Apple HomePod, Amazon Echo, Google Home in an (occasionally interrupted) infinite loop

[VIDEO] First things first, you might want to listen to this one (embedded in the main Loop post) on headphones, else you’ll find your home devices firing off constantly. Amusing the first time it happens, but trust me, you don’t want that.

The fact that this infinite loop of requests gets interrupted says something about reliability of this technology. I’d hate for my life to depend on one of these assistants getting something right. As I understand it, the CNET folks who pulled this together tried several times to tweak settings to get the infinite flow and just couldn’t.

It’ll get there.

Side note: I kept expecting that weird fake flowers thing in the middle of the picture to come to life. Sadly, it did not.

Details on the unicode symbol that is crashing iOS

The Register:

Apple last month fixed a flaw in macOS and iOS that allowed a text message to crash its chat software – and now it has the opportunity to do so again.

Various macOS, iOS, and watchOS apps that rely on Apples’s text-rending code can be crashed when sent a message containing a symbol composed of characters used in the Indian language Telugu.

And:

The symbol represents a combination of Telugu letters and signs, specifically the letter “ja,” the sign “virama,” the letter “nya,” a zero-width non-joiner and the vowel sign “aa.”

Trying to open a message with this symbol in iMessage or other apps that rely on Apple’s UIKit framework for text rendering, like Facebook Messenger, Twitter, and WhatsApp, will cause a crash. Don’t what ever you do try to create a filesystem folder using that symbol.

Unless you use Telugu or interact with someone who does, chances are you’ll never encounter this bug. But it is interesting. This came to light when this OpenRadar post appeared.

The original radar was marked as a duplicate, meaning Apple already knew about the problem. And sure enough, there’s already a fix in place in the latest betas:

https://twitter.com/reneritchie/status/964228823196848129

Cord cutting and fragmentation

From this TidBITS review of YouTube TV by Josh Centers:

Along with most of the channels you’d expect, such as ESPN, Fox News, and MSBNC, YouTube TV has just added Turner networks, including Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, CNN, TBS, and TNT. It will also soon offer NBA TV and MLB Network.

Which channels you want is highly personal, but here are a few notable channels that are missing: BET, Food Network, Hallmark, MTV, and Nickelodeon.

And from this YouTube TV support document:

FOX has not secured the rights to NFL games on its national feed, FOXNet. Users in Albuquerque, Austin, Birmingham, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Denver, Grand Rapids, Greensboro, Greenville (South Carolina), Harrisburg, Hartford, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Milwaukee, Norfolk, Portland, Raleigh, Sacramento, Salt Lake City, San Diego, Seattle, St. Louis, and West Palm Beach will not see NFL games on FOX.

Every cord cutting package I’ve seen so far has holes like this. With cable, you pay a lot more, typically (but not always) have to make a long term commitment, get a lot of stuff you don’t want, but pretty much can get everything you want, as long as you are willing to pay for it.

Ideally, at least for me, the market will devolve to the point where you can build a package that has every element you want, but leave off (and not pay for) things you’ll never consume.

My two cents: Once that sort of package becomes affordable, one of two things will happen. Either the companies that deliver internet will throttle packages they don’t own and make the experience untenable, or cable prices will come down to keep customers and become competitive again.

Brand new Shazam design

John Voorhees, MacStories:

When Apple acquired Shazam, people wondered what would become of the popular song identification and music discovery app. It’s not unusual for an app acquired by a big company to be pulled from the App Store or for development to slow substantially.

As John reports, the new version of Shazam has a great new UI, supports Spotify, same as always, and features lyrics sync, for those karaoke moments.

One thing to keep in mind though, is that if you’re using the iOS 11.3 beta, playback is broken throughout the app.

Good to know.

iPhone takes 51 percent of global smartphone revenues

That’s not units sold, but 51% of total global smartphone revenue. Both have value, but I’d argue that revenue is much more important than units sold. While total unit sales buys influence, revenue buys investment in R&D.

51% of total global smartphone revenues is astonishing.

Guess what? Sonos One speakers also damage wood

Check the picture in this tweet:

https://twitter.com/Caitlin_McGarry/status/964163777762643968

This, clearly, is the nature of the beast.

