the Mac Pro will cover, and what its starting price might be. The Mac mini may have just become the best (and best value) tool for somewhat high-end jobs that don’t require Xeon processors in large enclosures.
What is the Mac mini? It’s what you make of it. With this new update, it is once again a Mac that can be applied to whatever situations warrant it, hiding in cramped dark spaces or driving multiple monitors and extensive add-on accessories.
It’s not the space-gray exterior. It’s all the other options that come with this new model that re-establish the Mac mini as the Swiss army knife of Macs. Welcome home, little guy. We need you.
[Updated to indicate that the previous model maxed out at 16GB of RAM.
My base model generated GeekBench scores of 4698 (single core) and 13468 (multi core), which, yeah, that’s better than my 2011 model by just a little bit… ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2018-11-06 11:00, modified on 2018-11-07 22:57
Think back to the fall of 2010. The iPad was just a few months old, and Apple introduced a new design for the MacBook Air. The previous model was an impressively thin and light laptop (that could famously fit in a mailing envelope), but it was expensive and had a single USB port concealed beneath a weird flip-down door. But the new models—and there were two, at 13 and 11 inches—were entirely different. They were still thin and light, but now they offered two USB ports and a new wedge-shaped design.
In that moment, the MacBook Air went from being a bit of an oddball to being the heart and soul of the Mac laptop line—and since two-thirds of Mac sales are laptops, it’s probably safe to say that the MacBook Air is the definitive Mac of this decade. For the past eight years, its exterior design has largely remained unchanged, as other products have come and gone.
Just when we thought it was dead, after several years of essentially no updates, the MacBook Air has returned with a new version that’s clearly inspired by the classic design. It’s been so long since the last major MacBook Air update, in fact, that most of the “new” features on this device are simply a recap of all the changes Apple has made to other Macs the past few years, finally rolled into this one: a new keyboard, Retina display, Force Touch trackpad, Apple-designed T2 processor, USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, “Hey Siri”, and Touch ID.
Surprise! The definitive Mac of the 2010s is going to survive this decade. And while this MacBook Air is dramatically different from previous models in many ways, it’s also got a bunch of familiar touches that make it undeniably a MacBook Air. Like its predecessors, it’s not the computer for everyone… but it will probably be the most popular laptop among the (count ‘em) six models Apple currently offers.
Beyond the mere fact that it exists, the most surprising thing about this new MacBook Air is probably that it is deliberately styled like its predecessor. Anyone who’s carried a MacBook Air around for a few years will recognize all of its curves. The edges are curved, of course; the top shell gently slopes down to those edges; the bottom has the four familiar feet, array of little screws, and the same gentle curves. And of course the definitive wedge shape, when viewed from the side, remains intact—the laptop is .61 inches (15 mm) thick at its thickest point, by the back hinge; it’s just .16 inches (4.1 mm) thick at the front edge.
Sitting closed, you could almost mistake this for an older MacBook Air—if you didn’t look at the ports and if it wasn’t in the Space Gray or Gold shades that have never before been available on an Air. Once you open it up, though, there’s no mistaking that this is a different beast.
The display itself is 13.3 inches diagonal, the same measurement as the last remaining old Air model, but there the resemblance ends. The silver bezels that defined the look of the Air when it was open are gone, replaced by the all-glass covering that Apple has favored in every other laptop for many years. And the remaining black bezels under the glass are much smaller than those on the old model, which means that while the screen is the same size, the laptop itself has shrunk—it’s now 12 inches (30 cm) wide, while the old model was 12.8 inches (33 cm) wide. it’s also about half an inch less deep.
The result is that this is a 13-inch Air, but it’s a lot smaller than the old model—not quite the size of the old 11-inch Air, but closer than you might imagine. As a longtime user of that 11-inch model who always felt the 13-incher was a bit too large, this MacBook Air feels a lot nicer.
Leaving aside an embarrassingly tiny speed boost in the middle of 2017, the last spec update for the MacBook Air was in early 2015. That’s also when the 12-inch MacBook was introduced, and in the nearly four years since then, Apple has turned over the rest of its laptop product line, introducing a slew of new features that the MacBook Air never received. It made the Air, once the pride of the Mac, feel a bit like a relic from another time.
(For some people, this was a good thing. Many users have not reacted well to some of the new features Apple has introduced in the last few years, and the Air was still sitting there with its MagSafe charger and its old-style keyboard with more key travel, reminding them of the way things were.)
Those days are over. Like a recap at the beginning of a TV show, it’s time to update the MacBook Air with what it missed when it skipped the last four seasons of MacBook updates.
Keyboard. That classic old keyboard design, on which I typed hundreds of thousands of words, is no more. This new MacBook Air has the new third-generation “butterfly” keyboard design that’s also on the 2018-model MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. This is an updated version of the keyboard that was introduced back in 2015 with the 12-inch MacBook, and it’s got reduced key travel, an arrow-key layout that’s harder to orient on by feel, and a reputation for unreliability.
On the positive side, the MacBook Air benefits from the fact that it’s inheriting the third-generation version of this keyboard, with whatever lessons Apple has learned along the way. It’s definitely better than the previous models. For all of Apple’s claims of improved key stability, I never thought to myself that the old Air keyboard was flawed because if you pressed on the edges of a keycap, the keycap wiggled a little bit. It was a great keyboard and I’ll miss it.
That said… this new keyboard is fine to type on. I don’t love it, but I imagine that I’d rapidly get used to it. I’ve written this entire review on the MacBook Air, and after a brief breaking-in process, I’m basically typing at full speed. The keys provide some audible feedback without the louder crunch that the second-generation version did.
I admit that I’m not thrilled about all the horror stories I’ve heard about people getting crumbs stuck under one of the keys, forcing a blast with a can of compressed air and/or a trip to the Genius bar. But the fact is, if you want a new Apple laptop, you’re going to get this keyboard whether you like it or not. I’m not sure it’s a keyboard I’m ever going to love, but it’s a keyboard I could do business with.
Retina Display. Apple’s been doing Retina displays on laptops for a long time, and the Air was one of the last holdouts. Higher-resolution Mac displays are great, and I’d never buy a Mac without a Retina display at this point. Text is smooth and photos are gorgeous. I will note that despite Apple’s claims that the resolution of this display on the MacBook Air is twice that of the old non-Retina model (i.e., four times the pixels), that’s not accurate. This display is 2560 by 1600, which is only 1.7x the dimensions of the old screen—meaning it’s got about 3.2 times the pixels of the old model. Regardless, it’s an enormous upgrade and really reason enough to get this MacBook Air if you’ve been soldiering on with an old model.
Force Touch trackpad. Believe it or not, the MacBook Air still used the old-style trackpad that physically moved, with the hinge at the top, so the clickable area was largely the bottom half of the trackpad. The new Air has a larger trackpad that doesn’t depress, but detects clicks based on pressure and then provides haptic feedback that emulates a click. It’s easier to make multitouch gestures and you can click anywhere on the surface. It’s a superior trackpad in every way.
T2 Processor. A huge change in what makes a Mac a Mac came with the introduction of the T2, an Apple-designed ARM processor that is similar to the chips that run the Apple Watch, Apple TV, iPhones, and iPads. On all Macs with the T2, the processor is acting as a system controller, managing (and encrypting) the flash storage and managing the security of the system. On the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, the T2 runs the Touch Bar and the Touch ID sensor. This processor also helps enable the “Hey Siri” feature, where you can kick off a Siri request just by saying those familiar words, rather than needing to type a keyboard shortcut as on older models.
USB-C/Thunderbolt 3. The 12-inch MacBook began Apple’s transition away from classic USB to the new USB-C port design. This MacBook Air has two USB-C ports, just as the old MacBook Air had two USB-A ports. But these ports have to do double duty—literally. The older Airs also had a MagSafe port for charging, a Mini DisplayPort connector that could drive an external display or connect to high-speed peripherals via Thunderbolt, and—on the 13-inch model—an SD card slot. The new MacBook Air’s USB-C ports have to be USB ports, but they’re also Thunderbolt ports, video-out ports, and your power source.
If you’re someone who tends to plug in more than one thing at once, well, this MacBook Air is a regression. Apple seems to believe that most users don’t plug much into their laptops, and maybe they’re right. But if you are someone who does, you’ll need to do what most other Apple laptop users in this USB-C world have done—buy an adapter or a hub or muddle through by plugging and unplugging as needed. Welcome to Dongletown.
Stereo sound stage. In recent iPhone and iPad models, Apple has showed off a new set of technologies that combine stereo speakers and some audio processing to provide more dynamic and separated stereo sound. Suffice it to say that if you watch a movie on this MacBook Air you will have a dramatically upgraded experience, not just from that Retina display but from the stereo audio coming from speakers located to the left and right of the keyboard, rather than from behind the back hinge bouncing off the laptop screen like the old model.
Though this MacBook Air is mostly made up of bits that have premiered on other Apple laptops in the last few years, there are a few new wrinkles. Most notably, this is the first Apple laptop to have Touch ID without having a Touch Bar.
Located just to the right of the F12 key, the shiny, narrow-width Touch ID sensor that doubles as the power key. (These days you don’t need to use the power button much, but it’s still useful if you need to forcibly reset a Mac.) In practice, the Touch ID sensor works exactly as it does on the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar—it’s just sharing space with real keys, not a virtual key strip.
With Touch ID enabled, you can unlock the MacBook Air by laying your finger on the sensor. It’s also useful for unlocking third-party apps like 1Password. Once you get used to using a Mac with Touch ID, it’s hard to go back to the old way. This is definitely a step up for MacBook Air users.
In terms of processor, this new MacBook Air model is less flexible than past models, where you could spend more money to configure the Air with high-powered Core i7 processors. The new Air comes in a single processor configuration: a 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5, with Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz. This processor is lower powered than the processors in past MacBook Airs, and is of the class of the processor found in the 12-inch MacBook, not the 13-inch MacBook Pro (without Touch Bar).
I’d expect the MacBook Air to run faster than the MacBook—especially since it’s got a fan it can crank up instead of throttling down the processor like the fanless MacBook has to do. (Yes, MacBook Air fans, if you put your device to work you’ll hear that familiar blowing sound of the fan going to work.) But it’s not going to be as fast as that 13-inch MacBook Pro.
It’s always been the case that if you wanted a faster MacBook you’d need to spend more cash. The difference is that, today, that money will need to go toward a different model—that 13-inch MacBook Pro, which starts at only $100 more—rather than toward a different processor inside the same model.
In that way, this MacBook Air reminds me of how Apple handles its iOS devices. Apple doesn’t let you choose a different processor speed or class when you buy an iPhone or iPad. Every product comes with what it comes with—in the case of iOS, within a model type all that varies is storage and the cellular network option. I wonder if this is the future of the Mac, too—especially on the consumer end of the line.
There are a lot of MacBooks for sale right now. Leaving aside the old MacBook Air, which feels like it’s months away from retirement, there’s the 12-inch MacBook, the new Air, the 13-inch MacBook Pro without the Touch Bar, and the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros. What’s a prospective Mac laptop buyer to do?
The introduction of the new MacBook Air hasn’t simplified Apple’s overall product line—there’s still an old model and the MacBook hasn’t been updated and that 13-inch MacBook Pro without Touch Bar still feels like a weird outlier product that should have another name. But I think the MacBook Air does simplify the Mac laptop buying process, in that it feels like the best starting point, the center of the Venn Diagram of MacBooks.
If you’re shopping for a Mac laptop, start with the MacBook Air. Want a cheaper model? The old Air is there for as long as it lasts. Want something even smaller and lighter, and are willing to trade some power, port flexibility, and money for it? The MacBook is for you. Want something more powerful, and are willing to take on a slightly heavier and more expensive device? The 13-inch MacBook Pro without Touch Bar is for you. Want even more power? The 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros offer numerous opportunities to upgrade specs and spend more money.
If there’s any place where the MacBook Air has regressed (beyond the $200 increase in base price), it’s in its status as a consumer laptop that could have its specs boosted into something resembling a pro laptop. That’s how I used my MacBook Air, and I’m a little disappointed that it’s no longer built for that use case—but for $100 more I can buy a MacBook Pro that still fits that scenario.
Still, Apple has placed the MacBook Air back where it spent the first part of this decade: firmly at the center of the Apple laptop universe. It’s not the cheapest or fastest or lightest laptop, but it’s the lowest-priced Retina Mac and it’s powerful and flexible enough to serve the needs of the broad audience for consumer Macs. The new geographic center of the Mac is once again where it’s been for most of this decade: It’s the MacBook Air.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-11-06 10:59, modified at 11:06
It’s review time! Hear Jason’s thoughts on the new MacBook Air and Mac mini. How do they fit in to Apple’s product line? Who are these machines for? Also: The iPhone XR - is it a ‘budget’ iPhone, or is it the right iPhone for most people?
Permalink - Posted on 2018-11-03 21:50, modified at 21:51
Pick up a femur, order a moon sandwich, and always remember to bring your space helmet with you! On its 50th anniversary, Jason is joined by John Gruber, John Siracusa, Dr. Drang, Moises Chiullan, and Philip Michaels to discuss Stanley Kubrick’s classic “2001: A Space Odyssey.” What is the Monolith’s purpose? When and why does HAL become murderous? And why is there so much solarized stock footage of landscapes? Watch out for cheetahs!
Permalink - Posted on 2018-11-02 13:06
What is dead may never die, as the Ironborn of Game of Thrones are fond of saying. This week, Apple resurrected both the MacBook Air and the Mac mini at its event, proving that death is sometimes only a temporary state of affairs—at least where tech products are concerned.
But just as this week’s Apple event giveth, there’s also the suggestion that it might taketh away; some Apple products and technologies find themselves in limbo after the announcements of the week, meaning that the writing may perhaps be on the wall for them.
Of course, not all of these products and technologies will die immediately—some may linger on for a while yet, and a few of them may not stay dead. (As the Air and mini showed us, sometimes they’re just hibernating.) But Apple has a habit of being brutal when it comes to cutting the dead weight from its lineup, even when it comes to killing those things that it once considered its darlings.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-11-02 01:59, modified at 02:00
It’s another record quarter as a part of a record fiscal year for Apple. The revenue was nearly $63 billion, the profit more than $14 billion, and for the year Apple generated $265 billion in revenue and nearly $60 billion in profit. It’s the company’s eighth straight quarter of revenue growth, and that growth has accelerated every one of those quarters. This is a healthy company; you couldn’t find a healthier one if you tried.
Yes, Apple’s stock is getting hit because its guidance—the amount of money it expects to make during the current quarter—is actually slightly below what Wall Street analysts were expecting. For the record, the revenue Apple has guided to—between $89 and $93 billion—would be the most revenue Apple has ever generated in a quarter, and somewhere between 1 and 5 percent growth. In other words, get ready for another record Apple quarter, because this one’s shaping up to be huge.
As always, it’s worth reading between the lines of the federally-mandated financial disclosure tables and listening to the specifics of the company’s ritual phone call with financial analysts to see what else is on the company’s mind. Here are a few things that I noticed.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-11-01 21:03, modified at 22:35
[Here’s a complete transcript of Thursday’s Apple call with analysts.]
Tim Cook: Good afternoon everyone and thanks for joining us. I just got back from Brooklyn where we marked our fourth major launch event of the year. In addition to being a great time it put an exclamation point at the end of a remarkable fiscal 2018. This year we shipped our two billionth iOS device, celebrated the 10th anniversary of the App Store, and achieved the strongest revenue and earnings in Apple’s history.
In fiscal year 18 our revenue grew by 36.4 billion dollars. That’s the equivalent of a Fortune 100 company in a single year. And we’re capping all that off with our best September quarter ever. Revenue was 62.9 billion dollars ahead of our expectations. That’s an increase of 20 percent over last year and our highest growth rate in three years. We also generated record Q4 earnings, with 41 percent year over year growth in EPS. Record results from iPhone, services, and wearables drove our momentum, and we produced strong double-digit revenue growth in all of our geographic segments.
It was a big year and a big quarter for iPhone. Q4 revenue was up 29 percent over last year, an increase of over 8 billion dollars to a new September quarter record, fueled by continued momentum for iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and X, and the very successful launch of iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max.
These latest devices are our most advanced iPhones ever, with the industry’s first 7nm A12 Bionic chip with an Apple-designed eight-core Neural Engine capable of executing an astounding 5 trillion operations per second. The A12 bionic is many years in the making and a huge technological leap forward. It sets the iPhone experience far apart from the competition, using real time machine learning to transform the way we experience photos, gaming, augmented reality, and more. It makes full use of the dual camera system that shoots portrait mode photos with smart HDR and dynamic depth of field, and Face ID is even faster.
The response has been powerful. As one reviewer iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max are are the perfect blend of design and craftsmanship, as well as seamlessly intuitive user experience.
We’re not done yet. Just last week we began shipping iPhone XR, bringing the latest iPhone breakthroughs to even more users, with an all screen glass and aluminum design and the most advanced LCD in a smartphone, the product reviews have been overwhelmingly positive.
IOS 12 has gotten off to an incredible start. It’s been installed on more systems in its first month than any version of iOS ever. iOS 12 is delivering system wide performance enhancements, Siri shortcuts, and new tools to help people reduce interruptions and manage screen time for themselves and their kids.
Siri Shortcuts in particular is already deeply integrated with some of the most popular apps out there. Whether you’re tracking your workouts or rushing to catch a flight, you can be sure all of your most relevant apps are working together with Siri in the drivers seat.
iOS 12 also features ARKit 2, a major upgrade to our Augmented Reality Engine. ARKit 2 makes possible simultaneous, multi-user experiences and real-world object incorporation. Our developer community is really running with its technology. From gaming to shopping, we’re seeing great new use cases emerge. iOS devices deliver the best AR experiences of any products in the market today, and with the announcement of our new iPad Pro this week, we’ve made that gap even wider.
More powerful than the vast majority of PC laptops. The new iPad Pro is unrivaled in its versatility and performance. When paired with a beautifully refined Apple Pencil and a new streamlined full-size smart keyboard, iPad Pro will extend its lead as the ultimate creativity and productivity device.
And finally, just this week we delivered the hotly anticipated Group FaceTime functionality to all FaceTime-enabled devices.
For services. It was our best quarter ever with revenue at ten billion dollars. Excluding the impact of a favorable one-time accounting adjustment of 640 million dollars a year ago, our services growth was 27 percent. We set new Q4 records in all of our geographic segments, and new all-time revenue records for the App Store, cloud services, AppleCare, Apple Music, and Apple Pay. We also continue to see strong growth in paid subscriptions, reaching over 330 million in our ecosystem.
I want to spotlight the exceptional performance of Apple Pay, which is by far the number one mobile contactless payment service worldwide. Transaction volume tripled year over year. And to put that into perspective, Apple Pay generated significantly more transactions than even PayPal Mobile, with over four times the growth rate. As a testament to accelerating U.S. growth, Costco completed the rollout of Apple Pay to over 500 U.S. warehouses last quarter, while Neiman Marcus is now accepting Apple Pay at over 40 stores across the country. With these additions, 71 of the top 100 merchants, and 60 percent of all U.S. retail locations support Apple Pay.
We continue to invest in our strategy to replace the wallet with the recent launch of student ID passes at several major U.S. universities, and 10 months following its launch, Apple Pay Cash is the highest-rated mobile peer to peer service by Consumer Reports, based on exceptional payment authentication and data privacy.
We set an all-time quarterly record for Mac revenue, thanks to strong performance in MacBook Pro and the impact of the back to school season. In September we delivered Mac OS Mojave, bringing powerful new features to Mac like Dark Mode, Stacks, and a completely redesigned Mac App Store. Considered alongside the release of iOS 12, watchOS 5, and a new tvOS, Mac OS Mojave tells a powerful story of the seamless integration of world-class hardware software and services that define the Apple ecosystem.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the call, earlier this week we announced exciting updates to the Mac line-up. The all-new Macbook Air brings a stunning Retina display, Touch ID, the latest processors, and an even more portable designed to the world’s most beloved notebook. We also unveiled the biggest update ever to Mac Mini, the small yet muscular desktop that powers everything from the music and sound effects at Broadway shows to the developers who build some of the most popular apps in the App Store. The new Mac Mini boasts an amazing five times faster performance than before.
With revenue growth over 50 percent, it was another record quarter for wearables, which includes Apple Watch, AirPods, and Beats products. With the highest customer satisfaction in the industry, Apple Watch has become an essential part of people’s lives. The customer response to the Apple Watch Series 4 has been overwhelmingly positive, driven by its all-new design, larger display, faster performance, fall detection, enhanced cellular reception, and electrical heart sensor.
Later this year the ECG app will be available to Apple Watch Series 4 customers in the U.S., giving them the ability to take an electrocardiogram any time, right from their wrists. And for U.S. customers with Apple Watch Series 1 and later, watchOS will soon enable periodic checks for irregular heart rhythms that may be suggestive of a-fib. These are unprecedented and potentially life-changing features, showing how Apple Watch is not only an indispensable communication and fitness companion, but also an intelligent guardian for your health. More broadly we see this as just one further example of the kind of contribution we can make in the health space, and we look forward to making more in the future.
We are proud to bring HomePod to new customers. I was in Spain last week, as HomePod became available there and in Mexico. HomePod delivers the highest fidelity audio quality, working together with an Apple Music subscription to stream over 50 million songs into any room of your home.
Our retail team posted record Q4 results to conclude their biggest year ever. They are transforming our stores into places where customers come to connect, learn, and be inspired together with people from their community. Our Today at Apple sessions are a terrific example of what that looks like in practice. We hosted over 250,000 Today at Apple sessions this quarter, connecting aspiring creators with local photographers, illustrators, and other experts who can help them get the most out of their devices. Apple stores also hosted 74,000 kids at Apple camp.
The relationship Apple has with our customers is about more than just making a purchase. With the recent addition of beautiful new stores in Italy, Japan, China, and in just a few weeks, Thailand, we will have 506 stores where we can further those relationships, almost half of which are outside the United States.
Before I turn the call over to Luca, I’d like to touch on two items that may not show up in our financial statements, but are just as integral to Apple’s mission and our commitment to making the world a better place.
First, education. More than 5,000 schools, community colleges, and technical colleges worldwide are now using Everyone Can Code, our free coding curriculum. Ideas, creativity, and passion for technology’s potential aren’t limited by zip code or country. And we don’t think opportunities should be either. We’re also excited that educators in more than 350 schools around the world have started working with Everyone can Create, the free collection of tools and project guides we introduced this spring, designed to help unleash kids’ creativity throughout the school day with the help of iPad.
