February 8, 2016

That’s certainly original.

The Onion:

Disappointing the thousands of fans in attendance as well as an estimated 100 million viewers watching at home, the Super Bowl 50 halftime show was marred Sunday by the stadium’s functioning sound system, sources confirmed. “Right from the beginning, the sound was working normally, and unfortunately, I could clearly hear the singing,” said 29-year-old spectator Joe Kessler.

Priceless.

The Dalrymple Report with Merlin Mann: Settle Down

This week, Jim and Merlin talk about Apple’s software struggles and their wish list for Apple Watch updates.

Also, some fun #heytdr, including listener questions about iOS text editors and easy songs to learn on guitar.

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Beatboxing with Siri

Ask Siri to beatbox (just say the word “beatbox”) and you’ll get the mildly amusing:

  • Cats and boots and cats and boots and cats and boots

But ask Siri:

  • What’s one trillion to the tenth power?

And you’ll get a much more usable beatbox base, as demonstrated here or (my personal favorite) in the video below.

Jean-Louis Gassée, writing for Monday Note, takes us along for the ride as he ambles to his local Microsoft Store to purchase a Surface Pro 4, then compares it to his iPad Pro and MacBook.

Won’t spoil the entertaining read, but my favorite part:

Stepping up to pay, I recognize an Ingenico Point-of-Sale terminal that accepts Apple Pay. Instead of swiping my credit card, I present my Apple Watch and, cling, the transaction goes through. The salesperson didn’t realize the store took Apple Pay – and her face says so. On that fun note, off to the office I go.

Apple Pay, via Apple Watch, paying for a Surface Pro 4 at the Microsoft Store. Fascinating.

From MixPanel, here are the latest iPhone adoption numbers:

iPhoneAdoption

To get a sense of the potential market for a smaller screen size iPhone, add up:

  • iPhone 6: 34.36%
  • iPhone 6Plus: 9.07%
  • iPhone 6s: 13.57%
  • iPhone 6s Plus: 4.21%

That gives a total of 61.21%, leaving 38.79% of the iPhone market prime for an upgrade. Interesting.

Dan Moren, writing for Macworld:

The Mac’s success is especially heartening for someone like me, who grew up in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when the platform was a target for jeers and the company seemed to perpetually appear with that good old “beleaguered” adjective in every news story. No matter how much we asserted the merits of the Mac, we were told that it was nothing more than a niche product, okay for creative use, but not sufficient for real work.

Twenty-some years later, and the worm has certainly turned. As Tim Cook is fond of reminding us on every quarterly conference call, the Mac routinely experiences growth despite the contraction of the overall PC market. 10 years ago, Apple was selling 3 or 4 million Macs in a year. In 2015, it topped 20 million. While it may be only a small chunk of the company’s overall revenue, the Mac has maintained an upward trend for the last decade.

Obviously, much of the Mac’s success is due to the success of surrounding products, such as the iPod, iPhone, and iPad. That’s certainly true.

But the Mac is (still) the hub at the center of the wheel of Apple products, the dashboard at the heart of Apple’s ecosystem. At the same time, as Apple’s star was rising, Google’s free applications suite loosened the stranglehold long held by Microsoft’s Office suite. And that paved the way for the Mac’s acceptability in the button down business world.

Will the iPad slowly replace the Mac, becoming the new hub? Not seeing it, at least not yet. I use my Mac and iPad equally. But my Mac is still the control center of my Apple ecosystem and I’m just fine with that.

Christian Zibreg, writing for iDownloadBlog, pulled together this tutorial that walks you through the various ways you can use 3D Touch with Apple Maps.

My favorite bit? This. To remember where you parked your car, unlock your iPhone, then force touch on the Apple Maps icon to reveal this menu:

mapstouch

Tap Mark My Location and Apple Maps will drop a pin pretty close to where you are standing. Easy peasy.