Seems to me, “damage” implies permanence. As far as I can tell, the rings left by HomePod, etc., are like smudges. A bit of mayo (or whatever cleaning miracle you use for your wood surfaces) and elbow grease, and it’s all cleaned up.

Or put something solid under the speaker to prevent the ring in the first place.

[H/T Jack Brewster]

What is the Pizza Capital of the US?

Google Labs:

Using Google data, visualized by Google News Lab with design studio Polygraph, we can begin to quantify how these food trends vary across the country. Based on aggregated, anonymized, and differentially private data from users who have opted in to Google Location History, we ranked cities and counties by their most popular cuisine.

These maps are pretty interesting. Worth a scroll-through, even if you just look at the images.

Study: Even Apple and Google engineers can’t really afford to live near their offices

FastCompany:

Engineers at five major SF-based tech companies would need to spend over the 28% threshold of their income to afford a monthly mortgage near their offices.

And:

Apple engineers would have to pay an average of 33% of their monthly income for a mortgage near work. That’s the highest percentage of the companies analyzed, and home prices in Cupertino continue to skyrocket.

This housing market is a chaotic bubble. But it continues to inflate, money continues to pour in.

Apple’s new Augmented Reality page

Take a few minutes to scroll down this page, get a sense of the highlighted apps. A fascinating look at what’s already shipping. To me, this is the tip of the iceberg, and just the slightest taste of what’s coming down the pike.

Early, early days.

Why Prime Video and YouTube apps for Apple TV are so bad

The Rajam Report highlights various reviews of the YouTube and Amazon Prime Video apps built for Apple TV. At the core are the complaints that the interface does not feel like a traditional Apple TV app, that they do not feel like they were written for Apple TV.

But why?

Take a look at this chart:

Those numbers are sales estimates. Pavan Rajam asks this question:

If you’re Amazon, Hulu, or YouTube, what incentive do you have to invest in a high quality tvOS app when it addresses a mere fraction of your overall TV user base?

Read the whole article. I do think Pavan has his finger on the pulse here.

TechInsights: Apple’s HomePod costs $216 to build

Mark Gurman, Bloomberg:

Apple Inc.’s HomePod, the company’s first foray into speakers in a decade, costs $216 to build and generates thinner profit margins than other products like the Apple Watch and iPhone, according to analysis by TechInsights.

Given the HomePod’s $349 price, that $216 cost suggests Apple is generating margins of about 38 percent, according to the product analysis firm. That compares with margins of 66 percent and 56 percent for the Google Home and Amazon Echo, products that compete in the smart-speaker market, but offer lower audio quality, according to the firm’s estimates.

Margin is complicated. Lots of analysis goes into setting prices and, thus, determining margin. But it does seem reasonable to assume this is Apple entering a somewhat crowded market, wanting to keep their pricing relatively low (compared to their cost) to help raise demand.

The bulk of the HomePod’s costs come from the internal speaker technology, including the many microphones, tweeters, the woofer and the power management components. That adds up to $58, while an additional $60 includes various smaller parts like the lighting system used to display the Siri animation on the top of the device.

The HomePod’s A8 chip is estimated to cost $25.50, while the external housing and other items come in at $25. TechInsights also estimates manufacturing, testing, and packaging to add up to $17.50.

There’s clearly a lot more going on under the hood in a HomePod than in the much cheaper Google Home or Amazon Echo. If you haven’t already, I would definitely click over to the iFixit HomePod teardown and watch the video. I found it fascinating.

How to connect your Apple TV to HomePod, use HomePod Siri to control video playback

Terrific article from iMore’s Lory Gil. Long story short:

  • On Apple TV, go to home screen (this next step only works from the home screen).
  • On Apple TV remote, hold down pause button for 3 seconds or so.
  • When AirPlay menu appears, select your HomePod. This will route Apple TV audio to HomePod.

Now go play a movie. The audio should be coming out of your HomePod. If you are watching in front of your TV, this isn’t really ideal, but if you are moving around, perhaps working in the kitchen with a long view of the TV screen, this can be terrifically convenient.

Now that audio is piped into your HomePod, you can say things to HomePod Siri like:

  • Volume 60 (that sets the volume to 60%)
  • Pause (pauses the video playback)
  • Go back 20 seconds

Good stuff.