Next is the environment. This was a milestone year for Apple’s commitment to our planet. In April we announced that 100 percent of our global operations are powered by renewable energy. We also made progress in doing the same in our supply chain. And just this week we announced that the enclosures of new products like MacBook Air and iPad Pro will be made from one hundred percent recycled aluminum, a strong, durable, and beautiful new alloy designed by Apple. This is a great example of how a commitment to do right on the issues that matter can drive once unimaginable innovation, new ways of approaching old problems, and beautiful solutions that set us apart.
I’d like to thank all of our employees, customers, developers, and business partners for helping us deliver outstanding results across our fiscal 2018. We are headed into the holidays with our strongest product line-up ever, and we could not be more bullish about Apple’s future.
And now, Luca has more details to share with you on the September quarter. Luca?
Luca Maestri: Thank you Tim. Good afternoon everyone. We are extremely pleased to report record results for our September quarter, which capped a tremendously successful fiscal 2018, a year in which we saw double-digit revenue growth in every geographic segment, and established new revenue and earnings records in every single quarter.
Revenue in the fourth quarter was 62.9 billion, up 20 percent and more than 10 billion over last year. With strong double-digit growth in each of our geographic segments, and record Q4 revenue in the Americas, in Europe, Japan, and rest of Asia Pacific. In fact, we set new revenue records in almost every market we tracked, with especially strong growth in Germany, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan, and Korea, all major markets where revenue growth was 25 percent or higher. We also set new fourth quarter revenue records for iPhone and wearables, and new all-time records for Services and Mac.
Gross margin was 38.3 percent, flat sequentially in line with our expectations, as leverage from higher revenue offset seasonal transition costs. We set new September quarter records for net income, EPS, and cash flow from operations. Net income was 14.1billion dollars, up 3.4 billion or 32 percent over last year. Diluted earnings per share were $2.91, up 41 percent. Cash flow from operations was 19.5 billion dollars, up 3.8 billion from a year ago.
iPhone revenue grew 29 percent, with growth of more than 20 percent in every geographic segment. iPhone ASP was $793 compared to $618 dollars a year ago, driven by strong performance of iPhone X, 8, 8 plus, as well as the successful launch of iPhone XS and XS Max in the September quarter this year, while we launched iPhone X in the December quarter last year. We sold 46.9 million iPhones during the quarter, with growth of 20 percent or more in several markets including Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Norway, Chile, and Vietnam.
Customer satisfaction with iPhone continues to be outstanding, and is the highest in the industry. The latest survey of U.S. consumers from 451 Research indicates customer satisfaction of 98 percent for iPhone X, 8, and 8 Plus combined. And among business buyers who planned to purchase smartphones in the December quarter, 80 percent planned to purchase iPhones.
Turning to services, it was our best quarter ever in total, and virtually in every market around the world, with revenue of ten billion dollars. A year ago we had a one-time 640 million dollar favorable impact to Services revenue due to an accounting adjustment, and taking that into account, our services growth in Q4 this year was 27 percent. As Tim mentioned, we reached new all-time quarterly revenue records for many Services categories, and we are well on our way to achieve our goal to double our fiscal 2016 services revenue by 2020.
We now have over 330 million paid subscriptions on our plan for an increase of over 50 percent versus a year ago. We are very pleased not only with the growth, but also with the breadth of our subscription business. In fact, 30,000 third-party subscription apps are available on the App Store today, and the largest of them all represents less than 0.3 percent of our total services revenue.
Next, I’d like to talk about the Mac. We saw a great response to our new MacBook Pro models that we launched in July, with strong double-digit revenue growth driving an all-time quarterly record for Mac revenue. We were especially pleased with Mac momentum in emerging markets, with strong growth in Latin America, in India, the Middle East and Africa, and Central and Eastern Europe. At over 100 million units, our active installed base of Macs is at an all-time high, and the majority of customers purchasing Macs in the September quarter were new to Mac.
We sold 9.7 million iPads during the quarter, gaining share in nearly every market we track based on the latest estimates from IDC. We generated iPad growth in a number of key regions around the world, including Latin America, Europe, Japan, India, and South Asia. Among customers around the world purchasing iPads during the quarter, nearly half were new to iPad, and our active install base of iPad reached a new all-time high. NPD indicates that iPad had 58 percent share of the U.S. tablet market in the September quarter, up from 54 percent share a year ago. And the most recent consumer survey from 451 Research measured iPad customer satisfaction ratings of 96 percent for both iPad and iPod Pro. And among business customers who plan to purchase tablets in the December quarter, 74 percent plan to purchase iPad.
Other products revenue grew 31 percent, to a new September quarter record, with an increase of over one billion dollars compared to a year ago thanks to wearables growth of over 50 percent and the strong performance of Apple TV, in addition to the introduction of HomePod earlier this year.
As we look back across fiscal 2018, we have made great progress in the enterprise market where iOS is transforming how business gets done across multiple industries. In fact, over 450 airlines and 47 of the top 50 around the world have adopted iOS to help pilots fly safer, more efficient flights, and many airlines are also using iOS to support better customer experiences and improve maintenance operations.
We’re also making great strides in the retail sector, where nine of the top 10 global retailers use iOS devices to transform their customer and employee experiences. We are seeing industry-wide adoption of iOS at thousands of retailers, from neighborhood boutiques to many of the best-known retailers in the world. Deployment of iOS devices is growing steadily as retailers replace their traditional point of sale systems and use custom iOS apps on iPhones and iPads to provide highly personalized shopping experiences.
Our success in enterprise is supported by our key partnerships. Since launching our first strategic partnership with IBM, 240 large customers have signed Mobile First for iOS deals. Business manager, a new way for I.T. teams to deploy Apple devices at scale. The response from companies around the world has been tremendous, with over 40,000 companies currently enrolled.
Let me now turn to our cash position. We ended the quarter with 237.1 billion dollars in cash plus marketable securities. We also had 102.5 billion dollars in term debt, and 12 billion in commercial paper outstanding, for a net cash position of 122.6 six billion dollars. As explained earlier this year, it is our plan to reach a net cash-neutral position over time. As part of this plan, we returned over 23 billion to investors during the quarter. We purchased 92.5 million Apple shares for 19.4 billion dollars through open market transactions, and we paid 3.5 billion dollars in dividends and equivalents.
For our fiscal year 2018, revenue grew over 36 billion dollars to 265.6 billion, an all time record. Every geographic segment grew double digits, with new records in the Americas, Europe, Japan, and Rest of Asia Pacific. We also set new all-time records for net income, up 23 percent versus last year, and EPS, up 29 percent. And we returned a total of almost 90 billion dollars to our investors during the year, including almost 14 billion in dividends and equivalents and over 73 billion in share repurchases.
Before we discuss our December quarter outlook, I’d like to describe a number of changes in our financial reporting that we’re implementing as we enter our new fiscal year.
First, given the increasing importance of our Services business, and in order to provide additional transparency to our financial results, we will start reporting revenue as well as cost of sales for both total products and total services beginning this December quarter.
Second, also beginning this December quarter, we are adopting the FASB’s new standard for revenue recognition. This will not result in any change to our total revenue, but it will impact the way we report the classification of revenue between products and services. In particular, the revenue corresponding to the amortization of the deferred value of bundled services such as Maps, Siri, and free iCloud services, was previously reported in product revenue. After adopting the new standard, this revenue will now be reported in services revenue. The change in classification between products and services will also apply to the costs that are associated with the delivery of such bundled services. After we file our 10k, we will post a schedule to our Investor Relations website showing the reclassification of fiscal 2018 revenue from products to services in connection with the adoption of the new standard. The size of this reclassification amounts to less than one percent of total company revenue, and for clarity this reclassification was not contemplated in our previously stated goal of doubling our fiscal 16 services revenue by 2020. That goal remains unchanged, and excludes the revenue that is now shifting from products to services over that timeframe.
Third, starting with the December quarter we will no longer be providing unit sales data for iPhone, iPad, and Mac. As we have stated many times, our objective is to make great products and services that enrich people’s lives, and to provide an unparalleled customer experience so that our users are highly satisfied, loyal, and engaged. As we accomplish these objectives, strong financial results follow. As demonstrated by our financial performance in recent years, the number of units sold in any 90-day period is not necessarily representative of the underlying strength of our business. Furthermore, a unit of sale is less relevant for us today than it was in the past, given the breadth of our portfolio, and the wider sales price dispersion within any given product line.
Fourth, starting with the December quarter we will be renaming the Other Products category to Wearables, Home, and Accessories to provide a more accurate description of the items that are included in this product category.
As we move ahead into the December quarter, I’d like to review our outlook, which includes the types of forward looking information that Nancy referred to at the beginning of the call.
We have the strongest lineup ever as we enter the holiday season and we expect revenue to be between 89 billion and 93 billion, a new all-time record. This range reflects a number of factors to be considered. First, we consider the effect of Q4 and Q1 of the launch timing of our new iPhones this year versus last year. Second, we expect almost two billion dollars of foreign exchange headwinds. Third, we have an unprecedented number of products ramping, and while our ramps are going fairly well, we have uncertainty around supply and demand balance. And fourth, we also face some macroeconomic uncertainty particularly in emerging markets.
We expect gross margins to be between 38 and 38.5 percent. We expect OpEx to be between 8.7 and 8.8 billion dollars. We expect OI&E to be about 300 million dollars, and we expect the tax rate to be about 16.5 percent before discrete items. Also today our Board of Directors has declared the cash dividend of 73 cents per share of common stock, payable on November 15, 2018 to shareholders of record as of November 12, 2018.
With that, I’d like to open the call to questions.
Wamsi Mohan, Bank of America Merrill Lynch: Tim, there has been some real deceleration in some of these emerging markets, partly driven by some concerns around some of the rules the administration is contemplating and partly driven by things that are more specific to China, for instance, like some of the regulations around gaming. So can you talk about how you see the trajectory there for the business and what do you think of the initiatives of some companies like Netflix and Fortnite trying to bypass the app store around subscriptions.
Tim Cook: Sure! Great question. Starting with emerging markets, the emerging markets that we’re seeing pressure in are markets like Turkey, India, Brazil, Russia, these are markets where currencies have weakened over the recent period. In some cases that resulted in us raising prices, and those those markets are not growing the way we would like to see. To give you a perspective in some detail, our business in India in Q4 was flat. Obviously we would like to see that be a huge growth. Brazil was down somewhat compared to the previous year. And so the way that I see these is, each one of the emerging markets has a bit of a different story, and I don’t see it as some sort of issue that is common between those for the most part.
In relation to China specifically, I would not put China in that category. Our business in China was very strong last quarter, we grew 16 percent, which we’re very happy with. iPhone in particular was very strong, very strong double digit growth there. Our Other Products category was also stronger. In fact, a bit stronger than even the overall company number. The App Store in China, we have seen a slowdown or a moratorium, to be more accurate, on new game approvals. There is a new regulatory setup in China, and things are not moving the way they were moving previously. We did see a few games approved recently, but it’s very far below the historic pace. And as you’ve probably seen, some of the larger companies there that are public have talked about this as they announce their earnings as well. We don’t know exactly when the approvals will sort of return to a normal pace. So I would not want to to predict that. Just for avoidance of doubt here, I don’t view that that issue has anything to do with the trade related discussions between the countries. I think that is strictly a domestic issue in China.
In terms of larger developers, if you sort of step back and look at the value proposition for people from the App Store. There are two key constituencies in that equation, there’s the user and there’s the developer. If you start with the user, what the App Store provides people is sort of the best and safest place for users to get apps. And we have a tremendous process and infrastructure around achieving that, and where it is not perfect, we wind up reviewing over 100,000 apps per week between new apps and updates for existing apps. And then work with developers quickly to fix the issues, and we also provide the user a one payment model for purchasing apps and subscriptions and in-app purchases, etc., so that they are not in a position that they have to share their private information across many companies. And so that’s sort of the proposition for the user.
For the developer, we obviously provide the developers a tremendous amount of developer tools, programs, compilers, languages. Of course, the operating system, APIs, SDKs, and have a huge developer relations team, and we do a tremendous amount of marketing for developers, including the new Today editorial that we just started in the past few months. Personal recommendations, search tools, and so on and so forth. So there will be, there’s no doubt in my mind, there have already been some large developers that concluded that they could do something on their own. We’re fine with that. I think Luca mentioned in his comment that the if I look at the largest developer, they make up less than 0.3 percent of the services revenue. So it’s probably good to think about that in that context. And there are millions of apps on the store, obviously, and 30,000 or so subscription apps. And so the subscription business itself is nearly as broad as the app store itself is. And so that’s the value proposition. I think that the vast majority of people are very happy with it, including the most important people of all which is the user.
Wamsi Mohan: Appreciate the response. If I could just ask you really quick on Apple’s role in healthcare. It’s been growing significantly since the early introduction of the watch. And then, you know, the various kits for developers, including HealthKit, CareKit, etc. And when you combine that with your very staunch advocacy for privacy, I see Apple could become a really large disintermediating force in all the friction in the healthcare industry today, in the way medical information is shared and distributed. Is this a way that you see the future for Apple in healthcare, and do you see a means to also grow your services business through the healthcare offerings that could become subscriptions to your customers?
Tim Cook: Apple has a huge opportunity in health, and you can see from our past several years that we have intense interest in the space and are adding products and services—not monetized services, so far—to that, and I don’t want to talk about the future, it’s because I don’t want to give away what we’re doing. But this is an area of major interest to us.
Shannon Cross, Cross Research: Given the 4 billion dollar range in revenue that you’re giving for the quarter and all of the things that are going on in the world right now, can you maybe give a little detail about the variables that you took into account when you were coming up with this. Geopolitical, trade, macro, component costs. I don’t know, if you can just give us some ideas of what the puts and takes were.
Luca Maestri: At the revenue level, we started from the fact that we are very, very excited about the lineup of products and services that we have getting into the holiday season. It’s the strongest lineup that we’ve ever had, and our guidance range, by the way, represents a new all-time quarterly revenue record, right? As I explained in my prepared remarks, there are a number of things that need to be considered as part of this guidance range, right? The first one is the fact that the launch timing of the new iPhones this year is essentially reverse order versus last year. And that has had an effect on Q4 and will have an effect on Q1. Last year, we launched the top end of our iPhone lineup which was iPhone X during Q1, and placed the entirety of the channel fill for iPhone X in Q1. This year we launched the top end of the lineup, which is the XS and the XS Max, during Q4. Obviously this resulted in a more pronounced ASP growth in Q4 of 18, and obviously a tougher compare for Q1. So I think it’s important to keep that in mind as you look at the revenue guidance that we provided.
The second point that needs to be kept in mind, it is a fact of life and we have dealt with it for a number of years now, is the fact that when I look at currencies around the world, virtually every foreign currency has depreciated against the U.S. dollar in the last 12 months. And when we look at the impact of foreign exchange on our revenue for the December quarter, we’re looking at 200 basis points of headwinds which translates, given the size of our business, to almost two billion dollars of headwind to our revenue.
The third point that I think it’s important to keep in mind, and Tim has talked about this, in the last six weeks we’ve launched an unprecedented number of new products. They’re all ramping right now. The ramps are going fairly well, but obviously we have some uncertainty around supply/demand balance for some of these products.
And then, finally, the last point that we’ve taken into account is what Tim’s talked about in terms of some level of uncertainty at the macroeconomic level in some emerging markets, where clearly consumer confidence is not as high as it was 12 months ago. So take that into account and that’s how we got to the range.
Shannon Cross: Thank you. I just want to talk a little bit about the pullback in terms of guidance from a unit perspective. I understand you don’t want to give guidance because 90 days is a short period of time and it can, you know, fluctuate, but what kind of qualitative commentary do you think you’ll be able to provide? Because, you know, obviously investors have spent the last however many years going, you know, P times Q. So, you know, how should we think about what we can expect and how are you going to manage this process as we go through. I know it’s our job to forecast, but…
Luca Maestri: Let me walk you through the rationale that we’ve used, and then I’ll talk about this qualitative commentary that you were mentioning. As I said, our objective is to make great products, provide the best customer experience, and get our customers satisfied, engaged, and loyal to our ecosystem. When you look at our financial performance in recent years, the last three years for example, the number of units sold during any quarter has not been necessarily representative of the underlying strength of our business. If you look at our revenue during the last three years, if you look at our net income during in the last three years, if you look at our stock price in the last three years, there’s no correlation to the units sold in any given period. As you know very well, in addition, our product ranges for all the major product categories have become wider over time, and therefore a unit of sale is less relevant for us at this point compared to the past because we’ve got this much wider sales prices dispersion so unit of sale per se becomes less relevant. As I know you’re aware, by the way, our top competitors in smartphones and tablets and computers do not provide quarterly unit sales information either. But of course, we understand that this is something of interest, and when we believe that providing qualitative commentary on unit sales offers additional relevant information to investors, we will do so.
Tim Cook: Let me make one additional point there just for clarity. Shannon, our intention is to continue to give revenue guidance at the company level and gross margin guidance in the other categories that we’ve been providing. And so our guidance isn’t changing. It’s the it’s the actual report that changes.
Mike Olson, Piper Jaffray: With the staggered iPhone launch, were you able to discern any impact on the XS and XS Max from buyers potentially waiting for the XR and what if anything can we take away from the December quarter guidance related to what you’re seeing for early demand of the XR.
Tim Cook: Mike, it’s Tim. The XS and XS Max got off to a really great start and we’ve only been selling for a few weeks. The XR we’ve only had out there for, I guess, Five days or so at this point. And so you know we have very little data there. Usually there is some amount of wait until another product shows up but in looking at the data on the sales data for XS and XS Max, there’s not obvious evidence of that in the data as I see it.
Mike Olson: Got it. And you mentioned record levels for various components of the services business. As we look forward, if growth of Services is to maintain something close to the recent pace, what are the components of Services that you’re particularly excited about, that could drive that and be the strongest drivers. And maybe an offshoot to that, it seems like the news flow around augmented reality has slowed a little bit in recent months. Is that potentially a material contributor to Services in the near future.
Luca Maestri: Mike, as we said, during the during the September quarter we set new records for many, many services categories right, from Apple Music to cloud services, to the App Store, to AppleCare, and Apple Pay really has an exponential trajectory right now. When we look at our Services business, we think about the fact that we have a very large and growing installed base. The installed base of all our major product categories is an all time high and has been growing over the last several quarters. So the opportunity for us to monetize our services business continues to grow over time. Of course, we are also improving the quality of the services that we provide. And if you look back during the last three years, we’ve added new services to our portfolio. We added Apple Pay, we added Apple Music, we added this advertising business on our App Store. And clearly, we will want to continue to offer new services over time. So there are a number of vectors that allow us to continue to grow the business over time. We have stated that we want to double the size of the services business from the level that we had in fiscal 2016 by 2020. We are well on pace to achieve that, and we feel very very confident about the future and the opportunities that we have in the services space.
Tim Cook: Mike, in terms of your question on AR, I have a different view than you do on this one. We just a year ago, practically a year ago, came out with ARKit 1, six months or so after that we came out with 1.5. We then recently came out with ARKit 2. The number of things that you can do are growing significantly, the number of developers that either have done something or even more the case, that are working on things that I’ve seen, are growing tremendously. There’s a lot of interest out there, and the number of categories that I’m seeing, from gaming to shopping to… I was in China a few weeks ago, and saw AR in an art exhibit. I was in Berlin last week and saw it being used in a historical, educational kind of sense. I’m seeing it sort of everywhere I go now. And so, I think we are in the early days and it’ll keep getting better and better, but I’m really happy with where things are at the moment.
Katy Huberty, Morgan Stanley: Tim, given the current trade negotiations and broader geopolitical risk, do you have any plans to consider diversifying the supply chain? And if you were to do that, either on your own or sort of forced, do you think it would have significant impact on the business or profitability.
Tim Cook: Katy, if you look at the products that we have created and are manufacturing, they’re really manufactured everywhere. You know, we have significant content from the U.S. market. We have content from Japan to Korea, to many countries, and we have great content from China as well. And so there are many hands in the products. The vast majority, or almost all of the R&D is in the United States, as well as a lot of the support organizations. So, I think that basic model where you look around the world and find the best in different areas, I don’t expect that model to go out of style, so to speak. I think there’s a reason why things have developed in that way and I think it’s great for all countries and citizens of countries that are involved in that. And I’m still of the mindset that I feel very optimistic and positive. That the discussions that are going will be fruitful. You know, these trade relationships are big and complex, and they clearly do need a level of focus and a level of updating and modernization. And so I’m optimistic that the countries, the U.S. and China and the U.S. and Europe and so forth can work these things out for the benefit of everyone.
Katy Huberty: That’s helpful color. And Luca, as a follow up, NAND prices fell significantly during the September quarter. Why aren’t we seeing that flow through to margin expansion for the overall company.
Luca Maestri: You are referring to the guidance that we provided for Q1, I imagine, and let me give you the puts and takes, Katy. You’re correct, we’re are going to be getting some benefits from commodities in general and memory in particular, memory on a sequential basis. It’s about 30 basis points favorable for us going into the December quarter. And obviously we’re going to be benefiting from the leverage, which is typical of our seasonality in the December quarter. On the other hand, as I mentioned before, currencies have weakened against the U.S. dollar and the impact that we expect at the gross margin level from foreign exchange is a 90 basis points headwind sequentially. And of course, at this point in the cycle we also have higher cost structures because as I said, we’ve launched so many new products in the last six weeks. So those are the puts and takes, leverage and commodity savings on one side, and FX and new products on the other side.
Jim Suva, CitiGroup: A question for Tim and a question for Luca and I’ll ask them at the same time so you can decide who wants to go first or second. But operationally Tim, I think your company is at a disadvantage relative to others in India given where items are produced versus shipped versus taxed versus installed, as well as ability to own stores. So can you help us address that, is India going to potentially be a big area? I think you’ve got about only one percent market share, but it sounded like things maybe softened there? And then for Luca, you know there will probably be a lot of pushback about not giving iPhone unit data. It sounds like you’re still going to give revenue data, if I heard that correctly? But you know, some people may fear that this now means that the iPhone units are going to start going negative year over year because, you know, it’s easy to talk about great things and, you know, not sure the details of things that aren’t so great.
Tim Cook: OK. I’ll start with India. We’ve had really great productive discussions with the Indian government. And I fully expect that at some point they will agree to allow us to bring our stores into the country. We’ve been in discussions with them and the discussions are going quite well. As you point, out there are import duties in some or most of the product categories that we’re in, in some cases they compound. And this is an area that we’re giving lots of feedback on. We do manufacture some of the entry iPhones in India, and that project has gone well. I am a big believer in India. I am very bullish on the country and the people and our ability to do well there. The currency weakness has been part of our challenge there as you can tell from just looking at the currency trends. But I sort of view these as speed bumps along a very long journey, though. And the long term is I think is very, very strong there. There’s a huge number of people that will move into the middle class. The government has really focused on reform in a major way and made some very bold moves and I applaud them for doing that and and I can’t wait for the future there.