February 6, 2016

Engadget:

Were you panicking at the thought of Twitter messing with your timeline order? Were you declaring #RIPTwitter and getting ready to move to Peach? Relax. Twitter chief Jack Dorsey has piped up to say that there’s no truth to the rumors of a Facebook-like feed arriving next week.

“Hello Twitter! Regarding #RIPTwitter: I want you all to know we’re always listening. We never planned to reorder timelines next week.” said Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO on Twitter.

As usual, Twitter lost its collective mind over this. But Twitter stepped up and squashed the rumor. Now we can all go back to bitching about something else.

Ars Technica:

No matter your edition or specific RPG of choice, today D&D continues to be the measuring stick by which other pen-and-paper games are judged, be it on sales, popularity, or even complexity. For many gamers over the course of the game’s existence, D&D has been the entry point into role-playing which sparks a lifetime of storytelling and adventure.

So, with more than a year behind it, how does the newest edition of D&D hold up for newbies and hardcore fans alike?

I’m tempted to find a game to play this latest edition but I’m afraid the game won’t be as fun in middle age as it was in high school and college. I think I’ll leave my fond memories of playing intact.

The Daily Dot:

A new study of the leading fitness trackers on the market found that most of these devices leak your data to a far wider audience than you might imagine—and, in some cases, allow others to alter your information.

The study found that, in every case save for the Apple device, the wearables emitted a unique Bluetooth identifier that allowed a third-party to track the device’s movement over time if the device was not actively paired with another device.

The researchers did not find any security holes in Apple’s signature wearable.

This will only get worse. As the Internet of Things becomes more prevalent, it will become even more obvious that security of our data is, at best, a secondary issue to many manufacturers. It becomes of even greater concern as our devices start to collect significant health data.

Slate:

Apple doesn’t have to leave Touch ID security this way. It could detect hardware changes and require extensive user reauthentication. It could offer third parties some type of parts-vetting process. It could give customers more leeway to choose what risks they want to take. Instead, Error 53 is excessively paternalistic. It’s good to help protect consumers by building in precautions and encouraging the use of high-quality parts, but Apple isn’t a parent. It shouldn’t literally take customer’s phones away if they do something it doesn’t like.

Like the writer, I get why Apple does this but, as seems typical for the company, they lack subtlety in their implementation. The other issue is, while almost anyone can buy an iPhone, not everyone lives conveniently close to an Apple Authorized Repair Facility.

February 5, 2016

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30 years of greatness. [Via 512 Pixels]

This is pretty cool. The future, it is here! You can read the details here.

International Business Times:

In 2008, Hill-Scott joined Jon Reynolds and Ben Medlock in setting up the company that would go on to create SwiftKey but he soon found the long hours and lack of salary too hard to handle. He decided to sell his shares to his fellow founders for the princely exchange of a bicycle. A decision that might sting today.

Little did Hill-Scott know the company’s AI predictive text technology would eventually work its way on to over 300 million smartphones and tablets and be one of the UK’s biggest start-ups, fetching a substantial acquisition fee from Microsoft that saw Reynolds and Medlock reportedly pocket £25m each.

According to the Times, Hill-Scott left on good terms back in 2008 and went on to design websites for the government but it is understood he “did not receive a penny” from the sale.

To be fair, he left pretty early on. But no matter his actual contribution, that’s gotta sting.

Serenity Caldwell continues her “Coding Corner” series with a how-to on building a website if you don’t know the first thing about web site development. Pass this one along.

Jason Snell, writing for Macworld, on his theory of why iPad sales are falling:

I think the iPad is a victim of its enthusiastic welcome. For a time, iPad sales grew faster than the iPhone, making people believe that the iPad was going to follow the iPhone into the stratosphere as a world-shaking product. We got caught up in the post-PC hype. The iPhone greased the skids for the iPad and made it an easier sell.

As a result, the iPad reached a huge percentage of its target audience in a very short period of time. And once that audience was exhausted, it rapidly shifted into an upgrade-and-replace product cycle. Imagine a world where the iPad didn’t sell 67 million units in the first couple of years, but found its audience more slowly. We might end up with an iPad market just as large as the one we have today, but with a sales chart that looks much healthier.