Apple Music to release “Cash Money” documentary Friday

[VIDEO] Billboard:

After numerous delays, Apple has finally confirmed that Before Anythang: The Cash Money Story will release on their Apple Music streaming platform on Friday. The Cash Money documentary will feature Bryan “Birdman” Williams narrating his childhood and what inspired him to change his life’s trajectory by launching the mythical label back in 1991.

Cash Money is home to prominent artists like Drake, Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj. An amazing, compelling story. Trailer embedded in the main Loop post.

Apple developing series called “Swagger”, based on life of NBA’s Kevin Durant

Variety:

The series is inspired by Durant’s youth basketball experiences. It will explore the world of Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) basketball and the lives of the players, their families, and coaches.

The series will be produced by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard’s Imagine Television along with Durant’s Thirty Five Media. Durant and Grazer will executive produce, along with Imagine’s Francie Calfo and Thirty Five Media’s Rich Kleiman.

Eddy Cue is a huge basketball fan, a die-hard Golden State Warriors fan, and a fan and friend of Warriors’ star Kevin Durant. From this New York Times article:

Another incident that stirred an online reaction came when a fan stood up and seemingly shouted at Rihanna to sit down. Numerous commenters declared they found his behavior disrespectful.

Internet sleuths soon identified the man: Cue, Apple’s senior vice president for internet software and services, who is a die-hard Warriors fan. Durant watched the election results last November at Cue’s house along with Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, and pop star Pharrell Williams.

This seems a natural fit. So much so, I wonder if Eddy Cue had a role in breathing life into this series. Personally, I hope this is the case. I think great passion can make the difference between bland and textured, between dull and riveting.

How to use Shazam with Siri on HomePod

If there’s music playing and there’s a HomePod in the room, chances are that music is coming from HomePod. But there may be times when you’ve got some background music coming from another source (your TV, say) and you want to identify the tune.

I am used to asking Siri on my iPhone to identify background music. Typically, I’ll fire up Siri and say:

What song is this?

But trying to get HomePod Siri to identify a song playing in the background proved tricky. I tried everything I could think of. No dice.

Fortunately, 9to5Mac’s Benjamin Mayo figured this out. To ask HomePod’s version of Siri to identify a background song, say:

Hey Siri, Shazam this.

Works every time. Weird to me that none of the more standard ways work. I hope we don’t end up with a Siri dialect problem, where users have to remember which command works on which version of Siri.

How to AirPlay audio from your Mac to HomePod

One piece of FUD I encounter again and again is that you can’t play competing streaming services, such as Spotify, on your HomePod.

There is an element of truth there, as Apple Music is currently the only first class citizen on HomePod. But you can AirPlay pretty much anything you can play on your Mac or iOS device to HomePod. Even Spotify.

What you lose when you AirPlay to HomePod is the ability for Siri to control the music. Though you can ask Siri to change the volume (“Siri Volume 25” to set volume at 25%, for example), you can’t get Siri to pause playback or skip to the next track. With AirPlay, you’ll need to use your iPhone or Mac to control the flow.

I wonder what magic is cooking for AirPlay 2. Will AirPlay 2 give Siri the ability to control track flow? If so, will Apple enable that gift for Spotify?

For the specifics of AirPlay on your Mac, MacRumor’s Juli Clover has your back.

iFixit’s brilliant HomePod teardown

[VIDEO] Not sure how long iFixit has been posting teardown videos, but this one (embedded in the main Loop post) is the first I’ve seen. Brilliant to be able to watch someone tear this tech down to the nubs.

So much to learn about the work and material that goes into HomePod. That outer mesh is magical. I wonder how they manufacture it.

One thing that is clear: This sucker is tough to take apart. It’s no wonder Apple charges $279 to repair or replace a broken, out-of-warranty HomePod.

Apple adds three new videos to their official iPhone photography page

[VIDEO] The videos (embedded in the main Loop post) are:

  • How to shoot a Portrait selfie on iPhone X
  • How to edit a Portrait selfie on iPhone X
  • How to create a bouncing Live Photo on iPhone

All three are found on Apple’s official iPhone photography page. If you’ve never explored that page, take a minute to look it over. Lots of helpful tips.

This is excellent marketing on Apple’s part, the first two a subtle and, I think, effective push towards the iPhone X.