Luca Maestri: And Jim, let me take the question on on units. First of all, as Tim said, our approach to guidance, providing guidance, doesn’t change at all. We continue to provide the same metrics that we were providing before. In terms of reporting results, one of the things that we are doing, and it’s new, and it’s in addition to the information we provide to investors because we’ve heard some significant level of interest around this, is starting with the December quarter, for the first time, we’re going to be providing information on revenue and cost of sales and therefore gross margins for both products and services. And this will be the first time that we’re going to provide gross margin information for our services business, which we believe is an important metric for our investors to follow. I’ve given the rationale on why we do not believe that providing unit sales is particularly relevant for our company at this point. I can reassure you that it is our objective to grow unit sales for every product category that we have. But as I said earlier, a unit of sales is less relevant today than it was in the past. To give you an example, the unit sales of iPhone at the top end of the line have been very strong during the September quarter. And that’s very important, because we’re attracting customers to the most recent technologies and features and innovation that we bring into the lineup. But you don’t necessarily see that in the number that that is reported. And so therefore, as I said, we will provide that qualitative commentary when it is important and relevant. But at the end of the day, we make our decisions from a financial standpoint to try and optimize our revenue and our gross margin dollars, and that we think is the focus that is in the best interest of our investors.
Tim Cook: Jim, let me just add a couple things to that, for color. Our installed base is growing at double digits, and that’s probably a much more significant metric for us from a ecosystem point of view and the customer loyalty, etc. The second thing is, this is a little bit like if you go to the market, and you push your cart up to the cashier, and she says or he says, “How many units you have in there?” It doesn’t matter a lot how many units there are in there, in terms of the overall value of what’s in the cart.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-11-01 15:40, modified at 22:42
Apple reported the results from its fiscal fourth quarter Thursday, saying it generated $62.9 billion in revenue, with Services revenue reaching an all-time high of $10 billion. iPhone sales were up slightly over the same quarter last year, but iPhone revenue during the same period was up 29 percent. Mac sales dropped 2 percent but Mac revenues rose 3 percent. iPad unit sales fell 6 percent and iPad revenues dropped 19 percent.
A phone call with analysts is forthcoming. We’ll be here with llive coverage of the analyst call, and more. And yes, if you want to be in on the excitement of the analyst call 1, you can listen to it too.
When Tim says “this is Tim” or “customer sat” you have to drink. When analysts ask for “more color”, an Apple exec drinks. ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2018-11-01 14:38, modified at 14:39
There wasn’t a lot of coverage on this week’s Apple event—you probably haven’t even heard about it. Good for you, then, that we’ve got in-depth reactions recorded directly after its conclusion! Hear us wax rhapsodic about the new iPad Pro, MacBook Air, and Mac mini, even as we discover facts while we record. Or, in other words, our usual blend of nonsense and tomfoolery.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-31 17:21
I’ve been participating in Apple’s Public Beta programs for both iOS and macOS for the last couple years, and generally it’s been a pretty smooth experience. But there’s often some trickiness when it comes to getting off the beta—and this year, that’s where I hit a speed bump.
When macOS 10.14.1 arrived yesterday, I fired up Software Update—newly relocated in Mojave to a pane in System Preferences—to install it on my MacBook Air. Lo and behold, however, Software Update insisted that my current version of macOS Mojave 10.14 was the most recent, and no updates would be forthcoming, thank you very much.
Or so I thought. See, when I opened up the installer, I was met with another roadblock: an error message telling me that my Air “does not meet the requirements for this update,” with no further information. More and more puzzling.
I was fairly confident that the root of the issue here was something to do with having been in the Public Beta program. I’ve heard of others being stuck with dead-end builds of an OS and a tweet from Eric Holtam seemed to confirm that the build I was using, 18a389, wasn’t eligible for the update. I tried re-enrolling in the Public Beta program, restarting my Mac, then unenrolling and restarting again to see if it would point me towards the right update, but no dice.
So, what’s a guy to do? I contacted Apple Support, whose less than helpful suggestions were either a) roll back to a Time Machine backup from before I enrolled in the Public Beta and then install the update (less than ideal, since I would lose any files created after that backup or modifications to other files), or b) do a full restore and start from there. 1
Neither of those were terribly appealing options, so I went for door number three: download the macOS Mojave installer from the App Store. I figured I would download it, reinstall Mojave to the shipping build of 10.14, and then install the 10.14.1 update on top of it.
In fact, it worked better than expected—downloading the Mojave installer kicked me back to the Software Update pane and informed me that I’d be downloading and installing the official build of 10.14.1. And half an hour and several progress bars later, here I am, on the latest update, safe and sound. And hopefully on a stable build that won’t run into this problem in the future.
So, if you’re likewise suffering from a case of no-update-itis, get thee to the Mac App Store post haste and try the Mojave installer. It sure beats restoring from a backup.
When I expressed some frustration about this, I was reminded that I shouldn’t be installing the Public Beta on a mission-critical machine. Fair enough. I’m not sure why some builds get dead-ended like this, but if it’s just an oversight on Apple’s part, seems like something that could be fixed. ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-31 16:02, modified at 16:05
As always, Jeremy Burge of Emojipedia has the details about every change to emojis in iOS 12—not just the new emojis you’ve read about and how they’re implemented in Apple’s emoji picker, but some art changes to existing emojis as well. For example, the phone emoji is now an iPhone X:
There are many more subtle changes, and Jeremy sees all and knows all, so check it out if you’re as fascinated by the evolution of emoji as I am.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-31 13:49
Fascinatingly weird piece over at Vice about a medical facility where all the iPhones suddenly stopped working. The culprit? Helium.
As detailed in a blog post by the right-to-repair organization iFixit, helium atoms can wreak havoc on MEMS silicon chips. MEMS are microelectromechanical systems that are used for gyroscopes and accelerometers in phones, and helium atoms are small enough to mess up the way these systems function. Yet both Android and Apple phones use MEMS silicon for their devices, so why were only Apple phones affected?
The answer, it seems, is because Apple recently defected from traditional quartz-based clocks in its phones in favor of clocks that are also made of MEMS silicon. Given that clocks are the most critical device in any computer and are necessary to make the CPU function, their disruption with helium atoms is enough to crash the device.
No word on whether it caused Siri to speak in a very high voice.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-31 04:15, modified at 05:12
With the new iPad Pro, introduced Tuesday at Apple’s media event in Brooklyn, Apple got a chance to apply everything it’s learned in the past three years about what makes the iPad Pro different from the iPad, and everything it learned in building the iPhone X and XR. It got to address nagging issues with the Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil. This is a reboot of the iPad Pro, and I’m so here for it.
Let me offer up a little disclosure right at the top: I love the iPad Pro. I basically don’t use a Mac laptop anymore. When I’m not at my desk on my iMac Pro, I am almost always using the 12.9-inch iPad Pro as my device of choice. The prospect of a new and improved iPad Pro was the thing I was looking forward to the most as I headed to the event on Tuesday morning. I wasn’t disappointed.
I love the new design of the iPad Pro models. The flat back with the flat sides, which remind me of the original iPad design and the iPhone 4/5/SE, is a delight. But when you pick one up, the first thing you notice is that the bezels are even all the way around—and they’re almost, but not quite, gone entirely.
This is the iPhone X factor, applied to the iPad. The home button is gone, replaced with a TrueDepth camera system that allows Face ID to work from any orientation. It’s surprising and impressive when you see the iPad unlock using Face ID when you’re holding the iPad upside-down. The camera can still see your face from down there? Apparently so.
I did immediately worry that my fingers were touching on the screen due to the small bezels, and that it would lead to a bunch of mistaken touches. I can only assume that Apple has applied the same software (or an updated version) that they wrote when the side bezels shrunk on the iPad Air—it does a surprisingly good job of ignoring fingers when they’re holding the iPad rather than tapping and swiping.
And if you hold your hand over the camera when it’s trying to unlock, it warns you — displaying a “camera covered” alert while also pointing at the camera with an arrow, to help you quickly realize which hand is doing the blocking.
We’ll see if there are quirks about any of this in practice—it’s very hard to get a real idea when you only get to handle the iPad for a few minutes in a very crowded, noisy room. (Having that TrueDepth camera also means that the iPad Pro can shoot portrait selfies and do Animoji, which is fun and cool.)
As it approached changing the design of the two different sizes of iPad Pro, Apple made the right decisions. The 10.5-inch model seemed like a great size, so they left it alone—and just stretched out the screen, creating an 11-inch diagonal model. The 12.9, on the other hand… that screen is gorgeous but there’s no denying that the iPad felt big, heavy, and awkward. (And I’m saying that as the guy who has used one for three years.)
So Apple kept the big, gorgeous screen and reduced the volume of the 12.9-inch model by 25% by shrinking the bezels and making it thinner. Again, it’s hard to judge by a few moments of holding it, but I’m hopeful that this will result in a device that’s better balanced and easier to hold. I was thinking that maybe this time I’d opt for the smaller iPad Pro, but having held the new 12.9-inch model, I’m starting to think that I’d rather take the big screen in a smaller package. We’ll see.
Apple made a bunch of announcements about the iPad Pro that I could summarize as: “Yes, this is a computer.” (No matter what that one iPad ad says.) It started with Tim Cook’s charts, comparing last year’s iPad unit sales to the unit sales of the top laptop makers. (The iPad sold more units than any of them.)
Then came the comparison of the A12X Bionic processor to PC laptops. According to Apple, the new iPad Pros are faster than 92 percent of all the portable PCs sold in the last 12 months. The larger point here is that the iPad Pro is not a low-powered device. It’s faster than your laptop, probably, so don’t write it off.
You know, fast storage is great. Lots of storage is great. The iPad Pro has both, offering a high-end option with a terabyte of storage. That’s the kind of storage real computers have. (I didn’t even have a terabyte of storage on my old 5K iMac!)
You can use all that storage for Photoshop and Autodesk files, I guess? That was probably the most predictable part of the iPad Pro announcement, given the fact that Adobe had previewed Photoshop for iPad on stage at Adobe Max a couple weeks ago. Still, the refrain “this is real Photoshop” is important. Real computers run real Photoshop. The iPad Pro is a real computer.
Which brings us to USB-C. The iPad Pro is the first iOS device to ditch Lightning for the port standard favored by computers. This is another sign that the iPad Pro is really embracing being a computer—but the sad fact is, it’s hamstrung by iOS itself. The hardware is willing, but the software is weak. iOS’s support for USB devices is sorely limited. It will import photos and videos from cameras and memory cards. You can hook up a keyboard or an Ethernet adapter or a microphone or audio mixer. And I assume the iPad Pro will be able to power a much wider array of devices than could have been powered by the USB 3 Lightning Adapter without a power assist.
But plug in a hard drive or flash drive and you can’t view the files in the Files app. Plug in a USB webcam and I assume nothing happens? There’s more to be done here. On a standard computer we have an expectation of what happens when we plug in a USB device. iOS has holes. Maybe the existence of USB on iPad will finally prompt Apple to prioritize better USB device support in future versions of iOS.
In the meantime, yes, it’s cool that the iPad Pro can drive a 4K or 5K external monitor—even though you can’t use it for input, so it’s just for mirroring or as a second screen for video previews, slide presentations and the like. And it’s cool that you’ll be able to use your iPad Pro to charge your iPhone! But there’s more to be done here.
Finally, if it’s a fast as a computer and it has ports like a computer and runs software like a computer and has storage like a computer… it’s going to have a price tag like a computer. And these iPad Pros do. Both of the base prices are higher than the previous models. (In fact, Apple’s keeping the old 10.5-inch iPad Pro in the price list at the original price.) So now you’ll shell out $799 for the base model 11-inch iPad, and $999 for the base model 12.9-inch. Throw in LTE or more storage and the price rapidly increases.
Again, you’re getting more so you’re paying more. And Apple still makes a low-cost iPad (with support for the Apple Pencil!), so there’s still an option for people who can’t envision spending $1000 on an iPad. I don’t love that these things cost more now, but I’ve come to heavily rely on my iPad Pro, so it’s worth it for me.
When the iPad Pro made its debut, so did the Apple Pencil. Now it’s time for a second generation Pencil, and Apple has addressed all the major issues with the original.
This Pencil has a flat side that doesn’t roll off the table and attaches magnetically to a spot on the wide side of the iPad Pro. This means you can attach the Pencil to the iPad Pro and keep it there rather than having to look for it whenever you want to use it. (My podcast pal Myke Hurley stuck a loop on his iPad Pro so he could keep his pencil secure at all times.) The magnet’s not a light attraction, either—I shook an iPad Pro a bit, striking fear in the heart of the Apple employee responsible for its well-being—and it didn’t budge.
But it’s not just a magnet! That little spot is also an induction charger, so the Apple Pencil doesn’t just stay attached, it stays charged. And the first time you attach the Pencil to that spot, it offers to pair it with your iPad. Gone is the weird Lightning plug hiding under a rattly plastic cap.
Then there’s the desire many users had for gesture or button support on the pencil. Again, Apple sort of went its own way here. So far as I can tell, the Pencil must have an accelerometer inside it, just like the AirPods do, so it can detect when you do a double tap with your finger. Individual apps can decide what that double-tap gesture means; by default the Notes app considers it a toggle between whatever tool you’re using and the eraser, but you can also set it to just toggle between your two most recently used tools.
Finally, the accessory I’m always the most interested in: the keyboard! I have always liked the Smart Keyboard, introduced with the Pencil and the iPad Pro back in 2015. Well, that’s not entirely true—I think it’s a pretty good keyboard in terms of typing feel, but the 12.9-inch model was always a victim of the massive area of the iPad itself. With the new 12.9-model being much smaller, I have some hopes that its keyboard accessory will also be less awkward.
But what we’re not getting with these models is another Smart Keyboard. Instead, Apple has relocated the Smart Connector to the back side of the device and created the Smart Keyboard Folio, which attaches magnetically to the device’s back and provides front and back protection.
We’ll see how easy it is to attach and detach the folio in practice, but it seems likely that it will be a little less fiddly than trying to attach the Smart Keyboard to the side of an iPad Pro. It’s also possible that this magnetic attachment will make the entire thing more stable, making it easier to use in your lap as well as on a table.
Apple seems to think it will, because it’s also put two grooves above the keycaps themselves, both of which allow you to place the iPad in a different display angle. Apple says one is more optimized for using on a table or desk, and the other for sitting in a lap.
As someone who has taken to clipping my iPad Pro into a metal shell in order to get a laptop-style feel, I’m fascinated by Apple’s new approach here. I’m going to need to use it in my lap before I decide how I feel, but I’m optimistic? It’s funny that Apple, after going entirely away from the front-and-back case approach in recent iPad generations, has apparently embraced it again with these models. I really like the Smart Cover, though, and I’m going to miss it if these models truly don’t have magnets in the right places to make a simple front cover work.
Speaking of keyboards, I need to once again bring up the Brydge Keyboard I use with my current iPad Pro. I’m curious how companies like Brydge and Logitech, which has made keyboard cases for previous iPad Pro models, will approach this new device. Brydge’s current design requires you to drop the iPad Pro in to two clips that go up against the device’s bezels. Welp! Those bezels are basically gone. Could the magnets on the back of the device be enough to hold an iPad Pro in place? Will any other vendor have access to the new Smart Connector location? Assuming people buy the iPad Pro, someone will try to provide alternatives to Apple’s keyboard. But what form that will take is anyone’s guess.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-31 02:29, modified at 03:43
“People love the Mac,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook, kicking off Tuesday’s Apple event in Brooklyn. And Cook—who has always seemed to bring more enthusiasm to his discussions of the iPhone and iPad—proceeded to spend several minutes on stage testifying about the Mac’s relevance and importance. (I wondered aloud to the person sitting next to me if Cook had lost a bet.)
Still, it’s good to hear the CEO of Apple profess his love of the Mac and back it up with some stats, like 100 million Macs in the active installed base, a growing number of first-time Mac buyers (especially in China, a favorite market of Cook’s). And most importantly, the Mac ranks number one in Tim Cook’s favorite statistic, customer satisfaction. Or to put it another way: Yeah, people do love the Mac!
Oh, and Apple introduced two brand-new revisions of old Mac favorites. And they’re apparently made out of the shavings left over when Apple’s done making iPads and iPhones? That’s a detail that will launch a thousand metaphors about Apple’s priorities.
Anyway, here’s a quick take on the Mac news from Tuesday’s event.
I was really hoping that Tuesday’s event would be the final item in Apple’s slow-moving revision of its entire laptop line into something that’s simple and clear. That didn’t happen! In fact, things might be messier than ever.
There’s a new MacBook Air, which is quite a turnaround from the introduction of the MacBook (and later, the MacBook Pro “Escape” model), both of which were sort of pitched as replacements for the MacBook Air. The MacBook Air continued to exist, largely because of its $999 price, and it just kept selling.
So now there’s a new Air, plus the MacBook, plus the MacBook Escape, plus the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, and the old $999 MacBook Air is still being sold! The MacBook and Escape didn’t get updated, either. Things are clear as mud.
This new MacBook Air is cheaper than the MacBook, but it’s also larger and more capable, with two Thunderbolt 3 ports as opposed to the MacBook’s single USB-C port. The processor is likely superior, though it seems like it may be from the same low-wattage family as the one in the MacBook, which means this Air is not necessarily going to be as impressive a worker as the old Air was. (For that extra power, you’ll have to go up to the MacBook Escape, which remains a product in Apple’s line-up.)
So the real question is, why did people keep buying the MacBook Air all this time? Was it that $999 price? Was it the design? The size? The fact that it was the last Apple laptop without the new butterfly keyboard design?
Apple’s about to find out, because this new Air costs $1199, has that new keyboard style, but retains the design and size of the old model.
Continued confusion about the laptop line aside, can I just say how I’m glad that the MacBook Air didn’t die after all? This is a deathbed reprieve of the best kind.
I have used the MacBook Air since the very first model. It turned into Apple’s best-selling laptop (and maybe Mac?) for a good reason—it offered great performance and good value in a tiny package. We still have three different MacBook Airs in use in my house. The old model lingered so long on Apple’s price lists that I began to wish for a mercy killing, but this is even better. It’s back, baby!
The moment I got my hands on one after the event on Tuesday. I closed it and picked it up. I looked at the hinge. I flipped it over and looked at the curved underside with the four little feet. Yes, this is a very different device—Those USB-C ports! That retina display! That black bezel!—but it’s still absolutely a MacBook Air. (Except it was gold! That’s weird.) This is the next-generation Air that I wished Apple had made in 2015. It didn’t then, but here it is now.
The addition of Touch ID to the Air is really interesting. It’s the first Mac to get Touch ID without also getting the Touch Bar. I’m not quite sure what the future of the Touch Bar is, but this is clearly a vote of approval for Touch ID on the Mac. At this point I’d expect every new Mac laptop design to have Touch ID, which means every new Mac laptop will have the T2 processor or a successor.
I’m a little surprised that Apple hasn’t brought Face ID to the Mac yet, but perhaps that will be an upgrade that hits the MacBook Pro models first. (It also makes the most sense for desktop Macs—perhaps in an updated iMac and a standalone 5K display?—because desktop Macs don’t have built-in keyboards that have room for a Touch ID sensor.)
Anyway, that butterfly keyboard. I don’t hate it but I certainly don’t love it. My daughter uses her MacBook all the time and doesn’t complain, so apparently it doesn’t bother her? And Apple probably has a bunch of user research that shows that most people don’t care. But if you hate that keyboard—and it seems to be a more polarizing design than the last one—it means you have no good options on the Mac right now.
Regardless of what you think of the butterfly keyboard, you’ve got to chuckle at least a little at Apple’s breathless promotion of how the keyboard offers unprecedented precision and key stability. Was anyone complaining that the keys on their laptop were unstable and imprecise? What a strange thing to single out. I typed hundreds of thousands of words on the MacBook Air keyboard without once thinking that the keycaps should be a little more stable. Oh well—that keyboard’s gone. It’s the butterfly way or the highway for the foreseeable future.
Like a comet, the Mac mini appears in the spotlight briefly and then vanishes from view for years. This was the first time in four years since the Mac mini got love on stage, and that last update was completely underwhelming. This one’s waaaaay better. In fact, I have to say that it pretty much checked every box I wanted it to check. This is the Mac mini Apple should be making.
First, the look: Uh… they took the old case and made it Space Gray? I like Space Gray just fine, but I don’t entirely understand Apple’s apparent enthusiasm for it. It’s just dark silver? I’m a little surprised Apple didn’t design a new and smaller case, but instead they apparently redesigned everything on the inside of that 100% recycled aluminum case. That’s fine.
Let’s check the boxes: A four-core processor by default, with built-to-order options up to a six-core model. Keep in mind, in 2014 Apple removed the four-core option that had been previously available for the Mac mini. I guess they got the message?
On the memory side, it can take up to 64GB, and it’s on two 2666MHz SO-DIMMs that are apparently user replaceable. (Apple recommends you get a professional to do the upgrade, though. As someone who has disassembled and reassembled a Mac mini and broke a bunch of stuff along the way, I think this is good advice.)
The storage story is also good. Spinning hard drives have been sent to the cornfield at last, and the new high-speed SSD storage is controlled by the Apple-built T2 ARM chip. This is the way of the future. It enables not only improved security, but fast storage, speedy video encoding, and a bunch of other features. It’s hard to imagine Apple doing any new Mac designs that don’t eject spinning disks and replace them with SSDs controlled by a T2 (or successor).
Then there are the ports! Apple’s go-to move is simplification—fewer ports, fewer buttons, the works. On the new Mac mini, it’s gone the other way, giving all us nerds exactly what we were clamoring for. Hello, four Thunderbolt 3 ports, plus two USB-A ports, plus HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet (upgradeable to 10GB Ethernet!) and a headphone jack. What is this, 2015?
In what is very definitely a trend with Apple, the Mac mini is also more expensive than before. It starts at $799 and goes up rapidly from there. But I’ve got to say that this doesn’t bother me as much, because this is Apple building a much more capable Mac mini. The days when the Mac mini was a bridge for switchers to use to replace their PCs seem… almost quaint now? The Mac mini serves a different purpose. In reality, it’s probably been serving that purpose for a long time. Apple has finally caught up. I know I’m ordering one.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-30 21:53, modified at 21:55
Apple’s New York event is in the books! Two new iPad Pros, a new Mac Mini, and the return from the dead of the MacBook Air! Jason reports in live from Apple’s event in the Big Apple with first impressions about all the announcements. Plus: The winner of the latest Upgrade Draft is crowned! Will Jason reign supreme or has Myke managed a last-minute tie? All will be revealed.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-30 20:43
As we all know with Apple keynote days, some things get lost in the shuffle. So here’s a quick roundup of interesting tidbits that weren’t covered in the keynote or were clarified by those at the event itself:
Apple’s Shortcuts app for iOS got an update to 2.1, including new actions for weather, clock, and conversion and measurements.
The company also posted a whitepaper on the T2 security chip found in the new MacBook Air as well as the 2018 MacBook Pros and the iMac Pro. This paper specifically calls out that the microphone is disabled in hardware when you close the laptop’s lid.
TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino points out that if you cover the FaceID sensors or front-facing camera on the new iPad Pro, it will alert you to the fact, as well as putting an arrow onscreen to show you where the camera currently is.
iMore’s Rene Ritchie confirms that the RAM in the new Mac mini is user-upgradeable, although Apple recommends having the work carried out by an authorized service provider.
The MacBook Air’s gold color apparently has a new shade; the MacBook has been updated to match it, and also removes the rose gold option.
MacRumors reports that Apple has bumped AppleCare+ prices for some iPads, standardizing them at $129 across the board. Accidental damage repairs cost $649 for the new iPad Pros.
Developer Steve Troughton-Smith says that the new 1TB iPad Pros have 6GB of memory, but the rest have 4GB.
The old, non-Retina 13-inch MacBook Air is still on sale for the moment.
iOS 12.1, macOS Mojave 10.14.1, tvOS 12.1, and watchOS 5.1 are all out now.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-29 21:19, modified on 2018-10-31 16:08
In the past, choosing which iPhone to buy has been pretty simple. You could buy this year’s model in large or small sizes, or you could buy an older model. (Back in the old days, it was even simpler: there was one iPhone and you could buy it or not.)
Things are more complicated now. At the top of the line, Apple’s got small and large phones packed with the latest technologies, starting at $999 and increasing rapidly in price from there. There are still some appealing older models at relatively good prices. And then there’s the iPhone XR, which at $749 isn’t quite a bargain, but is by far the best value you’ll find in an iPhone today.
Though it lacks a few features found on the higher-end iPhone XS models, the iPhone XR is so good that the choice of which 2018 model of iPhone to buy might be a lot simpler than we all expected. Unless you have some very specific needs that the iPhone XR can’t fulfill, it’s an incredibly appealing combination of features and value.
Let’s start with the industrial design of the iPhone XR: It’s bold and striking and I pretty much love it. The front is straight out of the iPhone X playbook, an expanse of screen with curved edges and a notch containing the TrueDepth camera and sensors. The sides are ringed with Apple’s go-to material for many years, anodized aluminum. And there’s a glass back with a multi-layer color process that’s similar to the attractive effects found on the iPhone X and XS.
But the iPhone XR embraces color in a way that’s more reminiscent of the iPod. Apple of late has felt stuck in a metallic coloring rut, and adding some gold and pink-tinted gold to a collection of light silver and dark silver products didn’t really make it feel much less monochromatic. All of a sudden, here’s the iPhone XR, with four bright color options—Red, Coral, Blue, and Yellow. (There are also black and white models, if bright color isn’t your thing. Choice is always a good thing.)
All the back colors are pretty great. The iPhone XR Apple provided to me for review was Coral, and it’s beautiful—a bright orange skewed a bit toward pink. Apple has tried to apply complimentary colors to the anodized aluminum bands around these phones, and you’ll need to judge how your like that two-tone approach for yourself. The colors aren’t quite the same (and the pebbly finish of the aluminum is itself a contrast to the ultra-smooth glass back), but in most cases I think the combo works.
So once again, Apple has created a beautiful design, a phone that’s crying out to be carried without a case. (And, funny thing, Apple’s not making any cases for the iPhone XR, at least not yet.) The problem is, like its other iPhone models, the iPhone XR is an ice-cream sandwich made of glass. I didn’t find the XR particularly slippery to hold, but the fact is, if you drop it and the glass on either side shatters, it will be a costly mistake.
I’ve been carrying my iPhone in a case since the iPhone 6 arrived on the scene, with its curved edges that made it feel like a very expensive bar of soap, and I’ve gotten used to it. But the more beautiful the hardware inside the case, the more frustrating it is to use one. It would break my heart a little bit to tuck the Coral iPhone XR in a case, even though it would probably be the right thing to do.
It’s funny—the iPhone XR reminds me a bit of the iPhone SE. Not in terms of size, of course. This is a large phone, almost as large as the old iPhone Plus models, and if you think the iPhone 6/7/8 size is already a bit too big for your hands, you’re not going to like the size of this one, either.
No, the iPhone XR reminds me of the SE because it’s a device that costs a lot less than other devices in its model year, yet it’s equipped—as the SE was when it was launched—with the latest and greatest Apple tech. The XR has the same A12 processor as the iPhone XS phones, the same primary rear camera, and the same TrueDepth camera and sensors. These are all areas where you might expect Apple to hold back a bit of tech for its $1000-and-up class of phones, but instead the XR is nicely appointed.
(It does make me wonder if Apple intends the iPhone XR to be updated infrequently if at all, as was the case with the iPhone SE. I suppose we’ll find out next fall.)
The areas where the iPhone XR lacks features offered by the iPhone XS are:
Screen tech. This is an LED-backlit LCD screen, like every previous iPhone before the iPhone X, which introduced OLED to the iPhone line. Apple calls it the best LED screen it’s ever put in an iPhone and they’re not kidding. The company has done a bunch of engineering to re-create the curved edges of the much more malleable OLED screen with an LCD. The screen looks great; the average user is not going to look at the backlit blacks on this display and weep that they aren’t OLED deep. (If you prefer those beautiful OLED blacks, Apple has a phone to sell you that costs you several hundred dollars more.)
Screen resolution. The iPhone XR has a Retina screen, but it’s lower resolution than the iPhone XS models and, in fact, the iPhone Plus models of old. It looks great, but yes, if you watch a movie on it, it’ll be scaled down from full 1080p resolution. Depending on your eyes, you might notice this resolution change, but I didn’t find it noticeable unless I was directly comparing it to a higher-resolution screen, and even then only when I looked very carefully. And once again, if you can tell the difference, the iPhone XS will take care of you and lighten your wallet, too.
Bezels. The iPhone X was Apple’s first phone without bezels around its display, notch excepted. This isn’t entirely true—there’s still a border around the OLED screen on the front, as the front glass curves away—but it’s very subtle and easily forgotten. The iPhone XR’s bezel is slightly larger. It’s nothing like the bezels on previous iPhone models, but you can see more of a black frame around the screen than you can on the iPhone XS. I got used to it quickly and it didn’t bother me. Getting rid of the huge “chin” bezel where the home button used to live is, to me, the big victory in these designs, much more than the elimination of every fraction of a millimeter of blank space right at the edge of the device.
2x camera. The iPhone XR lacks the 2x telephoto camera that’s on the back of the iPhone XS (and several previous models). If you’ve never owned an iPhone with that 2x camera, you won’t be able to miss it. As for me, ever since I got the iPhone X I have reveled in the ability to use it to take better pictures, whether close-ups or distant shots. I took the iPhone XR to a college football game and took a few shots before realizing that some of the photos I’ve been snapping over the last year relied on a second zoom level that was no longer available to me. It’s honestly the single feature I missed the most on the iPhone XR.
Portrait mode (sort of). The iPhone XR has a portrait mode, which is interesting since Apple originally sold portrait mode to us as a feature that was enabled by having two back cameras—the parallax effect between the two cameras allowed the phone to build a depth map it could use to artificially blur the background, emulating a shot taken by a traditional camera with a long lens. With the iPhone XR, what Apple has done is build a depth map using data from focus pixels on the one rear camera, combined with machine-learning algorithms that analyze the image and make guesses about what’s in the foreground and what’s in the background.
This sounds kind of weird, but it’s the technique Google is using for its portrait mode in the Pixel 3, and by all accounts it works quite well. Apple’s version works a bit less well, and is limited to human faces—the Camera app won’t let you take portraits unless it detects a face. Even with the two cameras, Apple’s portrait mode is far from flawless, and the XR portraits I took were similarly okay. Despite its flaws, it’s a fun effect and I’m glad Apple has managed to bring it to the iPhone XR.
(Because the iPhone XR has the TrueDepth camera in the front, you can take portrait selfies, just as you can on the iPhone X and XS. In that direction, the depth map is being built via the infrared dot projector and flood illuminator that’s also used for Face ID.)
Some lesser materials. The back glass on the iPhone XR, while stronger than on the iPhone X, is not as strong as that on the iPhone XS. The metal ring is anodized aluminum, not stainless steel as on the XS. But let me be clear: Nothing about the iPhone XR feels cheap. This is a $749 phone and it feels like it, even if it’s not in the $1000-plus club.
Everything else the iPhone XS has, the iPhone XR has. Smart HDR photos that take your breath away, with their capture of bright and dark elements in the same scene? Yes. Extended dynamic range 4K video shooting at 30 frames per second? Yes. Fast Face ID? Yes. All of that stuff is there.
I’m of two minds about the iPhone XR’s place in Apple’s overall price list. On the one hand, it’s much cheaper than the iPhone XS and as a result, it’s a great value. If you don’t care about some very specific features that the iPhone XS offers, it’s a much better buy. Even the most expensive iPhone XR configuration is $100 cheaper than the base-model iPhone XS.
On the other hand, at $749 this is the most expensive iPhone ever to reside at the bottom of the price list of brand-new phones. Yes, Apple makes an array of older models available at big discounts—the iPhone 8 was a great phone last year and it’s cheaper this year—but I don’t love the company’s abandonment of the $650 price point for a new iPhone.
Yes, it makes sense. Smartphone buying cycles are lengthening, and all of these new iPhones are high-quality products that should be usable for many years to come. In an era where smartphone sales figures are now relatively flat, increasing the average sale price of an iPhone is a way for Apple to grow its revenue. I get it. I just don’t love it when someone calls the iPhone XR a “cheap” iPhone. It does the product a disservice—it’s anything but cheap—but it also leaps over the fact that just two years ago, this is what Apple charged for the more expensive of its two iPhone models. And if you want a 2018 model that’s not the size of a Plus phone, you’ll need to spend even more—namely, $999 for an iPhone XS.
When Apple announced the iPhone 5C, with its lower price tag and bright colors, I really thought it would sell well. It didn’t, probably because everyone realized that it was just last year’s model with a colorful plastic back.
At the risk of repeating a failed prediction, I think that the iPhone XR will be a big seller. It’s definitely not last year’s model—it’s got the Face ID and A12 processor to prove it. It’s got those bright, fun color options. It’s got a big screen, which by all accounts is a crowd-pleasing feature these days. And, most importantly, it costs $250 less than the iPhone XS and $350 less than the iPhone XS Max.
This isn’t a phone for everyone. Many, if not most, of the tech fans I know will prefer the iPhone XS models because they do care about those deep OLED blacks, the size of that bezel, and the 2X camera. The iPhone XS models are better phones than the iPhone XR in pretty much every way (except color). But are they better enough to matter for most people? I doubt it. They are the luxury model, and the iPhone XR is a step down—a premium-quality, mass-appeal device.
Which is why when someone asks me what iPhone they should buy, I will encourage them to go to the Apple Store and hold an iPhone XR in their hands. For most people, this is clearly the best value in modern iPhones. I’m glad that Apple threw out its old iPhone playbook to create it.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-29 05:07, modified at 05:09
As rumors built over the last year that Apple would release three iPhone X models in 2018, pundits and analysts alike were a bit mystified at Apple’s strategy. Why three? Why a lower-priced, larger model?
Now that the iPhone XR has arrived, completing Apple’s 2018 lineup, it’s worth considering what the purpose of the iPhone XR is and where it fits in Apple’s overall strategy.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-26 13:47, modified at 18:00
While there are a number of large and small announcements expected at Apple’s event next week, there’s one big-picture issue that cuts across at least two of the company’s product lines: the future of its mobile computing devices.
With rumors of a new iPad Pro and new iPad mini plus the possibility that a MacBook Air refresh or successor will see the light of day, Apple’s line of mobile devices is potentially about to get some big updates. But as these products grow closer together, I’ve started to wonder about Apple’s mobile computing strategy.
Convergence is a dirty word to many consumers of Apple products, conjuring up images of toaster fridges and Microsoft Surfaces. But it’s undeniable that the iPad Pro and the MacBook are, if not converging, then certainly on a collision course. The real question is whether both can survive.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-25 16:06
This week, the tech show that’s always just a little bit late discusses what might come down the pike at next week’s Apple event. Plus we discuss the XS and Pixel 3 cameras, Apple’s fancy invitations, and the continuing unfolding saga of the BloombergBusinessweek story on Apple and other companies being hacked by the Chinese government. Or not?
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-25 15:26, modified on 2018-10-29 17:25
The iPhone XR is available for pre-orders now and it officially arrives in stores on Friday. I got my hands on one Wednesday and after using it for a few hours, my initial impression is that it’s going to be a mainstream hit that pleases buyers while also improving Apple’s bottom line. Let’s dive in.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-25 15:18, modified at 15:25
On Thursday, Jack Nicas of the New York Times posted a profile of the people who lead the Apple News editorial curation team. It’s a rare look inside some of the processes Apple uses to highlight stories in the Apple News app:
Apple has waded into the messy world of news with a service that is read regularly by roughly 90 million people. But while Google, Facebook and Twitter have come under intense scrutiny for their disproportionate — and sometimes harmful — influence over the spread of information, Apple has so far avoided controversy. One big reason is that while its Silicon Valley peers rely on machines and algorithms to pick headlines, Apple uses humans like [former New York Magazine executive editor Lauren] Kern.
According to the article, Apple has 30 former journalists spread across the world, updating the lead items in the app as time passes and stories come and go. It’s a dramatic contrast to the algorithm-based approach used by Google and Facebook.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-24 17:06
This week, on the 30-minute show that is now in session, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Dan Frakes and Christina Warren to discuss tech nitpicks with products we like, our favorite (relatively) cheap tech gift suggestions, gadget regrets we have known, and how publications and companies should respond to mistakes. Plus, a thunder-lizard-themed bonus topic.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-24 13:44
Tim Cook was in Brussels this week, speaking at a privacy conference, and among the chief thrusts of his talk is that the U.S. needs comprehensive privacy laws to protect customers’ data:
Cook did not mention triggers for this crisis, but his comments clearly reference recent events like the Cambridge Analytica scandal, in which the personal data of millions of Facebook users was harvested by a consulting firm with the aim of swaying users’ political views. Similarly, while Cook never mentioned by name tech companies like Facebook and Google, it’s clear that these were targets in his criticism of indiscriminate data collection.
Cook’s argument has the virtue of not only being right but also aligning very well with Apple’s competitive advantages. Privacy laws will hurt rivals like Facebook, Google, and Amazon much more than they will hurt Apple, which has already made strong privacy one of its chief messages.
Stronger data privacy is also something that most customers (and thus, voters) will probably get behind given the staggering number of data breaches over the past several years; the naysayers, by comparison, are disproportionately composed of the corporations that profit from collecting and selling personal information and the politicians they lobby.
You can watch Cook’s full speech embedded below.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-23 17:39, modified at 17:51
iOS 12.1 isn’t even out yet—that update will bring support for this year’s batch of new emoji—and already the Unicode consortium is hard at work on next year’s batch. Jeremy Burge at Emojipedia has the details, of course.
Previously-announced candidates such as a white heart and flamingo remain as draft candidates in the Emoji 12.0 beta, as do accessibility-related emojis proposed by Apple in early 2018 including people in wheelchairs, a service dog, a mechanical arm and leg, and more.
It’s fascinating to see this method of communication evolve.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-23 06:23, modified at 06:25
It’s time for your Upgrade hosts to go for glory and risk the agony of defeat—all in view of a studio audience in Chicago, Illinois. Jason and Myke pick what they think will happen at Apple’s October 30 event in New York City. And they’re joined by guest draft experts Alex Cox and Stephen Hackett, who provide instant analysis of all the picks—and harsh judgment of our hosts. In one week, we’ll know who was horrendously wrong and who reigns supreme as draft champion!
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-22 19:25, modified at 19:28
This week we’re posting a special episode of Liftoff, focusing on the Apollo 7 mission, which landed 50 years ago today. Back in October 1968, Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele and Walter Cunningham spent 11 days in space working the bugs out of the Apollo spacecraft on its first crewed mission. The vehicle performed perfectly; the crew did not.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-19 14:12, modified at 16:24
Recently unearthed documentary from 1980 about the making of The Empire Strikes Back 1. It’s pretty low quality, but there’s a lot of great stuff in here that has probably not seen the light of day in years. (One highlight is a crew member swearing after dropping a particularly expensive piece of equipment.)
A few things I noticed: First, I think there were far more female extras playing pilots in the Hoth scenes than made it to screen in the final version. Also, you do get an idea of other scenes/takes that didn’t make it into the final version, and it’s always impressive to watch the diligence and work that went into the practical effects. (Stop-motion, motion-controlled cameras, layered shots, etc.)
Which, perceptive readers know, is my favorite movie ever. ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-19 12:53
Well, it’s just another quiet week here in the Apple worl—JUST KIDDING! Thursday brought news that Apple has another event in the works, this one coming just before the end of October in a slightly unusual location: Brooklyn, New York.
As with any Apple event, there’s plenty of speculation about what the October 30 show could bring. So far, those whispers have largely been about new iPads with Face ID and edge-to-edge displays, and possibly a new Mac mini and/or consumer-level MacBook. Plus, of course, there’s always the expectation of there being a few surprises up the company’s sleeves.
Of course, those surprises are the most interesting part, so let’s focus on what the company might have in store for announcements that aren’t about the company’s major product lines.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-18 16:09, modified at 16:10
Well! Who’s up for a trip to New York on October 30?
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-18 14:33
This week, on the irreverent tech show that covers all the bases, Dan is interested in Libratone speakers that now have AirPlay 2, we discuss custom-built watch faces for the Apple Watch and Apple’s challenges therein, and Moltz is tempted (but not really) by Palm’s new phone for your phone. Plus, Lex has some news about his phone.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-17 18:58, modified at 18:59
So it’s official. Photoshop — real Photoshop — is coming to the iPad next year. If you’re someone who uses Photoshop, uses the iPad to get work done, or both, this is big news. It’s a huge shot in the arm for the iPad Pro and another sign of where Apple’s platforms are going in the future. In 2019, iOS apps aren’t just coming to the Mac—one of the biggest and most important Mac apps is coming to iOS.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-17 17:06
This week, on the 30-minute tech show that tells you what time it is, Dan is joined by host emeritus Jason Snell and special guests Lex Friedman and Megan Morrone to discuss third-party voice assistants on smartphones, brain-downloading software, our first programming experiences, and Palm’s new phone for your phone. Plus, a special bonus topic about TV theme songs.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-16 17:20, modified on 2018-10-17 19:01
It’s hard to find Bluetooth keyboards with mechanical switches. As someone who enjoys mechanical keyboards and frequently writes on an iPad, that’s extra frustrating. The new Vinpok Taptek is a compact Bluetooth mechanical keyboard with Apple-like styling. It’s a promising product, and I like an awful lot about it—but there’s one choice the company made that made it difficult for me to use.
Let’s start with the hardware. The keys themselves have a pleasant pop and click sound reminiscent of blue switches. (After a lot of shopping, I have ended up deciding that I prefer the feel of brown switches, but so much about keyboards is personal that your mileage will almost certainly vary. This is going to be recurring theme.) The hardware is low profile, with an aluminum frame and a glossy plastic bottom. The review model I got had black keys and space gray aluminum, but there also appears to be a version with white keys and silver aluminum.
By default the square keys are labeled with Apple modifier conventions, though there is also a hardware switch to put it in Windows mode and an add-on keycap set for PC users. There’s a micro-USB port on the back, for charging or non-Bluetooth use.
The keyboard is backlit, and when I say that, I need to emphasize that it is aggressively backlit. You can have a normal boring backlight, or you can cycle through 19 different color effects. Pick your colors. Pick your effects—you can have each key light up when you press one, or shoot out a strip of colors when you press one, or pulsate like it’s at a dance club. As amazing and hilarious as it is to watch colors dance under your fingers as you type, in the end I just wanted the backlight off or solid. But again, your mileage may vary. You certainly have every option imaginable.
In so many ways, this keyboard is exactly what I’ve been looking for—it fits with Apple’s current style, offers mechanical keys and Bluetooth, and is ultra compact while still offering arrow keys. These are the keyboards I like. I’m currently using a Vortex Race 3 after previously spending a couple of years with a Leopold FC660M.
Just as I was disappointed by the layout in the Lofree Bluetooth mechanical keyboard, the Taptek falls apart for me in its choice of key layouts. The Lofree had weird round keys and modifier keys that were too narrow, most notably the right shift key, which I use all the time. I don’t use a single keyboard all the time—I’ve got that Vortex at my desk and also frequently use the Brydge keyboard I use with my iPad Pro—and I’m not going to retrain my decades of typing muscle memory just to adapt to a single keyboard’s quirks.
Here’s the bad news about the Taptek: Its right shift key is a single key width, and it’s located to the right of the up arrow key. On every other keyboard I use, the right shift key is to the left of the arrow keys, but to save width Vinpok has tossed the shift key over to the far edge of the keyboard, above the right arrow key.
Will this matter to you? I have no idea. For all I know, most people use the left shift key and I’m alone in my use of the right shift! If you had asked me before I started using the Taptek which shift key I predominantly used, I couldn’t have told you. (It’s the right, turns out.) I did just pull out every keyboard I own, though, and none of them put the right shift key where the Taptek does.
When I tried to write on the Taptek keyboard, I would get going and be enjoying the look and feel and sound of the keyboard, and then I’d try to type a capital letter and my cursor would move up a line, because I hit the up arrow key instead. My right pinky finger doesn’t want to stretch that far.
Keyboard layouts are funny things. Even slight shifts in key position can completely ruin a touch typist. I’ve used mini keyboards on PC laptops that shifted every letter key so they were above one another, rather than staggered diagonally. They were disasters. The more a keyboard designer deviates from the standard key layout, the more they risk an I’m out moment from a user. Once you cross the I’m out threshold, you might as well hand me a Dvorak keyboard or a chording keyboard, because all of my muscle memory has been rendered useless.
Again, your mileage will probably vary. Beyond the layout issue (and the need to set the backlighting to not be super aggressive) this keyboard is pretty great. I was hoping it would become my go-to keyboard for when I’m writing in my kitchen, but the key layout prevents me from doing that. Vinpok should’ve made the keyboard just a little wider and given the shift and arrow keys just a little more room.