How Apple plans to root out bugs, revamp iPhone software

Mark Gurman, Bloomberg:

Apple’s annual software upgrade this fall will offer users plenty of new features: enabling a single set of apps to work across iPhones, iPads and Macs, a Digital Health tool to show parents how much time their children have been staring at their screen and improvements to Animojis, those cartoon characters controlled by the iPhone X’s facial recognition sensor.

But just as important this year will be what Apple doesn’t introduce: redesigned home screens for the iPhone, iPad and CarPlay, and a revamped Photos app that can suggest which images to view.

These features were delayed after Apple Inc. concluded it needed its own major upgrade in the way the company develops and introduces new products. Instead of keeping engineers on a relentless annual schedule and cramming features into a single update, Apple will start focusing on the next two years of updates for its iPhone and iPad operating system, according to people familiar with the change. The company will continue to update its software annually, but internally engineers will have more discretion to push back features that aren’t as polished to the following year.

Read the rest of the article for details, but can’t help but see this as a significant move in the right direction, assuming it is true.

Reddit audiophile thread: “The HomePod is 100% an audiophile grade speaker”

This is not frivolous opinion. There is a lot of detail on both the tools used to measure things like “Fletcher-Munson loudness compensation”, and the measurements themselves.

From the conclusion:

The Look and feel is top notch. The glass on top is sort of frosted, but is smooth to the touch. When I first reviewed the home pod, I noted that it was light. I was comparing it with the heft of my KEF speakers. This thing, as small as it is, weighs 5 lbs. Which is quite dense, and heavy for its size. The Fabric that wraps around it is study, reinforced from inside, and feels very good to the touch.

And:

The Frequency response, Directivity, and ability to correct for the room all go to show that the HomePod is a speaker for the masses. While many of you in this subreddit would be very comfortable doing measurements, and room treatment, there is no denying that most users won’t go through that much trouble, and for those users the HomePod is perfect.

And caveats:

Because of the onboard DSP, you must feed it digital files. So analog input from something like a Phono is out, unless your Phono Preamp has a digital output which can then be fed to the HomePods in realtime via airplay, possibly through a computer. But you cannot give the HomePod analog audio, as the DSP which does all the room correction requires digital input.

And:

Speaking of inputs, you have one choice: AirPlay. which means, unless you’re steeped in the apple ecosystem, it’s really hard to recommend this thing. If you are, it’s a no brainer, whether you’re an audiophile or not.

And:

As a product, the HomePod is also held back by Siri. Almost every review has complained about this, and they’re all right to do so. I’m hoping we see massive improvements to Siri this year at WWDC 2018. There is some great hardware at play, too. What’s truly impressive is that Siri can hear you if you speak in a normal voice, even if the HomePod is playing at full volume. I couldn’t even hear myself say “Hey Siri” over the music, but those directional microphones are really good at picking it up. Even whispers from across the room while I was facing AWAY from the HomePod were flawlessly picked up. The microphones are scary good — I just hope Apple improves Siri to match.

And from the rollup at the top of the post:

am speechless. The HomePod actually sounds better than the KEF X300A. If you’re new to the Audiophile world, KEF is a very well respected and much loved speaker company. I actually deleted my very first measurements and re-checked everything because they were so good, I thought I’d made an error. Apple has managed to extract peak performance from a pint sized speaker, a feat that deserves a standing ovation. The HomePod is 100% an Audiophile grade Speaker.

I don’t have the expertise to speak to the audiophile comments, but everything else in the post clicks for me, jibes with my HomePod experience.

As to the negatives, I think Apple has done a great job of making sure the hardware is top notch. Which means they can fix the software negatives via updates over time.

Me? I absolutely love my HomePod. If you love music, and are willing to pony up for Apple Music, it’s a no-brainer purchase.

How a low-level Apple employee leaked some of the iPhone’s most sensitive code

Last week we posted about the iOS 9 iBoot source code leak that was headlined to be the biggest leak in history.

Motherboard has followed up with details on the leak itself:

A low-level Apple employee with friends in the jailbreaking community took code from Apple while working at the company’s Cupertino headquarters in 2016, according to two people who originally received the code from the employee. Motherboard has corroborated these accounts with text messages and screenshots from the time of the original leak and has also spoken to a third source familiar with the story.