Vinpok says the final price of the keyboard will be $199, but it’s offering discounts via its Indiegogo page as of today. So far as I can tell, this is a finished product and the product’s Indiegogo page seems to have launched fully funded, which suggests to me that Vinpok is taking advantage of crowdfunding psychology to drive sales. (They’re hardly alone on that score.)
In the end, this isn’t the keyboard for me. But if you aren’t as particular about the placement and size of the right shift key and are searching for an Apple-inspired mechanical Bluetooth keyboard, the Vinpok Taptek is worth your consideration.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-16 00:11, modified at 00:13
Jeremy Burge of Emojipedia has the scoop, er, the schmear:
Apple has released a new version of its forthcoming bagel emoji. Now including cream cheese, this aims to address concerns raised about the previous design.
I wonder what people will choose to complain about regarding this revision. Is that cream cheese not accurate enough?
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-15 21:40, modified on 2018-10-16 15:50
It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a month since I took possession of an iPhone XS and XS Max. In the intervening four weeks I’ve taken photos and video, traveled on a business trip, gotten stuck in hideous commute traffic. That’s life. And throughout, the iPhone XS has proven itself as a phone that’s got all the benefits of the excellent iPhone X, with some subtle tech upgrades, a massively improved camera, and—perhaps most significantly—a bigger screen if you want it.
After a year with the iPhone X, switching the iPhone XS was not much of a disruption. (I’ve been using the same case as the one I used with the iPhone X.) Apple hasn’t perfected the process of migrating from one phone to another, but it’s coming ever closer. Back in 2015, Myke Hurley and I spent 90 minutes detailing all the annoyances in migrating to our new iPhone 6S models. On what should be one of the most fun moments on any tech enthusiast’s calendar—iPhone upgrade day!—we ended up getting frustrated with a long chain of annoyances that soured the entire experience.
Things are much better now, starting from the moment where your old iPhone senses that a new iPhone is in setup mode nearby. That kicks off a whole local information-exchange experience that gets you most of the way to upgraded with a minimum of password re-entry. I’d love for it to be even more frictionless, but it feels very much like Apple has done everything it can while also keeping its security model intact. Restoring Apple Pay only requires re-entering of CVV codes. Even restoring apps from the App Store seems faster than it used to!
Since biometric data is not transferrable between devices, of course you have to set up Face ID when you move to the iPhone XS. I’m still flabbergasted about how easy it is to set up Face ID—you tilt your head a couple of times and that’s it. Apple says Face ID is faster on the iPhone XS than on the iPhone X due to the faster A12 processor, and after a month I guess I can see it. It’s hardly a shout-from-the-rooftops improvement, but it’s faster—and it was already pretty great. Face ID all the things! 1
So let’s deal with this up front: The iPhone XS is a better iPhone X. I’ll get into the details in the rest of this review, but if you spent $999 or more on an iPhone X last year, and you’re not on some sort of annual replacement plan (or don’t have a family member to roll your phone down to), you can probably hold off on upgrading this year.
That’s not a condemnation of the iPhone XS, but a compliment to just how far forward the iPhone X pushed the iPhone line. It was a truly great upgrade.
The defining feature of the iPhone XS upgrade is the camera. But these days when you talk about a camera, you’re really talking about the combination of an image sensor, a set of lenses, signal-processing hardware, and complicated (machine-learning assisted) software running on powerful processors. This is what smartphone cameras are now, and as long as the laws of physics require smartphones to only be a handful of millimeters thick, that’s not going to change.
(I assume that eventually, the back of every smartphone will either be one giant light-sensitive surface or an array of dozens of cameras, intelligently capturing the scene around you and using powerful algorithms to create a perfect representation of what you saw. Either that or the cameras will migrate into our smart glasses or smart hats or some other smart object not yet devised.)
For now, though, we’ve got a camera so good that you can shoot straight into the sun and it kind of doesn’t matter, other than the risks of J.J. Abrams-style lens flare. A lesson anyone using a camera learns early on is that you don’t want to shoot backlit subjects, because the light from behind them will wash out the rest of the picture, and you’ll be left with silhouettes or a completely useless, blown-out image.
Using the iPhone XS camera has required me to retrain myself. You’re always going to be better off not shooting directly into the sun, but it matters a lot less when every shot you take is actually a combination of multiple shots and exposures capturing different portions of the image at different light levels, and sticking them all together on the fly into a single image that can show the sun, the sky, and the faces of the people who are feeling that sun on their backs. This is a technique Apple calls Smart HDR, and it is a remarkable step toward making iPhone photos match what your eye actually sees.
(Our eyes—and the powerful neural engine that processes the image signals coming from them—can see simultaneously in bright light and dark shadow in a way that our cameras just can’t. But the cameras are getting better all the time.)
Is the ultimate goal to make every photo out of an iPhone camera exactly match what you see in your mind’s eye when you look at the scene? Not necessarily, no. Part of the power of an experienced photographer is using the technology at their disposal to capture a specific image, one that doesn’t necessarily copy reality but represents some aspect of it. Photography is the art of finding a still image with very specific bounds in a dynamic, 360-degree world.
That said… when it comes to snapshots? Yeah, the ultimate goal is to save what you saw with your own eyes so you can remember it later. There are lots of apps that will let advanced photographers take advantage of the power of the iPhone XS camera to take amazing pictures—but by default, in the Camera app, the goal is rightly to capture that scene you want to keep forever. And if it involves two kids playing in the sand at the beach with the sun inconveniently setting behind them, then it needs to do everything it can to represent that moment despite the less-than-ideal conditions. That moment won’t come again and can’t be restaged.
In the past month I have taken a huge number of photos pointing more or less straight at the sun. I’ve taken shots on the side of a mountain with bright sunlight in the foreground and deep, deep shadow in the background. The iPhone XS did a great job rendering those scenes—in fact, in one shot on the mountain, I was standing in the sun and couldn’t see anything in the shadows, but the iPhone managed to reveal some of it. Comparing a Smart HDR photo and its single-exposure equivalent, I found that Smart HDR exposed detail in sunlit spots that would’ve otherwise been blown out. In a shot up from within a dark forest canopy, Smart HDR images were able to render the sky through the trees as blue with puffy clouds, as opposed to just a bright white.
I’m similarly impressed with the video-capture ability that Apple’s calling “extended HDR.” In essence, if you’re taking video at 30 frames per second or less, the iPhone actually captures pairs of frames, one stepped up in exposure, one stepped down, and then combines them on the fly into a single frame that includes more image information from both the bright and dark spaces in an image. Think about that for a minute—it’s capturing 4K video at 60 frames per second, analyzing two 4K frames, and merging them into a single frame every thirtieth of a second. It’s a staggering amount of processing power, but in the end all that matters is that now your video shows the details of light and shadow better than it did before.
And that’s all that really should matter. It’s nice that when it rolls out new products, Apple shows some of its work—tech nerds like me want to know what’s going on behind the scenes. But for just about everyone else, the point is that photos and videos look better and more like what we saw with our own eyes.
Is there more to be done on this front? Always. Google continues to push its computational photography forward in the Pixel line, with the latest model offering its own tricks to improve image resolution, low-light photography, and finding just the right fraction of a second to take the perfect image even if you pressed the shutter button at a slightly less optimal time. Our cameras are getting smarter and smarter. Eventually all we’ll have to do is point them at a scene and let them work their magic.
The other notable thing about the iPhone XS is, of course, that it comes in two sizes. The iPhone XS Max is a return to the big-and-small buddy iPhone movie Apple’s been running for the past few years, but this time rebooted for the iPhone X. The XS Max is, in fact, so much like the standard iPhone XS that it’s uncanny how your perspective shifts when you use one of the models for a while.
An hour with the iPhone XS Max and the iPhone XS and iPhone X suddenly look like little toy phones. A day with the XS, and suddenly the XS Max seems like a monster.
The fact is, the two models are identical other than their screen size (and a little bit of extra battery thanks to the extra volume of the device). So you don’t need to shop for an iPhone based on features, as some people did with the iPhone Plus models—namely buying a larger phone to get access to a better zoom lens.
I’ve never been a fan of larger phones, but since the iPhone X was itself larger than the iPhone 6/7/8 series that preceded it, that means that it’s less of a size jump from the iPhone XS to the XS Max. I’d argue that the iPhone XS’s screen is plenty large and fits better in my hand, so the extra pixels of the XS Max aren’t worth the awkwardness of holding a larger phone. If you have larger hands than I do, you might feel very differently. There’s a phone for both of us!
If you have hands that are smaller than mine, though, you may not be as pleased. Certainly, many people are lamenting the death of the iPhone SE and the lack of an update to the (larger, but not as large as the XS) iPhone 8. The iPhone XS is the smallest 2018-vintage iPhone, and it ain’t small.
I get it. One size does not fit all. And I’m hopeful that at some point—perhaps next spring, midway between this year’s revisions and next year’s—Apple will roll out another phone model or two that are a little bit smaller.
But these phones, as well as the forthcoming iPhone XR, are a reminder that in terms of the global smartphone market, bigger is better. It’s never any fun to be a fan of something that is a niche of a much larger market, but here we are. If you don’t like chocolate or vanilla ice cream, it’s good that there are more flavors. Right now there aren’t very many flavors of iPhone. I hope that changes in 2019.
Leaving aside the issue of smaller phones, there’s also the issue of a larger phone—the iPhone XR. I got a chance to try one out for a few minutes after the iPhone launch event in September, and I’ve got to be honest: It seemed pretty great. The screen’s not an OLED like the iPhone XS Max, and it only has the one rear camera—but it costs $350 less than the Max, and it comes in a bunch of bright, pretty colors that the XS models don’t.
It’s an interesting gambit on Apple’s part, to expect some percentage of users to opt for the more expensive, higher-end phone when the lower-end model is largely just as well equipped, comes in fun colors, and is a big cost saving. But then again, at $749, it’s not like the iPhone XR is a bargain-basement model. Apple wins either way. Isn’t that just like them?
In 2017, Apple said that the iPhone X was the future of smartphones.
Now it’s 2018, and… the iPhone X is still great. Story checks out. After a year with my iPhone X, I can’t imagine going back to Touch ID or a phone with big bezels on the face.
The iPhone XS, then, is today’s phone, today. Yes, it’s a small step forward for the iPhone X, but the iPhone X itself was a big step forward. If you haven’t joined the X family yet, this is a great time to jump on. If you want a larger phone, the XS Max will suffice—as will the XR, probably.
Is this an incremental update? Sure, but most of Apple’s updates are incremental. It’s only after a few years that you really notice all the major changes that have been happening, bit by bit. Last year’s jump to the iPhone X was unusually dramatic, but this year’s iterative step is not without its own kind of appeal. I’ll miss the iPhone X, which led a mere year-long existence, but the iPhone XS is the same phone—only better.
I’m looking at you, iPad Pro. ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-15 18:55, modified at 18:56
If watch faces are the main interface of the Apple Watch, why are they so inconsistent? And why are developers suddenly showing off what faces they’d design if they had the ability? It’s complicated. Also: Photoshop is coming to the iPad for real, and Apple may be offering some of its new TV shows for free.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-15 14:41
Ahead of its Adobe MAX trade show, the company announced that its premiere product, Photoshop, is bound for the iPad. The company stresses that this is “real” Photoshop, not a watered down iOS-only product:
The app is being unveiled to the public for the first time at the Adobe Max conference today, but it won’t actually be available until next year. It’ll be part of the Creative Cloud subscription, so if you’re already paying for Photoshop on desktop, you’ll be able to use it on an iPad. There’s no word on standalone pricing, and Adobe hasn’t made a decision yet on whether Photoshop for the iPad will have a one-time purchase fee or require a subscription of some kind.
Verge reporter and artist Dami Lee took it for a spin:
I’ve been using Photoshop for the iPad for the past week, and it feels distinctly like Photoshop with a few design choices optimized for a touchscreen. It doesn’t have every tool available in desktop Photoshop; in fact, it’s missing the entire upper task bar with the drop-down menu. Instead, you’ll find tools like adjustment layers in the collapsible right-side toolbar.
One of the biggest aspects of this new version is the addition of “Cloud PSD”, an online-based version of Photoshop’s longstanding PSD format. The company likens it to a Google Docs-esque experience, where the truth of your file is stored in the cloud, and loaded into Photoshop wherever you open it. (Naturally, changes are also cached on your local device so you can work offline.)
Photoshop on the platform is certainly a big coup for iOS; in the big debate over whether the iPad can be used for “real work,” it’s long been one of the apps that’s been pointed to as missing. It’ll be interesting to see if and how this will change the workflows of creative professionals who rely on the program. Certainly the ability to directly interact with photos using the Apple Pencil would open up a lot of power for them.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-12 11:57
For obvious reasons, we spend a lot of time focusing on Apple here, but let’s take a moment to turn our attention to another tech company (yes, there are others!) that competes in many of the same spaces as Apple.
This week, Google introduced a slew of new devices, from new smartphones to a tablet to a smart home speaker with a screen. And while there will always be those who prefer one company’s products to another, it’s important to have competition in this space in order to drive all companies—including Apple—forward.
To that end, here’s a look at a few features that Google announced in its products this week that many users of Apple devices—including yours truly—would welcome with open arms on Cupertino’s own platforms.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-11 21:41
The rumors of new iPad Pros keep swirling. Most recently we got a report from 9to5Mac saying that the new iPads would break with past models in several ways, including support for a new Apple Pencil, removing a physical home button in favor of Face ID, replacing the Smart Connector with a new magnetic connector, and replacing Lightning with USB-C.
Would this the beginning of a transition away from Lightning? Or is it another way for Apple to reinforce that the iPad Pro is more like a computer and less like an iPhone? Moving the iPad Pro to USB-C is potentially a huge move—though it’s also potentially a whole lot of nothing. Let’s take a look at the possibilities.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-11 18:14, modified at 20:42
Just in case there were any doubt that Apple is serious about control of all the hardware inside its devices (and there really shouldn’t be, given its recent spats with Qualcomm and ditching of third-party graphics chip maker Imagination), Cupertino’s made a significant partnership with UK-based Dialog Semiconductor.
The partnership between Dialog and Apple is long-lived, with Dialog being the exclusive provider of power management chips in the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. There were some indications that Apple might start building its own power management chips, but the answer seems to be more complex than that. Under this agreement, Apple licenses some of Dialog’s intellectual property relating to said power management technology, as well as acquiring some assets and 300 of Dialog’s employees (who have already worked closely with Apple). Dialog, meanwhile, gets not only $600 million, but also expands to building not only power management chips for Apple products, but also audio and charging chips as well. 1
It’s an interesting move, and most immediately brings to mind Apple’s acquisition of chip firm P.A. Semi, back in 2008. But in that case, Apple bought P.A. Semi lock, stock, and barrel. There’s no doubt Apple could afford to do the same to Dialog, and reports say that Apple sales make up 70 percent of Dialog’s business. But Dialog employs 1500 people, roughly 10 times the number P.A. Semi did at its acquisition, and perhaps Apple didn’t want to take on that much personnel (or lay them off). It seems like Cupertino probably took exactly what it wanted from Dialog and paid handsomely for it.
Even if Apple doesn’t own Dialog outright, this does bring a lot more critical technology in house, further solidifying the company’s control of its entire product. That means even tighter integration throughout the phones, and potentially wins in terms of power management, device size, and efficiency. It continues to be a major competitive advantage for Apple over its competitors, which typically don’t exert this degree of control on its components.
It also continues speculation about the company bringing more of these hardware resources to bear on the Mac line, which has become the odd one out of Apple’s products, the only one still relying heavily on third-party hardware. The Dialog deal doesn’t point directly to any changes in the Mac line, but it does deepen Cupertino’s hardware bench, making it ever more plausible that the company will change the way it thinks about its PC devices.
The press release also cites other “mixed-signal integrated circuits” as being part of the deal, which covers a wide variety of technologies. ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-11 18:09, modified at 18:13
Detailed blog post by Dropbox’s Brad Neuberg about the addition of optical character recognition (OCR) to Dropbox’s scanning feature. This will allow Dropbox to recognize text in scans you make with its apps, meaning you can search for text that appears inside a scan or copy and paste text out of it. It’s something that seems like it should be simple, but this post shines a lot on what makes this such a hard problem.
I’d love to see this information exposed to Shortcuts somehow. I scan my expense receipts into Dropbox for logging later, and if it could pull out information like the date and amount of the expense, that would be incredibly powerful for the way I log that information. It’d also be great to see Apple add this kind of capability to Notes’s document scanning too.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-11 17:50, modified at 14:50
We have to take this opportunity while Lex is away to cover a lot of ground including hardware announcements from Google and Facebook, the deaths of Minecraft for Apple TV and Google +, and game streaming announcements from Google and Microsoft. Plus there’s probably some discussion of Apple tech in there somewhere. And if you haven’t gone back and listened to the archives recently, we’ve finally fixed all the problems with earlier episodes.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-10 17:38
This week, on the 30-minute show where we try to keep it to just half an hour, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Anže Tomić and Kathy Campbell to discuss USB-C adoption, Google’s latest hardware, whether we use walkie-talkie features, and the small technologies that have changed our lives. Plus a special bonus topic about movies we can’t not watch.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-09 19:11, modified at 19:13
If you’d like to hear me talk about Emojis on a podcast, you’re in luck. I was on the Emoji Wrap podcast with Emojipedia’s own Jeremy Burge to talk about new emojis and Apple’s strategy to get people to upgrade their iOS devices because of FOMO.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-09 18:51
What is going on with Businessweek’s report that servers (including Apple’s) got hacked by China? Apple, Amazon, and U.S. and UK agencies flat-out say it didn’t happen. Jason uses his decades of experience in journalism to make some guesses about what might be going on. We also tackle a 9to5 Mac report with more exciting details about new iPad Pro models, which may come with their own special ticket to Dongletown. And in Upstream news, everyone’s looking for the next Game of Thrones, which is really good news if you’re the author of a series of fantasy novels.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-09 18:44, modified at 18:47
By now, we’ve seen Apple’s design range that they’re willing to ship as Watch faces, and while it seems broad at first glance, it’s actually pretty narrow….
The Apple Watch is an amazing feat of technology. It’s a computer. It can display anything. With no mechanical or physical limitations to hold us back, any watch-face design from anyone could plausibly be built, enabling a range of creativity, style, and usefulness that no single company could ever design on its own.
But they won’t let us. In a time when personal expression and innovation in watch fashion should be booming, they’re instead being eroded, as everyone in the room is increasingly wearing the same watch with the same two faces.
As I wrote last week, it’s time for Apple to either rethink its entire approach and give users plenty of options—or it’s time for it to give up its monopoly on face design. But something needs to change.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-09 12:35, modified at 14:38
In a blog post, Microsoft VP Kareem Choudhry discusses the company’s new game-streaming venture, xCloud:
We are testing Project xCloud today. The test runs on devices (mobile phones, tablets) paired with an Xbox Wireless Controller through Bluetooth, and it is also playable using touch input. The immersive nature of console and PC games often requires controls that are mapped to multiple keys, buttons, sticks and triggers. We are developing a new, game-specific touch input overlay that provides maximum response in a minimal footprint for players who choose to play without a controller.
Some of the commentary I’ve seen on this points to similar services like the defunct OnLive or Sony’s PlayStation Now, but it’s pretty clear to me that the major target here is the Nintendo Switch. The Switch may not be the most graphically powerful game system out there, but its ability to let you pick up and take your games with you wherever you go is a huge advantage.
Microsoft’s not going to be able to squeeze the horsepower of an Xbox One into a portable device, so in a fascinating move it’s kind of gone in the other direction entirely, turning Xbox One hardware into a blade server running in a data center. As such Redmond gets to leverage its own advantages in cloud services, using its Azure system to deliver robust performance in gaming across the net.
Or so it says. How this will work in the real world is a real question, especially since the greatest enemy of online gaming is latency.
Microsoft is also making a move to solve one of the lingering problems of mobile gaming: control schemes. While the company suggests that it will provide onscreen controls for touchscreen devices, Microsoft also says you’ll be able to pair one of its Xbox One controllers—the latest model of which now supports Bluetooth—with any mobile device and use that. (Granted, now you have to carry a controller with you, which isn’t exactly great for subway play, but might be fine if you’re traveling.)
I’ve been looking forward to the release of Red Dead Redemption 2 on the Xbox One just a couple weeks from now, and the idea that I could take the game with me when I travel is definitely appealing. Unfortunately, though xCloud is in testing now, we average folks won’t get a chance to try it out until next year at the earliest.
In related news, Google has also announced its own Project Stream which it’s been demoing with the latest Assassin’s Creed title, but it appears to be limited (at least at present) to running in a browser on a PC or a Mac.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-08 20:20, modified at 20:27
Google said it found the bug as part of an internal review called Project Strobe, an audit started earlier this year that examines access to user data from Google accounts by third-party software developers. The bug gave apps access to information on a person’s Google+ profile that can be marked as private. That includes details like email addresses, gender, age, images, relationship statuses, places lived and occupations. Up to 438 applications on Google Plus had access to this API, though Google said it has no evidence any developers were aware of the vulnerability.
The good news is, not a lot of people use Google+, which was Google’s attempt to wedge itself into a social-media space occupied by Facebook and Twitter. It didn’t work, and Google admitted as much today, when it announced that it has “decided to sunset the consumer version of Google+.”
Sunset as a verb means what you might think it means. It’s moving to a farm upstate. It’s going to a better place. It’s following Frodo to Valinor, the Undying Lands across the sea to the west. Where does the sun set? Where Frodo is, probably happy and playing with your childhood pets every day. 1 It is an ex-service.
Google+ will survive as an enterprise product, apparently.
Remember when they sunset Joe Pesci in “GoodFellas”? Oh, n— ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-05 13:38
Nearly six months into having a HomePod, I made a decision to have it stop listening to me.
If you’re thinking to yourself “Well, that sounds like a fairly central feature of the device?” you’d be right. I now essentially have a very nice but rather expensive AirPlay 2 speaker. But this decision came after a steady and measured observation of how I used Apple’s smart speaker, what it does right, and what it does…less than right.
A month or so after I made the decision to disable the “Hey Siri” feature, I flirted with turning it back on, but ended up doing so for only a few days before I switched it off again. The juice, as they say, simply wasn’t worth the squeeze.
Overall, my experience of the HomePod, more than half a year after its debut, has reminded me largely of the early days of the Apple Watch where the company didn’t seem to have a clear idea of what the device actually was.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-04 20:13
Nice piece over at TidBITS from our friend Glenn Fleishman details the handy autofill feature for two-factor authentication codes in iOS 12 and Mojave, but points out—more importantly—that we shouldn’t be using SMS for those codes in the first place:
Many Web sites and apps now offer two-factor authentication (2FA), which requires you to enter a short numeric code—the so-called second factor—in addition to your username and password. These temporary codes are either sent to you via text message or are generated by an authentication app. In iOS 12 and macOS 10.14 Mojave, Apple has streamlined entering such codes when sent via an SMS text message, reducing multiple steps and keyboard entry to a single tap or click.
I explain just below how this new feature works, but I also want to raise a caution flag. SMS is no longer a reliable way to send a second factor because it’s too easy for even small-time attackers to intercept those messages (see “Facebook Shows Why SMS Isn’t Ideal for Two-Factor Authentication,” 19 February 2018). It’s time for Web sites that use 2FA to move away from SMS.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-04 15:31
This week, on the irreverent tech show that’s all about helping you, the listener, we discuss important issues like Lex’s love for the woozy face emoji coming in iOS 12.1, Dan’s feelings on his brand new Apple Watch, and John’s total disinterest in any Microsoft announcements. Plus, more life hacks than you can shake a stick at.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-04 15:01, modified at 18:53
Jon Favreau, the actor/director who’s one of a handful of people to appear in both the Star Wars and Marvel cinematic universes, has revealed a bit of the Star Wars TV show that he’s running. On Instagram last night, Favreau posted:
Because this is where you turn for all your news from a galaxy far, far away.
Quick reactions: there’s obviously not much here, but I’m intrigued. It sounds very much like an homage to something like The Virginian. I love the idea that it’s far away from the central conflict of the series, dealing with elements on the fringe. Seems like a good way to get away from the thrust of the main sequence of stories.
We’ve never had a live action Star Wars TV show, which makes this an interesting beast. Will it hew closer to the animated fare, like Clone Wars, Rebels, and the upcoming Resistance? Or will it be closer to the movies? It’ll probably be a little while yet before we find out: Disney’s upcoming streaming service, which this service will air on, won’t even launch until next year.
Oh, and one thing in particular struck me about the admittedly brief text of the announcement: it’s very careful to use gender-neutral language. And characters like Rebels’s Sabine Wren, Clone Wars’s Satine Kryze and her sister Bo-Katan Kryze, who appeared in both, point to a rich history of female warriors in the culture. 1
Oh and I am really hopeful that nobody named “Fett” will be involved with this. Fine to invoke him as a character inspiration, but honestly, I’ve had enough of the guy. ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-04 14:36
Wild story from Bloomberg Businessweek’s Jordan Robertson and Michael Riley about backdoor chips surreptitiously installed in server motherboards during assembly, probably by the Chinese government:
Nested on the servers’ motherboards, the testers found a tiny microchip, not much bigger than a grain of rice, that wasn’t part of the boards’ original design. Amazon reported the discovery to U.S. authorities, sending a shudder through the intelligence community. Elemental’s servers could be found in Department of Defense data centers, the CIA’s drone operations, and the onboard networks of Navy warships. And Elemental was just one of hundreds of Supermicro customers.
A few things about this story. First, it’s all too plausible. The manufacturing supply chain 1 for most consumer technology has been strongly enmeshed in China for a couple decades now, which does potentially give the country unprecedented access to those components before they are shipped across the world. Secondly, nobody should doubt the skills of China’s information and cyber warfare teams—I certainly have no doubt that they are capable of carrying out such an exploit.
Meanwhile, Apple, which Bloomberg says was a major victim of the attack, has pushed back with an unusually detailed and stridently worded statement, utterly denying much of the information in Bloomberg’s report. Here’s just a small part of their rebuttal:
Over the course of the past year, Bloomberg has contacted us multiple times with claims, sometimes vague and sometimes elaborate, of an alleged security incident at Apple. Each time, we have conducted rigorous internal investigations based on their inquiries and each time we have found absolutely no evidence to support any of them. We have repeatedly and consistently offered factual responses, on the record, refuting virtually every aspect of Bloomberg’s story relating to Apple.
On this we can be very clear: Apple has never found malicious chips, “hardware manipulations” or vulnerabilities purposely planted in any server. Apple never had any contact with the FBI or any other agency about such an incident. We are not aware of any investigation by the FBI, nor are our contacts in law enforcement.
Apple does acknowledge it located a vulnerability in a software driver on a single Supermicro server back in 2016, but denies that it was a targeted attack against the company. Moreover, the company stresses that even Bloomberg’s report does not allege any compromise of customer data.
Amazon, also implicated in the Bloomberg story, has issued a similar statement (also at the link above) saying that a security audit of servers had located issues with a web application, but not with hardware itself. Supermicro, unsurprisingly, denies knowledge of any investigation, but its reply seems more carefully worded.
The Bloomberg story does seem remarkably detailed, but it does have a distinct lack of named sources from any of the companies allegedly affected or from any of the U.S. government law enforcement or intelligence agencies reportedly investigating the hack. That makes it hard to judge their motives or biases, even though the sheer number of unnamed sources quoted by Bloomberg would seem to lend the story some credence.
Obviously, this issue—if true and as widespread as suggested—could have major security implications across the industry. Large companies have vested interests in retaining public trust over data security, and the intelligence community would surely like to keep such an investigation under wraps as well. We’ll have to see how it develops in light of the story’s publication.
You can’t spell “supply chain” without rearranging “China”! ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-03 19:05, modified at 19:06
The state of the Apple Watch is good. Tim Cook continues to hail its popularity, albeit without any hard sales figures. Most pundits felt it outshined the iPhone at last month’s Apple media event. The new Apple Watch Series 4 seems to have been received well by reviewers. watchOS 5 is a successful update that enables all sorts of new capabilities.
And yet one vitally important aspect of the Apple Watch seems to not be getting the attention it deserves within Apple. In fact, one might argue that it’s the most important part of how we interact with the Apple Watch. And you see it every single time you flip your wrist and check the time.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-03 18:36
This week, on the 30-minute show that goes tick-tock, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Matthew Cassinelli and Florence Ion to discuss what physical media we still own, what our ideal artificial intelligence assistant would do, where we hosted our first websites, and our thoughts on the Chromebook platform. Plus, a bonus question about instant expertise.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-03 13:01
The Wi-Fi Alliance has announced that it’s replacing the alphabet soup of versions with version numbers. Here’s Jacob Kastrenakes at The Verge, breaking it down:
All of those convoluted codenames are being changed. So instead of the current Wi-Fi being called 802.11ac, it’ll be called Wi-Fi 5 (because it’s the fifth version). It’ll probably make more sense this way, starting with the first version of Wi-Fi, 802.11b:
Wi-Fi 1: 802.11b (1999) Wi-Fi 2: 802.11a (1999) Wi-Fi 3: 802.11g (2003) Wi-Fi 4: 802.11n (2009) Wi-Fi 5: 802.11ac (2014)
Much as I’ll miss the esoteric letters, this will be a heck of a lot easier to explain to non-techie family and friends. We’re all accustomed to version numbers these days.
The one downside (for users) is that it probably will end up making some people feel like they need to upgrade when their setup is still probably fine—the limiting factor to your Internet speeds isn’t usually your Wi-Fi setup. (Still on Wi-Fi 4 here, friends!)
All of this happens in advance of Wi-Fi 6 (née 802.11ax), which is supposed to debut next year. It will be interesting to see companies adopting the branding; the Wi-Fi Alliance reportedly even wants this to show up in software when you choose Wi-Fi networks.
Overall, though, incrementing simple numbers does seem like it will make things easier. I know at least one guy who will be pleased.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-02 20:14, modified at 22:47
In the fall of 2014 the big question was: What is the Apple Watch good for? The company’s expansive answer was, essentially: What isn’t it good for? The result was a product that was new and interesting and weird and entirely unfocused.
In contrast, today’s Apple seems to have a laser focus when it comes to what the Apple Watch is for: Health, Fitness, and Connections. Can you do math problems on it? Sure. But it’s really a health guardian, fitness coach, and tool to help you stay connected with people and information sources that matter to you.
Better focus means better products. Apple has spent the last four years listening to and watching its customers, learning which features of the Apple Watch have resonated—and which ones haven’t. (Goodbye, Digital Touch!) Apple’s also got four more years of watch building and technological development under its belt.
The result is the Apple Watch Series 4, a new model that—combined with watchOS 5—makes it clear that Apple has left everyone else in the dust when it comes to smart watches. This is not a product for everybody—you can get a cheaper fitness monitor or a cheaper (or vastly more expensive!) timepiece. But if you need a device that fits into Apple’s areas of focus, the Apple Watch Series 4 will fit perfectly.
From the moment the first Apple Watch was unveiled, there’s been speculation about just how long Apple would stick with its basic design, including its watch bands. If you bought a bunch of watch bands in the first year, would you need to buy a whole new set the next year? As time has gone on, Apple’s proven to be more consistent than anyone would’ve guessed.
The Apple Watch series 4 is the first major redesign of the externals of the Apple Watch. It’s got a much bigger screen. It’s got larger dimensions that redefine the small and large models as 40mm and 44mm, rather than 38mm and 42mm. And yet… at first glance, it’s undeniably an Apple Watch. And watch-band compatibility once again remains intact.
There are a few different dynamics at work here. Apple has been aggressive in providing new watch band styles and colors seasonally. While Apple isn’t remotely above breaking compatibility and forcing people to buy new accessories, you get the feeling that people would be much less likely to buy a bunch of different $50 watch bands if they were afraid they’d all be worthless in a year. If you can let people upgrade without worry of losing use of that nice band they bought last year, why not? It encourages upgrades and the purchase of accessories. Apple profits from both.
Then there’s the popular success of the Apple Watch. It is, as Apple keeps saying, the top-selling watch in the world. While there’s a huge market that Apple hasn’t yet convinced to buy a smartwatch, it’s hard to deny that the Apple Watch has been successful so far. There’s no real need to rebrand or try something radically different. And while Apple will inevitably redesign the Apple Watch in more dramatic ways in the future, right now Apple benefits more by having the look of the Apple Watch remain consistent and recognizable. Why mess with success?
That’s why the Series 4 update, which is actually the most dramatic revision to the product yet, feels invisible by design. The corners slope down more gently, making the whole top of the watch seem less puffy and inflated. The side button now sits flush with the case, but pressing it feels so natural that you won’t even notice the change.
According to Apple, the Digital Crown has been completely redesigned. The triumph of that design is that it seems entirely familiar, yet better. The gaudy red dot of the Series 3 cellular model—I hated it so much, I put a space-gray sticker over it—has been replaced by an extremely subtle red ring. The crown spins as smooth as butter, but it’s been enhanced with haptics so that you can feel ticks as you spin it to advance through a list or scroll through content. The haptics feel good, making the crown feel like a mechanical watch—except, of course, that those haptic feels are driven by software rather than hardware. It works incredibly well.
When you’re looking at a device as small as the Apple Watch, you might be inclined to view the increase in screen size in the Series 4 as a minor thing. It’s a screen the size of a postage stamp, so what if it’s incrementally bigger? But in terms of percentage, these are huge increases in screen size, more than 30 percent in overall screen real estate.
There’s room for more content, and more overall space for your finger to tap on items without things getting a bit too small and a bit too crowded, as was frequently the case on previous models. In fact, I’ve had to adjust my muscle memory when entering my four-digit passcode because the number pad is so much larger than on the previous model.
In the end, the Series 4 Apple Watch looks and feels like an Apple Watch, but… just a little bit better all around. The convex bottom sensor doesn’t feel like it’s pushing into the skin of my wrist like it did before. It’s all a little bit more flat. It’s just better, in numerous ways.
It’s taken watchOS a few years to find its footing and also progress from some of the choices that were made for the original model. Apple has realized that the center of the Apple Watch experience is the watch face—and that apps are most efficiently used as complications.
The new Infograph and Infograph Modular watch faces are packed with information, for those who want that out of their watch. The larger screen means that app developers have room to spread out, creating new complications that span the width of the Infograph Modular face with items like a heart rate chart or activity log. And of course, if you tap on a complication, the corresponding app opens.
I’m very excited about the complications on the Infograph faces, less so about the faces themselves. Infograph Modular is a solid, digital face—I just personally prefer telling time by looking at analog hands. Infograph itself is pretty and packed with features, but I find myself missing the numbers that encircle the face of my old standby, Utility.
That’s my bigger issue: Older faces haven’t been updated to take advantage of these new complications. The old complication styles are used, some of them now displayed along the curve of the face. It seems like a waste. Why not update the old faces so that they better take advantage of these new screens, including larger complications that show more data? Infograph is okay, but I’d much rather add a couple of new-style complications to Utility, and I can’t.
The result is that I like lots of aspects of the watch faces on the Series 4, but after more than a week of fiddling with complications and faces, I’ve yet to settle on one that I am comfortable with. I find myself wanting to mix and match, which isn’t actually allowed. Perhaps as more apps add support for the new complication sizes, I will find that their utility balances out my preference for the aesthetics of the older faces. Right now I’m using Infograph with a handful of complications around the edges, but I don’t love it. There’s still something missing.
The circle of the Utility and Infograph watch faces are exactly the same size. There’s no reason that Utility shouldn’t use modern complications. I understand that Apple may have had bigger fish to fry in watchOS 5, but it feels like it’s time for a upgrade and rethink of all the Apple Watch faces.
That all said, I’m happy Apple seems to be trying very hard to appeal to people who want lots of information density and people who want little or none. The new colorful faces Vapor, Fire and Water, and Liquid Metal are all pretty and largely empty of information. That’s not what I’m looking for, but a software-driven watch should provide enough flexibility to please the entire spectrum, from info dense to info light.
The series 4 interface is responsive in a way that previous versions weren’t. Some of that is thanks to watchOS 5, which feels mature in a way that previous versions haven’t. It’s not just the core OS, either, but the fact that it seems to finally be enabling apps that are able to do more and be more useful in the background and when untethered from an iPhone.
I’ve written about it in detail, but the experience of running with only my Apple Watch and a set of AirPods, while listening to podcasts and doing interval training, can’t be beat. With the cellular model, I’m able to leave the house for a run on a hike and know that I’m still connected, without needing my phone weighing down my pocket. It’s not a lifestyle choice that most people will make, but for those who see the benefit in going without a phone while still being able to engage with the world (or call for help in an emergency), it’s an excellent experience.
Speaking of calling for emergencies, I should point out that as an advantage of buying a cellular model of Apple Watch even if you don’t end up adding it to your data plan. Like all cellular-capable devices, the cellular Apple Watch is capable of calling an emergency number even if it’s not part of an active phone plan. If you just want to call emergency services in a pinch, or if you’re thinking that the new fall-detection feature might benefit you, it’s worth considering the cellular model anyway.
I wasn’t able to test the new electrocardiogram feature, which has not yet been turned on, but the same consideration applies. Most people won’t use the feature and won’t need the feature, but we’ve already seen how having an Apple Watch has saved some people’s lives and diagnosed previously unknown conditions. With new support for measuring low heart rates, plus the ECG feature, we will hear more stories about that, and rightly so.
The Series 4 watch should be a showcase for Siri, with its louder speaker and watchOS 5’s support for raise-to-speak. In theory, not needing to say any trigger word should make using Siri on the watch a much more natural feeling experience. In practice, I found it unreliable. Perhaps there’s a specific cadence you need to lift your wrist and speak a command, but I could rarely manage it. And if you fail, then you’re just a weirdo standing in the street whispering into your wrist.
The experience of migrating to a new Apple Watch from an older model has improved, too. The migration’s still not exactly instantaneous—you need to pair a new model and restore from an old backup—but it seemed to take much less time than I’ve experienced in the past. Apple has also improved the experience of moving an Apple Watch to a new iPhone. When you’re transferring data to a new iPhone, the migration assistant will note that you’ve got a Watch and will offer to move it. It’s a much less fraught process than the old manual approach.
If you’re still using your original Apple Watch, now’s the time to upgrade. You can’t run watchOS 5 on the original models, and that battery’s got to be showing its age. (The battery in my wife’s Series 0 was barely getting through the day—and she’s just taken delivery of a new Series 4 that is a spectacularly big upgrade.)
In the same vein, if you’re using a Series 3 watch, I think you should probably keep on with what you’ve got. It’s a pretty solid piece of hardware that is given extra oomph by the upgrade to watchOS 5.
In between those two? It depends on your priorities, and how you’re using your watch today. It’s worth mentioning that Apple is raising the prices on these watches. The Series 4 base models start at $399 (GPS) and $499 (GPS + Cellular); last year’s equivalent models started at $329 and $399. (The Series 3, which now starts at $279, is a pretty good buy if you don’t care about the larger screen! That’s $30 more than the Series 1 was selling for, but… a Series 3 is a whole lot better than a Series 1.)
Apple also won’t let you buy a Stainless Steel model unless you buy the cellular edition. That double penalty means you can’t get a stainless Series 4 for less than $699; the first Apple Watch I bought for my wife was a Stainless model, but this time we saved $300 and went with aluminum. I would’ve been open to spending more for better materials, but 75 percent more? I’ll pass.
I’ve worn an Apple Watch pretty much every single day since I took delivery of the very first model on day one. I’ve enjoyed using it, but I’ve also enjoyed watching at how the platform has just kept getting better. For the first few years, most of the improvements were on the software side, along with incremental hardware improvements inside the same, familiar exterior.
This year is different. That exterior is familiar, but it’s not the same. It’s new, and surprising, and paints with a much larger canvas. The iPhone is Apple’s revenue driver, the iPad Pro is my ultimate mobile-productivity tool, and my heart will always belong to the Mac—but for my money, the Apple Watch is currently the most interesting product the company makes.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-10-01 22:14, modified at 22:15
This week Jason and Myke discuss where the iPad Pro might go next, including whether it’s primarily a horizontal or vertical device, and if adding a USB-C port makes sense. Then pull up a chair, because it’s time for Jason to tell you the story of his summer-long battle with the IKEA supply chain: Frösönquest 2018.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-29 17:07, modified at 17:08
It’s hard to sell people on a new iPhone every year. The fact is, most people don’t buy a new iPhone every year, but the tech journalists who write about any new product will invariably compare it to the previous-generation model, when the truth is that most people who buy an iPhone XS will be upgrading from the iPhone 6, 6S or 7, not last year’s iPhone 8 and X.
Sometimes the leaps forward are easy to see: Last year’s iPhone X was one such leap. But this year’s models are a bit more iterative, so Apple has to focus in on a few specific improvements in order to continue maintaining the important perception that the entire platform is moving forward in exciting ways.
While the A12 processor powering the iPhone XS is certainly impressive, just saying a phone is a bit faster is not going to make people too excited. So Apple has become very good at highlighting its prowess in making chips and writing software to drive those chips through the lens of new features. And what better features to improve than those around perhaps the single most important feature, the camera?
As an iPhone X user for the past year, the one feature that would make me pay to upgrade to the XS is the improved camera. The camera on the iPhone XS is a major step forward for Apple. But don’t be fooled: the feature that Apple spends the most time on isn’t the killer feature.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-28 21:52, modified at 22:02
The biggest problem with Dark Mode in macOS Mojave is that not every app has gotten the message. Some apps—especially ones that display web content—are going to be unflaggingly black-on-white, and it’s glaring and awful in Dark Mode.
There are a few workarounds. I’ve been pointed to a Safari extension that lets you override the design on specific sites, though I haven’t tried it myself. (I wish Apple would’ve just built this feature in itself.)
There’s one utility that I have tried out, though, that might help people who have crossed over to the dark side. It’s Maxim Ananov’s HazeOver, a $1 app that automatically darkens all of your background windows. It’s got a slew of options, including just how opaque it makes each window, and you can adjust behavior based on which app you’re using.
If you’ve got bright windows that are distracting you in Dark Mode—or heck, even in normal mode—HazeOver’s worth a try. It won’t make white windows any less bright when they’re in the foreground, but at least they’ll be easier to ignore when they’re in the background. And even your dark background windows will get darker, which might help your concentration.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-28 21:29, modified at 21:31
My thanks to MacPaw’s CleanMyMac X for sponsoring Six Colors this week. CleanMyMac is an all-in-one package that lets you keep your Mac in tip-top shape. macOS Mojave came out this week, so it’s the perfect time for a little Mac maintenance—especially if you haven’t updated just yet. To learn more, visit MacPaw and start a free trial of CleanMyMac X today.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-28 15:49
Online backup service Backblaze has put up a post on compatibility issues with Mojave. The latest macOS update’s security model introduces some complexity for Backblaze (in part because the service doesn’t use a traditional app model, running instead as a combination of preference pane and daemon process). Backblaze’s post details a workaround to get the software running on Mojave, but it’s definitely a bit technical.
Backblaze says it’s working on a better solution for this problem, but if you rely on the service, you may want to hold off before jumping on the Mojave train.
Hat tip: Six Colors member John
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-28 13:53
This week, on the tech podcast that’s pivoting to cookies, we discuss our feelings on macOS Mojave, whose Dynamic Desktops we like, even if we’re otherwise kind of “meh.” Then it’s a riveting discussion of Apple News and its lack of revenue-generation, an examination of new Echo products, and an important discussion about file organization. Yes, file organization.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-28 13:17
“The Mac keeps going forever.”
So said Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller in an interview in this very publication on the occasion of the computing platform’s 30th anniversary in 2014. With this week’s release of macOS Mojave, the modern version of the Mac’s operating system hit its fifteenth major release, and celebrated its seventeen-and-a-half birthday—quickly closing in on outliving its predecessor, the classic Mac OS.
Mojave charts some new directions for the Mac, most notable of which is the ability to run iOS apps with little to no modification. That feature has its fair share of shortcomings and has also caused a degree of consternation from some longtime Mac users who don’t want peanut butter in their chocolate.
But it seems unlikely Apple’s going to back away from the idea of bringing more iOS into the Mac—the former is, after all, the more popular of the company’s two platforms, and with more than 1.3 billion active devices overall, it’d be strange for Apple not to figure out a way to bring them together. But what’s equally clear is that Apple is trying to balance incorporating iOS with keeping the Mac the Mac.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-27 23:34
macOS Mojave is here, and with it, Apple is now officially shipping four Mac apps that were written for iOS and run using a translation system that Apple’s planning on rolling out to app developers next year.
But while it’s fun to consider what apps from the iOS App Store might come to the Mac App Store in 2019, it’s also worth asking what else Apple might bring to macOS next year—and whether it might have some unexpected benefits for iPad users in the process.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-27 14:26
Shortcut creator par excellence Federico Viticci has come up with a pair of cool workflows that let you automatically add an iPhone XS/XS Max frame around your screenshots.