Motherboard has granted these sources anonymity given the likelihood of Apple going after them for obtaining and distributing proprietary, copyrighted software. The original Apple employee did not respond to our request for comment and said through his friend that he did not currently want to talk about it because he signed a non-disclosure agreement with Apple.

To me, this is theft, clear as day. Not sure if Apple will go after the leakers, but if I were those leakers, I’d get some sound legal advice.

At what age do you form the strongest attachment to particular music?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, New York Times:

When do the strongest adult musical preferences set in?

And:

For this project, the music streaming service Spotify gave me data on how frequently every song is listened to by men and women of each particular age.

And:

Consider, for example, the song “Creep,” by Radiohead. This is the 164th most popular song among men who are now 38 years old. But it is not in the top 300 for the cohort born 10 years earlier or 10 years later.

Note that the men who most like “Creep” now were roughly 14 when the song came out in 1993. In fact, this is a consistent pattern.

I did a similar analysis with every song that topped the Billboard charts from 1960 to 2000. In particular, I measured how old their biggest fans today were when these songs first came out.

I was about 11 when I first really latched on to music, 12 when I got my hands on my first guitar. And by 14, I was deeply immersed in what would become my forever comfort music.

Fascinating article.

Apple’s HomePod how-to videos, and what happens when a video says “Hey Siri”

[VIDEO] Apple posted this series of videos (embedded in the main Loop post) over the weekend. All three are about a minute long and, if you’ve got a HomePod or one in your future, they’re worth watching.

Side note, as part of walking you through the specifics of how to use Siri with HomePod, this first video says “Hey Siri”, followed by a command. Being my inquisitive self, I replayed the video a few times sitting in a room with my HomePod, just to see what would happen.

Sure enough, my HomePod picked up on the commands, though not nearly as cleanly as if I spoke the same words. I know that the Amazon Echo filters out some Alexa occurrences. I wonder if Apple does something similar, or if the voice quality coming out of my MacBook Pro speakers is not nearly as clear as my voice.

Two video HomePod reviews

[VIDEO] The Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern and the Verge’s Nilay Patel each posted their take on Apple HomePod. Both of these are informative and worth watching. Both videos are embedded in the main Loop post.

Enjoy.

Many Siris

Brian Irace:

If the Lyft app is installed on your iPhone, you can ask Phone Siri to order you a car. But you can’t ask Mac Siri to do the same, because she doesn’t know what Lyft is. Compare and contrast this with the SDKs for Alexa and the Google Assistant – they each run third-party software server-side, such that installing the Lyft Alexa “skill” once gives Alexa the ability to summon a ride regardless of if you’re talking to her on an Echo in your bedroom, a different Echo in your living room, or via the Alexa app on your phone.

This is a major difference in approach between Alexa and Google extensions, which both use a server-side approach, and Siri, which runs extensions client-side. In a nutshell, Siri’s approach allows for a more custom and, at the same time, limited approach, using communication and negotiation between devices to work out what’s what.

Currently, this communication seems limited to which Siri should respond to a request. If you lift your wrist and say “Hey, Siri”, your Apple Watch gets priority. If your HomePod Siri is enabled and your wrist is down, HomePod gets priority. You get the idea.

What’s missing is an intelligent mesh of negotiation and handoff. For example, if HomePod gets a request to make a phone call, that request should be handed off to your iPhone, perhaps verifying the handoff with a “Would you like me to make that call on your iPhone?” first.

There are permissions issue to deal with in this kind of scheme, but it certainly seems a logical need. If I ask HomePod to call a Lyft and HomePod doesn’t have that capability, seems logical for HomePod to hand that task off to another device that can order one for me.

All that said, I can only imagine that Apple is hard at work on a solution for this Siri mesh issue.

UPDATE: I left the word extensions out of the original writeup. Siri is server side, but the extensions are client side. I’ve not actually built a Siri extension, so I’m on shaky understanding here, but I believe this is correct.

HomeKit power strip

Jesse Hollington, writing for iLounge, reviews a HomeKit-enabled power strip that provides three independently-controlled AC outlets plus three USB charging ports. This seems a pretty easy entry point to start exploring HomeKit, and a nice HomePod companion.

Siri, turn on the lights.