This is probably most useful for developers making screenshots of their apps or tech writers who want to gussy up the imagery in their pieces. And, of course, destructive idiots like me who just want to see if they can break things.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-27 14:10
Slate’s Will Oremus has a deep dive on what Apple News has brought publications like Slate: namely, big traffic increases, but no commensurate increase in income:
Chris Schieffer, Slate’s senior product manager, said Slate still makes virtually no money from Apple News even as its audience there has skyrocketed. I did one back-of-the-envelope calculation that startled me: Slate makes more money from a single article that gets 50,000 page views on its site than it does from the 6 million page views it receives on Apple News in an average month.*
That’s not terribly surprising, since Apple News essentially uses its own advertising model instead of serving the ads sites already have. This has so far meant relatively few ads in articles read via Apple News; great for readers who don’t want to be bombarded with ads, but obviously not great for publishers dependent on ad views.
But the other shoe hanging over this whole piece is Apple’s acquisition of Texture back in March. The expectation is that the “Netflix for publications” will be folded into Apple News, though Apple has obviously made no announcement of its plans.
Given Apple’s usual timeline for integrating technology that it’s acquired, I’d expect next year’s iOS 13 to include whatever the company’s plans are for the service. But providing some sort of collective subscription service (or the ability to easily subscribe to publications via Apple News, like signing up for your video streaming services via iTunes or Amazon) could prove a more feasible way for publications to bring in income.
Or perhaps Apple News will go the way of Apple’s Newsstand venture and go out of print.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-26 20:00, modified on 2018-09-27 00:25
Since Apple announced the addition of Dark Mode to macOS Mojave back in June, I’ve been hoping that there would be a way to automate its use, having it automatically turn on at a certain time of day à la the Night Shift feature on macOS and iOS. Apple, for its part, didn’t see fit to include such a capability in Mojave.
Unsurprisingly, however, third-party developers have picked up the slack. Benjamin Kramser’s NightOwl accomplishes just what I wanted and more. It lives in the menu bar and allows you to quickly toggle between Light and Dark Modes, as well as setting a schedule based on either times or on sunrise and sunset.
I’ve only tested out NightOwl on my MacBook Air so far (it’s the only one of my Macs with Mojave currently installed), but it seems to do the trick. Unfortunately it appears Apple didn’t necessarily plan for such a feature, so the transition is a little bit on the jarring side. However, as it’s only a once or twice-a-day occurrence, it’s not too bad.
Some have hoped for the ability to use a Mac’s built-in ambient light sensor to shift back and forth, and while I can see the appeal, I think it might prove to be a little inelegant, especially based on the current transition. (If you have a room, like my office, where the light level fluctuates even during the day, you could end up having that jarring switch much more often. I learned that the hard way with some of my smart home experiments.)
Maybe when next year rolls around Apple will incorporate an automatic Dark Mode switch, but for now, NightOwl is worth your investment. It’s a free download, though if you end up using it, you might consider donating some money the developer’s way.
Hat tip: Six Colors member Craig
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-26 17:42
This week, on the 30-minute show that’s 100-percent successful, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Scholle McFarland and Paul Kafasis to discuss which productivity suites we use, our favorite features of the newly released macOS Mojave, what smart tech we have in our cars, and our feelings on iOS apps coming to the Mac. Plus, a special fall-themed bonus question.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-25 02:48, modified at 02:49
Now is the perfect time of year to start using CleanMyMac X by MacPaw. The app is an all-in-one package to clean junk from your Mac, speed things up, and protect your data.
Apple released macOS 10.14 Mojave this week. As you prepare to switch to it from High Sierra, CleanMyMac X is the perfect place to start. It’s a one-stop destination for your most important Mac maintenance needs. The app identifies unneeded junk files on your Mac freeing up valuable storage space. It does a whole lot more too. There’s malware detection and removal, optimization and other maintenance routines to make your Mac run faster, an app uninstaller and updater, a large file finder, and a file shredder. There’s even a handy menu bar app to monitor the status of your Mac’s critical systems like its storage, memory, CPU, and battery all in real-time.
Whether you’re freeing up your Mac’s storage to upgrade to Mojave, downgrade back to High Sierra, find and remove 32-bit apps that won’t be supported after Mojave, or want to protect your Mac from the threat of malware, CleanMyMac has you covered. To learn more visit MacPaw, and start a free trial of CleanMyMac X today.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-24 17:00, modified on 2018-09-21 22:50
We’re taught that good things come to those who wait, but delaying gratification is no fun. It’s easier to eat the marshmallow now rather than wait for the cookie later.
And yet sometimes patience is required. Apple seems to have embarked on a years-long effort to update the Mac into a computing platform that makes more sense in the era of touchscreen devices, and in macOS Mojave we see the first glimmers of that effort. But the truth is, we don’t get to eat that marshmallow this year. Next year, when third-party app developers will get to bring their own iOS apps to the Mac, we may all get a cookie.
While that’s all going on under the surface—and make no mistake, there’s a lot going on in macOS Mojave that’s largely invisible but incredibly important to the future—it’s up to Apple to add visible, fun new features to its annual operating-system update to help motivate everyone to update.
On that front, Mojave delivers an entirely new desktop theme—Dark Mode—along with the first official changes to the macOS/OS X color scheme in years. The Finder, the app that’s the hub of the Mac experience, has gotten several new organizational upgrades. Even Automator, part of a macOS user automation story that was seemingly abandoned, has gotten a few new features that make it more accessible to users.
Yes, macOS Mojave is probably destined to be known as the beginning of a journey, rather than a milestone. This is a release that has a lot to say about the future of the Mac. But the present’s been given a new coat of paint and some useful new features. And perhaps most importantly, after several months using prerelease versions of Mojave, I’m happy to report that it also has been a stable, drama-free update.
In 2014’s Yosemite release, Apple added the ability to turn the Mac’s menu bar black, a perplexingly limited design flourish that didn’t extend beyond the menu bar and Dock. Mojave finally makes good on the promise of a true dark theme for macOS, one that can (optionally) change your Mac’s windows to be predominantly dark with light text, rather than light with dark text.
Why go dark? For some people the answer will be novelty, or the sheer coolness that comes from going from an Imperial Stormtrooper color scheme to one befitting Darth Vader. But dark themes have long been popular in software that caters to content-generation professionals, who prefer to have their images or video not be swamped by a lot of bright interface chrome. (Apple’s pro apps, Final Cut and Logic, both received dark-interface updates in the past few years.) Even if you’re not a pro, you may appreciate an interface theme that makes your photos and documents appear to pop out of the screen more, because they’re framed by darkness rather than sitting on a bright white background.
The Dark Mode design itself isn’t just an inverted version of the light mode; Apple has made a bunch of subtle design changes, including a different shadow, a very subtle light ring around the dark window to increase the definition of window edges, and a subtle background color that picks up an average color from the items that are behind it.
Your favorite apps won’t automatically take on the dark appearance, however: app developers will need to update their apps to support dark mode. Of course, Apple has already updated its own apps to support the new dark appearance, though even there you may be surprised at some of the quirks you’ll find. The fact is, a lot of app design (and content design on the Internet) assumes a standard black-on-white interface, and those assumptions can be laid bare when you enter Mojave’s dark mode. Apple Mail offers a preference to display message content in dark mode (it’s off by default), but if you’re viewing a richly-formatted HTML email message, you’ll see it rendered in its usual white-background style.
Once you’re used to dark mode, content that doesn’t follow that sensibility sticks out even more. It feels like it will take a while for the dark interface to feel truly, consistently dark—not just in terms of apps being updated and redesigned to support the new appearance, but also in terms of how web design is impacted. There will need to be a method for web designers to create dark themes for their sites (not just for Mojave, but for the dark theme in Windows 10, and perhaps a future version of iOS as well).
Until the world stops assuming that everyone wants to see black text on a white background, however, Dark Mode is kind of a flop, at least for the range of apps that I use to do my job every day. Your mileage may vary. Most of the apps I use are garish and bright, and while some of them are customizable, others—including many of the emails I receive and the webpages I visit are not. The contrast between them and the dark portions of the interface is painful. I can’t use Dark Mode when so much of the world insists on being light.
If the world doesn’t move in that direction, perhaps Apple needs to start taking steps to transform content itself. iOS offers a feature, Smart Invert Colors, that allows apps to invert some content (like, say, black text on a white background) while preventing other content (images, for example) from being inverted. It’s a hack, but I’d love to be able to tell Mail and Safari to smart invert webpages with a bright background. In the meantime, it would be a good idea for individual Mac app developers to make sure their apps look good in both modes. And, one would hope, for web standards bodies to move forward with support for alternative style sheets for different operating system design themes.
Speaking of features that seemed ripe for elaboration but never got it, since the early days of Mac OS X there’s been the concept of an appearance color, but your only options were Blue and Graphite. Blue was the standard Mac OS X interface; Graphite removed colors from places like the “stoplight” icons in the title bar of windows and emphasized shades of gray. It always seemed like one day Apple would expand beyond the single color option, but it never happened.
Mojave, though, puts a spin on this idea by introducing the concept of an accent color, so that a bunch of interface features (the buttons at the end of pop-up menus and highlights on selected menu items, for example) can be colored something other than blue—you’ve now got a choice of eight different colors. The concept of a highlight color (the color that shows when you select text) still exists, though, and so if you want your menu bar accents to be orange but your text selection to be blue, you can do that.
One of the delights of being a Mac user is being able to personalize your computer interface so it’s undeniably yours. Adding two different appearance types and a selection of accent colors is a nod from Apple to this fact, and while it’s long overdue, I’m very glad that it’s in Mojave. I spent all summer with orange highlights everywhere on my iMac Pro, and you know what? It was really fun. Sometimes it’s good to have fun when you’re using your computer.
Viewed on its face, the addition of four new Apple apps to macOS is welcome. I’m not a big fan of Stocks or Voice Memos, but they’re available on iPhone and it makes sense to spread them across all of Apple’s platforms (including iPad) and sync them with iCloud. News is an strategic app for Apple, and it’s been missed on the Mac the last couple of years, so it’s good to see it arrive.
Most of all, the Home app—and accompanying Siri support for HomeKit—is a big winner for those of us who use Macs in a home filled with HomeKit devices. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to go into another room to find an iOS device in order to turn a HomeKit device on or off… when I had my Mac sitting right in front of me. It’s great to be able to adjust lights and thermostats and all sorts of other smart-home stuff from right on my Mac.
Delve a little deeper, though, and you’ll start to notice that these apps don’t really feel like native Mac apps. The Home app displays the iOS date and time picker—you know the one, where you spin the wheels with your finger—and I can’t begin to explain just how wrong that is on the Mac. (You can click very gingerly on the wheels to move them, or hover the cursor over them and scroll up and down with two fingers.)
Every app is a single window. “Windows” generated when you need to set preferences are modal, appear in the center of the existing app window, and can’t be moved—and of course they can’t, because they’re not really Mac windows and these aren’t really Mac apps. They are iOS apps, translated into Mac apps via a method that will be available to non-Apple software developers next year.
This move has major ramifications for the future of Mac software. All iOS apps are developed on macOS, but even veteran iOS developers can find it a difficult transition to writing macOS software. Using Apple’s as-yet-unnamed approach, it should be much easier to bring iOS apps over to enrich the Mac. I like that Apple is testing this approach itself before handing it out to everyone else, because there’s clearly a lot more work to be done—not just in fixing bugs before Mojave ships this fall, but in the next year to make sure that iOS apps translated to the Mac behave properly and work well.
Having the News app on the Mac is great for people who use it on iOS, but as a Mac app, it’s not great. It does the job, I suppose, and it’s better than nothing, but… that’s about it. Let’s hope that Apple’s plan is to continue refining the technology they’re using to bring iOS apps to the Mac over the next year, so that these apps can feel more native to the platform. The promise of bringing iOS apps to the Mac is great; the threat that they might be really bad is also great.
We’ve got a year to ponder what the future of the Mac might be, whether bringing apps designed for touchscreens augurs the arrival of touchscreens on the Mac, if iOS developers will bother to put the work in to bring their apps to macOS, and any number of other ruminations. In the meantime, at least I can turn my lights on and off from my Mac now.
What makes a Mac a Mac? At the center of the Mac experience is interacting with the filesystem via the Finder. (Compare this to iOS, where app launching is at the center, with file access consigned to the Files app.) Yet it’s been a while since Apple lavished any attention on improving the Finder experience. But in Mojave, the Finder gets the attention it deserves, with a new view option, upgrades to Quick Look, and several improvements to the Finder’s most important piece of real estate: the Desktop.
Cover Flow view, a Steve Jobs favorite that displayed previews of files above a list view, is no more in Mojave. (Did you know it was still there?) It’s been replaced with the new Gallery view, which displays a very large preview in most of a Finder window, with a strip along the bottom showing thumbnail previews of every item in the folder.
To the right is the Preview pane, which has existed for a while now, but it’s been upgraded to display a wider selection of metadata associated with the selected item—both general file information (date created and modified) and context-specific content information (for images, it shows dimensions and color profile). A new option in the File menu, Show Preview Options, lets you set specifically what metadata gets displayed in that pane.
I have a hard time imagining how I’d use Gallery view broadly, but it’s perfect for folders of images or PDFs or videos or other media types where the content is more important to browsing than the filename, creation date, and size.
There’s also a surprising twist: At the bottom of the Gallery view, there are a set of Quick Action buttons that let you modify the item you’re looking at, without opening any apps. Rotate or mark up an image, trim an audio or video file, or act upon just about any file type using an automation that you built yourself. (More on that in a little bit.)
I have to admit that it gives me pause to imagine the Finder as a place where you modify the content of documents, but it just makes sense. Why open an app to rotate an image file or quickly trim a video?
The ability to modify files isn’t limited to buttons in Gallery view, either. If you keep the Preview pane visible in list or icon view, you’ll see a preview of the item and have access to the same Quick Actions. And some of these commands also appear in Quick Look, where they appear as buttons at the top of Quick Look windows. So even if you’re viewing a folder in Icon view without the Preview pane selected, you can press the spacebar to view an image file and then rotate it or mark it up, right from Quick Look.
Here are two facts about me: I’m the kind of person who puts a lot of files on his Mac’s Desktop, and in the real world I am a somewhat messy person who tends to make stacks or piles of papers, books, and the like, rather than actually file or shelve them. It never occurred to me that you could combine my digital and analog organizational tendencies, but Apple has done it in Mojave by applying some basic piling techniques to our messy Desktops.
This comes in the form of a new feature called Desktop Stacks, which borrows the Stack concept from the Dock and applies it to the files on the Desktop. Files can be grouped by kind (Documents, Images, PDFs, Music, Movies, Other), date (last opened, added, modified, or created), or tags. Folders are left untouched.
Even the messiest desktop will get a lot cleaner when all the files get sucked into one of these Stacks, which is the size of a single file icon. If you hover the cursor over a Stack and swipe left and right on the trackpad, the Finder will step through the contents of the Stack one at a time, with the filename and preview icon appearing in place of the Stack name and icon.
If you click on a Stack, it expands, with the contents of the stack appearing below the stack icon itself. I found this approach a little confusing—I think I’d prefer all the items to appear in a popover, as they appear when you click on a Stack in the Dock, or as a folder. Instead, the icons on your Desktop just increase temporarily, with the new icons pushing the old ones farther down or to the left.
In any event, once a file is visible, you can double-click on it, select it and drag it elsewhere, view it with Quick Look, or basically everything else you expect. (Unfortunately, when you move the cursor away from the top of the stack, the stack collapses, making it impossible to use your cursor to interact with the Quick Look window. That’s not great.)
I actually keep my desktop organized enough that I can’t envision using Desktop Stacks as it’s currently designed. The feature would probably benefit from added flexibility in how to group Stacks; for example, right now I’ve got a half-dozen PDFs on my Desktop, but they just get poured into a Stack called Other with various other miscellaneous file types. Using tags would be a workaround, which I might consider if things get unruly—but the thought occurs to me that this is a feature primarily for people who haven’t organized their Desktop and aren’t going to start. Desktop Stacks probably aren’t going to transform most Mac users’ personal filing systems, but they might make it easier to find a file on the Desktop, and that’s the point.
If you’re a messy person whose files litter the Desktop, you might not even realize this, but there’s generally a pretty picture back there. Apple has complicated the simple concept of a Desktop picture in Mojave by adding what it’s calling a Dynamic Desktop, an image that shifts over time (and changes immediately when you switch into Dark Mode). Mojave comes with a two Dynamic Desktop images, one of a sand dune in the Mojave desert with different creeping shadows throughout the day, one of ever-changing color gradients reminiscent of sunrise and sunset. (There’s also an option to choose a backdrop image of the desert, which turns into a still of the desert at night when you’re in Dark Mode.)
Dynamic Desktop pictures are not a new phenomenon—people have been making apps that do this for ages. But now it’s a fundamental part of macOS, which is interesting. The Mojave Dynamic Desktop is made up of 16 different still images packaged together into a HEIC file, which is a container file for the HEIF image format Apple adopted last year across macOS and iOS. Someone has already reverse-engineered the format and built a tool to let you build your own; the author of that tool generated a Live Desktop of Earth as seen from space and it’s pretty cool.
When Sal Soghoian left Apple, I assumed that we’d never again see new features that extend support for user automation in macOS. (Meanwhile, iOS 12 has Siri Shortcuts, which are extremely exciting.) In any event, I was completely wrong: macOS Mojave increases the visibility of the user automation feature I use every single day on my Mac, putting it front and center in several different parts of the Finder.
That feature used to be called Services, and it let you build an Automator action that can run in any app, but most notably the Finder. Services can be run from contextual menus in the toolbar of Finder windows, via a control-click, or even an assignable keyboard shortcut. Those actions can do just about anything, including run Automator commands, AppleScript scripts, shell scripts, or any combination thereof. I use them to build simple Finder commands that perform complex actions on the files or folders I’ve got selected. They have saved me vast amounts of time.
In macOS Mojave, Services plug-ins in Automator have been renamed as Quick Actions, and their visibility has increased. Quick Actions appear in the Preview pane in the Finder, alongside other commands like Apple’s own Rotate Image and Markup commands. Automator has been updated so you can assign an icon to each Quick Action so that it’s easier to differentiate them from one another. (You can choose from dozens of icons provided by Apple, or add your own.)
Quick Actions can also appear in the Touch Bar, courtesy of a new Quick Action icon that you can add to the Touch Bar’s Control Strip. Tap on that icon and the Touch Bar will display the icon and name of your Quick Action Workflows. (Ones you can’t currently use will be grayed out, which wastes a lot of Touch Bar space—it would be better if unavailable Quick Actions vanished so that other ones could appear.) You can customize which items appear in the Touch Bar list from the Touch Bar section in the Extensions pane of System Preferences.
For those of us who use Services today, this is a nice addition that will let us surface them more visibly in a few different places in the Mac interface. I have to admit that I’m a little hopeful that it might actually increase the visibility of the feature itself, because it’s incredibly powerful and has the potential to save a lot of people an awful lot of time.
As with any operating-system release, there’s always a grab bag of other features, little improvements here and there that aren’t necessarily the most eye-catching, banner features, but still have an impact. Mojave is no different.
Screenshots. Apple has built a new screenshots interface behind the new shortcut Command-Shift-5. (Command-Shift-3 and -4 still work as always.) When you choose Command-Shift-5, a floating palette appears with options to capture the entire screen, just a window, or just a portion of a window—all features you could already perform, but only if you knew the right combination of shortcuts. Providing visible options is a much friendlier experience. There are also options to start a screen recording, a feature that previously was integrated into QuickTime Player but now is more sensibly included here. Finally, there’s an Options menu that lets you choose where to save the resulting screen shots (including to the Clipboard), and if you want to use a timer to delay when the screen shot gets taken (a feature previously available in the venerable Grab app).
When you take a screen shot, by default you will see an iOS-style floating thumbnail in the lower right corner of the screen, which you can click to open Markup and quickly edit or discard the image. If you don’t like this intrusion—for instance, when you’re taking several screen shots in a sequence and don’t want the floater to appear in any of them—you can turn the feature off from the Options menu.
Continuity Camera. Once you accept the premise that we have a constellation of devices around us all the time, software can be built to take advantage of that fact. Using the Apple Watch as a biometric authenticator to unlock Macs is a good example. With Mojave, the portable, high-quality camera in our iPhones becomes a feature of the Mac. Apple has updated several apps, including Notes, Mail, and the iWork apps, so they can directly insert images gathered by an iPhone on demand. For example, in Notes you can choose Take Photo or Scan Documents from an “Insert from iPhone” item in the File menu. Your nearby iPhone will spring into action, letting you quickly capture an image or document, which is transmitted to your Mac and inserted right where you asked for it.
I hope this feature is adopted by other apps, as well—once you start thinking of your iPhone as a peripheral image capture device for your Mac, it gets frustrating to have to go back to taking photos and then AirDropping them to your Mac.
Mac App Store. The Mac App Store has been around for more than seven years now, and it has never proven to be the powerful force in driving Mac software sales that the iOS App Store has been for iPhone and iPad software. This year Apple’s taking several steps to improve the relevance of the Mac App Store, with a new App Store app that’s been redesigned to feel more like its iOS counterpart, complete with better graphics and ongoing editorial content about Mac apps, and new categories focused on key areas of the Mac, including apps tailored for creative professionals.
With Mojave, Apple is also broadening the privileges Mac App Store apps can ask for, allowing more full-featured apps to get into the store, including Panic’s Transmit and Bare Bones’s BBEdit. And next year, of course, we’ll start to see apps currently available only on iOS appear on the Mac.
This really feels like a new start for the Mac App Store, but it will take time for developers to decide if getting in the store is worth the effort. From a user’s perspective, the Mac App Store app looks quite good, and if the regular features written by Apple’s in-house editorial group can maintain the high quality generated the past year in the iOS App Store, it will be worth it to launch the App Store app on the Mac just to see what’s going on. It’s a start.
Security improvements. Taking some cues from iOS, Mojave limits the access software has to your Mac’s microphone and camera. Each app that wants to use those devices must ask and receive permission from the user before doing so. Many apps will also need to ask before accessing application data (such as mailbox files for Mail), or running automation routines. Will this lead to a Windows Vista-level of user annoyance? I sure hope not. I know that apps that relied on AppleScript for some features have actually rewritten those functions in order to avoid annoying users. After a few initial permission boxes, my Mac running Mojave has settled down. Here’s hoping that continues.
Safari tweaks. Every macOS release brings improvements to Safari, and Mojave doesn’t disappoint. Safari will now automatically generate and insert strong passwords whenever you’re signing up for a new account on a website. (You can also audit your passwords to find reused ones and change them via the Passwords section in Safari’s preferences window.) When you receive a text message with a code meant to be entered in as a part of a multi-step authentication process, Safari will automatically fill that code in. The app has been modified to make it even harder for people to track you across different websites. And finally, you can now opt to display favicons in browser tabs.
Mail improvements. Apple Mail will now suggest folders for you to file messages in based on your behavior, which is a really cool feature that I wanted back when I was filing messages in folders. (This is actually a feature that existed in High Sierra, but only appeared in the Touch Bar, while it’s now at the top of the Inbox view.) Also, there’s now an emoji button so you can more easily get to emoji when you’re composing emails.
Recent apps in Dock. The Dock, another huge part of the Mac experience, hasn’t changed as much as the Finder, but there’s been one iPad-inspired improvement: Now to the right of your favorite apps, there’s a new section for recently used applications. If you launch an app that isn’t currently in your Dock, it now appears in this section… and might even stick around after you quit it.
Photos. The Photos app got a major upgrade… on iOS 12. The Mac version is largely unchanged, though it’s got a few new keyboard shortcuts. The big change is that Apple’s discontinuing its own support for printed books, calendars, and prints. Instead, you’ll need to rely on third-party extensions to get your photos down on paper. There aren’t a lot of great choices, unfortunately. I had success with ordering a photo book from Mimeo, and am in the midst of testing a new extension from Motif. I’ll have a lot more to say about the changes to Photos for Mac in the days to come.
macOS Mojave is an update that straddles the line between past and future. It feels very much like the first era of Mac OS X has drawn to a close. What comes next will almost certainly be informed by the success of iOS and powered by apps that got their start on that platform. It’s entirely possible that in five years, Macs will have touchscreens and run on Apple-designed processors. Whatever the details, the Mac has begun to turn into whatever it will be for the next phase of its life.
But for today, Mojave reflects the fact that Apple seems to be lending attention and energy to macOS for the first time in a while. Dark Mode and other interface changes give us all more choices about how we want our Macs to look, and tweaks to the Finder go to the core of the Mac experience. (I’m also happy to finally be able to control my HomeKit devices from my Mac, either via the Home app or Siri.)
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-24 16:00, modified at 01:40
The iPhone XS and Apple Watch Series 4 are here, and Myke and Jason offer their first impressions of all the new devices. Plus macOS Mojave arrives and Apple sets some interesting standards for its forthcoming video service.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-21 19:51, modified at 19:52
My thanks to PhotoLemur for sponsoring Six Colors this week.
PhotoLemur is an award-winning photo enhancer that uses Artificial Intelligence to improve your images automatically. Its Face Enhancement detects faces in your photos, then removes imperfections and blemishes with pleasing, natural-looking results.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-21 13:42
In 2011, Apple announced that its newest iPhone would incorporate a brand new virtual assistant, based on an app developed by a company that Apple had acquired: Siri. This fall’s release of iOS 12 marks seven years since Siri’s debut, meaning that the virtual assistant would be roughly in first grade by now.
Over the intervening years, Siri has grown in fits and starts, expanding its features and its knowledge base, often with only a little fanfare from Apple. On rare occasions, Apple does devote some attention to the virtual assistant, such as when it produced a whole video dedicated to the relationship between action star—and impossibly cheerful human—Dwayne Johnson and the intelligent agent. But more often than not, Siri’s presented as a facet of Apple’s other products.
In iOS 12, Apple’s made perhaps the biggest improvement in Siri’s history, by adding the Siri Shortcuts feature. Shortcuts unlocks a lot of functionality for the virtual assistant and makes it truly customizable for the first time, but it also brings to light the virtual assistant’s frustrating shortcomings.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-20 17:08, modified at 17:10
Todd Vaziri is an Apple fan, and he has also worked on a few movies you’ve probably seen in his position at Industrial Light and Magic. Todd’s credits include entries in the “Star Wars”, “Star Trek”, and “Mission: Impossible” franchises.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-20 14:35
This week, on show we almost called “Two and a Half Hosts” Dan and John are joined by some guy named Lex for about a third of a show. We discuss iOS 12 and the new Shortcuts features, then spend a surprising amount of time talking about productivity suites. Because who’s going to stop us?
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-19 20:00, modified on 2018-09-18 20:10
PhotoLemur is an award-winning photo enhancer that makes all your images great automatically with the help of Artificial Intelligence.
Editing has never been this easy! Whether you want to skip that humdrum photo editing routine or you simply want to save time, Photolemur is the smart solution for your editing needs.
Photolemur’s Face Enhancement detects faces in your photos, then removes any imperfections and blemishes, and it does all that automatically with pleasing, natural-looking results. You’ll never get better and more effortless skin retouching, whether it’s for portraits, groups shots, or selfies.
Photolemur is the Winner of Red Dot Award 2018 Interface Design with its unique user experience and user interface.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-19 17:51
This week, on the 30-minute show that’s complex, nuanced, and fast, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Federico Viticci and Jean MacDonald to discuss the most exciting new features of iOS 12, our experiences with Shortcuts, what the HomePod still needs, and what iPhone and iOS 12 features we’re going to be explaining to our non-techy friends and family. Plus, Olympic sports we’d like to see.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-19 16:14, modified at 16:23
The day the Apple Watch was introduced, four years ago 1, I immediately envisioned a use case for it that would be the perfect way for me to embrace a universe where I could strap a computer on my wrist. It involved using a pair of wireless headphones to listen to podcasts while using a “Couch to 5K” app to get me in running shape.
This summer, I achieved this goal. It took this long because watchOS needed more time to evolve on a bunch of fronts. Third-party apps needed better control over the device, especially to run (and play audio) in the background. The entire device, originally designed to be a remote screen for code that ran on its companion iPhone, needed to be able to run more reliably on its own. Bluetooth audio connectivity needed to get better. AirPods needed to exist.
But last month I was able to walk out the door of my house with nothing in my pocket but a house key, and go for a run with my favorite podcasts playing in my ears and a running trainer occasionally interrupting (and tapping my wrist) to tell me whether it was time to run or walk.
The App Store is littered with Couch to 5K apps, the kind that get a person who hasn’t run in a long time (that’s me!) back into shape. They work by gradually increasing the amount of running you do over time, generally by alternating periods where you walk and run, with the run time slowly getting longer until on one fateful day you’re just told to run for 11 minutes. I’ve done this program before. That’s an interesting day.
But my goal was to run without an iPhone swinging around in the pocket of my gym shorts. And finding a Couch to 5K app that could reliably run without any iPhone nearby proved impossible. (If there was one out there, I never found it, and I tried a bunch.)
In May I mentioned my plight on the Upgrade podcast, and Listener Ben replied by pointing out an app that wasn’t designed for Couch to 5K programs, but more generally for interval training. It’s called Intervals Pro, and while I had to crib a Couch to 5K program from a different app and manually enter it in, once I had done that, Intervals Pro was capable of guiding me through a workout while my iPhone stayed at home.
Things are even better now. Intervals Pro was recently updated to add a Couch to 5K workout pattern, so no data entry is required. You just tap on which day of the program you’re in, and the timers begin. I’ve set the app to speak each event—essentially, the Siri voice says “Run in 5 seconds,” and haptics begin firing every second, ending in a large tap that is your final prompt to begin running. It works perfectly. The watch app even shows distance, pace, and heart rate, and the newest version offers audio playback controls, too.
The other piece of the puzzle was getting podcasts to load on my watch and play back while I’m running 2. When watchOS 5 was announced, I had been keeping my eye on its release, because Apple is finally including a Podcasts watch app. But I’m an Overcast user, so it would be a bit messy—I’d have to manually adjust which podcasts I had listened to across devices.
Turns out I didn’t need to wait. I got to beta test Overcast 5 for a month, and developer Marco Arment added a standalone Apple Watch app that plays back audio that’s been automatically synced to the watch. Generally, if I walk right out of the house with my watch and AirPods, I will find my current podcasts loaded without having to pre-load any of them. (In the beta there were occasional hiccups where podcasts wouldn’t sync, but I haven’t noticed any in the final, shipping version.) Play status data syncs both ways, so when I go back to my iPhone, it knows that I got 20 minutes into the next episode while I was on my run.
I don’t love running—that is an understatement—but it’s a whole lot more pleasant when I’ve got podcasts to listen to, and I’m much more likely to do it if I’ve got a coach telling me when to run and when to rest. And now I’ve got that, reliably, on my Apple Watch.
Perhaps most impressively, these two apps—Overcast and Intervals Pro—play well together. When Intervals Pro needs to talk, it dips the Overcast audio and talks. It would be nice if it recognized that Overcast is spoken audio and paused the audio entirely, but that is a level of polish that will come in time. The two apps keep on running, and I guess that means I’m going to keep on running, too.
September 9, 2014. I remember it well. It was my last full day on the job at IDG! For me and a whole bunch of other people. Great timing. ↩
Yes, some apps did offer offline podcast playback on Apple Watch before this, but they were really unreliable and labor intensive to sync, when they worked at all. watchOS 5 has changed the game. ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-19 15:31
In the aftermath of last week’s Apple announcements, it’s so easy to refer to the $749 iPhone XR as a low-price, bargain model, in contrast to the $999 iPhone XS and the $1099 iPhone XS Max. But just three years ago, $749 was what Apple charged for the most expensive new iPhone in its product line, the iPhone 6S Plus.
It’s never been more expensive to walk into an Apple Store and walk out with an iPhone. Changes in the way wireless carriers approach their customers have led, unsurprisingly, to changes in the buying behavior of those same smartphone users. The change in buying patterns then affects Apple, which makes its own changes to compensate.
There’s a lot going on here, and while the end result is that Apple is very slowly cranking up the average selling price of the iPhone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that most people are spending more money on iPhones than they used to.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-19 13:05, modified at 13:58
While I was playing around with Shortcuts the other night, I ran into a dilemma. The “Combine Text” action offers the ability to output text separated by a custom delimiter, and I wanted to use a tab character. 1
However, as you eagle-eyed readers surely know, the iOS keyboard lacks a Tab key. Searching around for an alternative, I came across a few suggestions, including copying and pasting a tab character from another app, but one that I uncovered on a message board was particularly simple: use Dictation.
That’s right, if you tap that microphone icon on the keyboard and say “Tab key,” iOS will insert a tab for you. That’ll work pretty much anywhere you can use Dictation, including in Shortcuts. So I was able to output tab-delimited data into a file for future reference.
Dumb? A little. Useful? For sure.
Update: A suggestion from reader FJ: you can also create a text shortcut on the Mac that contains a tab, though you have to put in another character as well; this shortcut will then sync to your iOS devices. A little more cumbersome, but nice if you’re in a place where you can’t use Dictation.
The workflow I was creating has the goal of ultimately outputting data that could be easily pasted into a Numbers spreadsheet. Though, as it turns out, that’s a bit stickier on iOS. ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-19 00:34, modified at 00:49
Most of the podcasts I make, I edit on my Mac using Logic Pro X. But when I’m traveling (or just don’t want to sit at a desk) I edit on Ferrite Recording Studio, a spectacularly good multitrack audio editor for iOS.
Developer Wooji Juice has just released version 2 of Ferrite. It’s still free with an in-app purchase to unlock a bunch of pro-level features, and users of the previous version will need to pay $15 to unlock the new pro features introduced with version 2. With all that said, this is a professional audio editor that costs about $20 all-in. It’s a fantastic value, and the app I am most hoping will make the transition from iOS to the Mac in 2019.
A few of the new features really hit the spot for me. You can now create project templates within the app, allowing you to get a project set up just the way you like it, with theme music, show art, audio tracks for guests, the works—even placeholders for things like filenames and episode numbers. Once it’s all set, you can just tap on the icon next to the template and Ferrite lets you fill in the blanks and open a fresh, new project based on the template.
I’m also really excited about the new audio preproduction features, which let you pre-process audio tracks in order to level their volume and remove background noise. Even when I edit podcasts on iOS, I’m generally using files that have been pre-processed on my Mac, including noise removal and volume leveling. To test Ferrite’s preproduction feature, I rebuilt a podcast project on iOS using source files, and compared the result to the project I built on macOS using desktop noise-reduction and compressor utilities.
The results were really good. I noticed a few places where the Mac version was still superior, but both were vastly superior to an export with the unprocessed audio files—background noises were audible throughout and volumes were highly variable. This is going to be a major step forward when I am producing podcasts entirely on iOS, with no ability to use a Mac to prep my files. (It does take a while to process the files on my first-generation iPad Pro, and currently you have to process each file individually. Hopefully Wooji Juice will make batch processing these files possible in the future.)
And it’s a little thing, but you can now specify the export filename for your project. Previously it would use the title of your project as the source for the filename, so when I export my final MP3 from Ferrite I’d get a file out called something like
The Incomparable - Bad Batman Movies.mp3 instead of the much-preferable
Ferrite 2 also features a new built-in eight-band equalizer and spectrum visualizer, to tweak the quality of each of your tracks. There’s enhanced support for presets, with the ability to store presets inside templates, sync them via iCloud, rename them, and back them up via iTunes. And in a win for accessibility, Ferrite’s support for VoiceOver has gotten a major upgrade to make it easier to navigate between tracks.
If you edit audio on iOS, I can’t recommend Ferrite Recording Studio highly enough.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-18 19:00, modified on 2018-10-04 15:57
Among yesterday’s barrage of updates was a seemingly minor one: Safari 12. While the most notable news of Apple’s latest browser might have been the long-awaited ability to display favicons in tabs, there were a handful of other changes, including a few to extensions that may be unpopular.
Firstly, Safari no longer supports extensions cryptographically signed by developers themselves. The browser also implements a new Safari App Extensions API, which doesn’t have all the features of the previous, now deprecated extension API, causing some developers to cease work on extensions. 1
The good news is that there is still a way to run these extensions for the time being. (My thanks to my friend John Siracusa for letting me in on the secret.) But this approach does come with a few caveats:
Developer-signed certificates can potentially be unsafe, which is one reason why Apple is not allowing them anymore. If you’re going to use this feature, I’d recommend limiting it to older extensions that you already trust, not necessarily as a way to bypass security restrictions for new extensions.
Sooner or later, this trick will probably stop working, and/or older extensions will no longer function correctly with new versions of Safari. It’s unclear when this might happen—you may get a couple years out of them yet, and perhaps by the time they do, sanctioned alternatives will become available.
One downside to this approach, based on my testing with the Mojave public beta, is that every system update re-enforced the new rules, meaning that you might potentially have to perform this procedure again in the future.
Those warnings out of the way, here’s how to actually run those old extensions on your Mac.
Extensions are stored in
~/Library/Safari/Extensions. Fortunately, Safari 12 doesn’t remove the extension files for deprecated or inactive extensions. Drag any extensions you want to save from here onto your desktop; I recommend putting them into a folder.
The next part of this requires a little command-line trickery, so fire up Terminal, navigate to that directory you just created on the desktop (or just type
cd followed by a space in the Terminal window and drag the folder you just made on your desktop into the Terminal window).
xar -xf followed by a space and the name of the extension file, and hit enter. (Tip: If you type the first few characters and hit the Tab key, it’ll autocomplete the rest.) Repeat for each extension file. You’ll now have a folder of source files for each extension.
Now open Safari. If you don’t already have the Develop menu in the menu bar, go to Safari > Preferences, click on the Advanced tab, and check the “Show Develop menu in menu bar” option.
There should now be a Develop menu between the Bookmarks and Window menus; from it, select Show Extension Builder.
The first time you open the Extension Builder, you’ll be asked whether you really want to use it instead of Xcode: you do. Click Continue.
At the bottom of the Extension Builder window click the Plus (+) button and choose Add Extension. You’ll get a standard Open dialog box; navigate to that folder on your desktop where you put your extension files and choose the folder with the extension name; it’ll have the extension
.safari extension. (You can select multiple extensions by Command-clicking the folders, otherwise you’ll have to perform the Add Extension command multiple times for each different extension.) Click Select.
You’ll now see your old extensions in the left hand column, with information about them in the pane on the right side. Click the Run button in the top right-hand corner; you’ll be prompted for your password. Repeat this step for each extension you want to run.
And voilà: you’re done. Your extensions should now be running and should appear in the Extensions pane of Safari’s preferences. As I said above, it’s not a permanent solution, but if you’re looking to eke a little more life out of much-loved extensions, this will hopefully tide you over for now.
Update: Several people have pointed out that Safari will not run these extensions by default when you launch Safari. George Garside has a solution for that, but it will require you to run an Apple Script. Your mileage may vary.
Safari Keyword Search has been an indispensable piece of software for me over the past many years, and I am devastated to see that the writing is on the wall for it, especially with no real alternatives. ↩
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-17 23:47, modified on 2018-09-18 01:09
You may not know this, but Federico Viticci isn’t the only person writing lots and lots of stuff about what’s in iOS 12 and how you can use it. Apple employs an entire staff of people to build documentation and how-to guides, and they’ve been hard at work updating stuff for iOS 12 and other new releases. Here are some links, thanks to my old pal Chris Breen, who now works at—let’s see here—oh! Apple.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-17 19:56, modified at 21:32
My podcast player of choice, Marco Arment’s Overcast, was updated Monday to version 5.0 in conjunction with the releases of iOS 12 and watchOS 5. It’s a huge update that unlocks a bunch of new features that I have been anxiously awaiting, in one case for years.
Most noticeable is the redesigned Now Playing screen, which now features show art at a slightly reduced size so that two areas can appear on either side of the art, indicating that there’s more interface to be discovered by swiping left or right. To the right is information about the episode, including show notes and chapter markers. To the left are playback controls, including Smart Speed and Voice Boost. There’s nothing dramatically new here in terms of features—it’s just a redesign that attempts to make show notes and playback controls more discoverable.
At the bottom of the Now Playing display are icons that give you direct access to a sleep timer, sound output controls, and (for podcasts with some sort of support system) a direct link to support the podcast you’re listening to. (Tapping on the link brings up a web link that’s set by the podcast.)
For me, the best new feature of Overcast is the return of Apple Watch playback. The app previously made an attempt at supporting Apple Watch, but watchOS just wasn’t advanced enough to reliably transfer and keep playing audio. Now it is. I’ve done several runs this summer with the beta version of Overcast running on my Apple Watch, playing to a pair of AirPods (with no iPhone in sight), and it has worked flawlessly.
Overcast looks at your podcasts and playlists and makes some decisions about what episodes it thinks you’ll want to listen to, and transfers specially encoded versions (with Smart Speed and Voice Boost baked in) to your Apple Watch at appropriate moments—generally overnight, when your Apple Watch is plugged in. You can also force the app to send a podcast episode to the watch, using the same interface as you’d use to add a podcast to a playlist.
The Overcast watch app now lets you remote control your iPhone playback (including volume!), or—by tapping on an icon—control playback directly from the device. I’m able to leave my house with only my Apple Watch and a pair of AirPods and run with podcasts filling my ears the entire time.
Overcast also now supports Siri Shortcuts. You can’t arbitrarily name a podcast via Siri and expect it to play in Overcast, but you can choose to enable Shortcut phrases for specific playlists or podcasts, as well as to resume playback and navigate through podcasts. (There are lots and lots of shortcuts available, including toggling Smart Speed and Voice Boost on and off, moving in chapters, and even adjusting playback speed.)
I set up shortcuts for the two playlists I use the most, as well as for resuming playback, and I can basically control Overcast handsfree now when I’m driving. It’s fantastic.
One other major feature that’s been added to this version: search. You can now search the metadata (titles and show notes) for downloaded podcast episodes, or drill down into a specific show and search its entire feed for keywords. As someone who listens to numerous podcasts with enormous back catalogs, this is a great addition.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-17 19:04, modified at 19:07
What a time! iOS 12 has arrived and we’re waiting for delivery of new Apple products. This week Jason and Myke discuss their favorite features of the new update, which new devices they’ve bought, why phone carriers ruin everything, and the fallout from Apple’s decision to focus on larger and more expensive phones this time around.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-17 18:43, modified on 2018-10-03 18:02
In iOS 12, searching in the Photos takes a big step forward—while leaving macOS Mojave trailing, alas. Search results in Photos on iOS are incredibly rich. When you search for something, you won’t just find the photos that match, but you’ll also see all the Moments and Albums that contain matching photos.
The real power, though—and the place where iOS 12 really has it over macOS—is the ability to combine search terms.
If you want to search for a dog, you can type in
dog and tap on the Dog category (this is important—you must tokenize each query, as Photos is not smart enough to figure out what you mean otherwise), and you’ll see all the photos that Apple’s machine-learning technology has identified as containing dogs. On that search-results screen you’ll also see a bunch of suggestions for related items that are often found with dogs—people, locations, even years or seasons.
If you tap on one of these items, they’ll be added to your search query, so now you’ll see all instances of, for example, a particular person and a dog.
When I searched my photo library for dog, I found 729 items. Adding the category snow dropped the total number of items to just three—and all them were my dog in the snow.
This is incredibly powerful. If you want to find photos with specific combinations of people, places, or actions, you can do it in seconds. I searched for my son by name and then added the second search term swimming and instantly found 57 photos. Ten years of pool parties, found in just moments.
It’s a pretty big upgrade, especially if you have a large library. And it makes Apple’s automatically generated machine-learning categories much more useful by letting you connect them to people, places, or other categories.
Now if only it also worked on the Mac….
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-17 15:19, modified at 15:20
The iPhone XS Max is the most expensive iPhone ever made. Its 6.5-inch display is the biggest on an iPhone ever. And its name is certainly the most ridiculous. This is, to be sure, a phone of extremes. And yet many of my friends say they’ll be getting an iPhone XS Max the first day it’s available. I guess another superlative we need to apply to the iPhone XS Max may be in its appeal to a certain type of customer.
Let’s break down what makes the iPhone XS Max such an interesting product.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-17 15:13, modified at 18:59
Federico Viticci’s exhaustive review of iOS 12 is live. Every year, it is the definitive review of iOS. This year we get Siri Shortcuts, which is a huge step forward for iOS productivity.
You should read it. It’s delightful. Or listen to the audio version, narrated by Myke Hurley.
Permalink - Posted on 2018-09-16 03:18
My thanks to Turn Touch for sponsoring Six Colors this week. The Turn Touch combines natural mahogany and rosewood and a simple, elegant design for sophisticated control of a wide range of smart home devices. Also available is the Turn Touch Pedestal, which is sold separately and makes a perfect home base for the Turn Touch.
Smart devices don’t have to be made of cheap, ugly plastic. Check out Turn Touch today and use the coupon code PEDESTAL25 at checkout for 25% off the Turn Touch Pedestal.