Part of the reason for that huge wave of early iPad sales was the success of the iPhone before it. The iPhone showed what was possible, but it did so on a tiny screen. The iPad offered that same experience on a (relatively) gigantic screen. Who wouldn’t want that?

With the iPad configured as a media consumption device, I think sales have stalled because we’ve got a “good enough” solution. Not enough has changed to trigger a massive product replacement cycle.

If enough changes in the iPad experience for the masses to embrace the iPad as a content creation device (as Apple is pushing to do with the iPad Pro), I think that product replacement cycle will reignite.

This essay, by former Adobe, NeXT, and Apple employee Glenn Reid, was originally posted just a few days after Steve died, back in October 2011. The essay popped up this morning on Hacker News and I thought it was worth a repost. It’s a terrific read.

Kate MacKenzie, writing for Mac360:

Apple’s customers use their devices more than other devices. We use Mac, iPhone, and iPad more. We buy more. We buy and use more applications. We take more photos and movies. We buy and listen to more music.

The Apple Usability Syndrome is born from one basic fact. Apple’s products– all of them– are more usable, friendlier, simpler, and more effective for customers than are competitors. Usability matters, folks.

This is an interesting argument, that Apple users tend to use their devices more than Android users use theirs. Not sure if this is true, but for the sake of argument, let’s accept that and move on:

One perfect example of the usability syndrome is in the most recent Apple product that has failed to excite the critics but has customers feeling pleased and has started a trend among retailers. Apple Pay. Name another mobile payment device (not your credit card; we’re talking high tech here) that gets used more than Apple Pay.

And:

Here in Brooklyn where I live and in Manhattan where I work Apple Pay is growing in usage, both among merchants and Apple customers. It’s no longer rare to see Watch being used to buy something at Macy’s or Starbucks or McDonalds or a gazillion of the merchants that line the streets.

What is rare is to see someone using Samsung Pay or Android Pay, yet both have far more devices, and, ostensibly, a gazillion more users than anything with an Apple logo on it. What gives?

It’s the Apple usability syndrome. We Apple customers actually use our products; Mac, iPhone, iPad, Watch, or whatever.

Anecdotally, I find this believable. I have seen a number of people use Apple Pay and I’ve never seen anyone use another device-based payment method. I’ve never seen Samsung Pay or Android Pay used in the wild. Do Apple device users use their stuff more than Android users?

February 4, 2016

Finding new music with Apple Music

I’ve been very vocal about the problems I’ve had with Apple Music since it was released, but the service has improved quite a bit over the last couple of months, so I should be just as vocal about that. One of the more significant improvements I’ve found is with Apple’s built-in radio stations. In fact, it’s changed how I listen to music.

I always listened to the music in my library, instead of songs on the radio. I’m not sure if I listen to music differently than other people or what it was, but Apple’s choice of songs on streaming radio never really worked for me.

When I have people over, or I’m driving, I want to hear songs that are familiar. If I select an AC/DC track, I expect to hear Rock songs, and songs that I know well. I really enjoy a drive with AC/DC, Metallica and other bands like that blasting away.

Apple seems to have figured that out because recently, that’s exactly what I’ve been getting. Songs I know, hit after hit, with very few exceptions.

I stopped using the “Play More Like This” feature in the radio stations. I just let Apple’s algorithm choose the songs for me without any intervention. I don’t know why, but overall, the station does much better without me messing with it.

That brings up a problem ‘I’ve always had—how do I find new music? There’s not much new music in the stations I make, and that’s perfectly fine, because I’m looking for familiarity with those stations. So, I turned to Apple’s built-in music stations.

The one I listen to the most is Hard Rock. When I’m in the mood for background music, or I’m exercising, or otherwise in the mood to find new music, I’ll play the Hard Rock station.

I’ve been impressed and surprised by how much new music I’ve found. There’s definitely been some changes to the way Apple is curating the stations because the song choices and different—and much better—than when the service started.

I’ll often “Love” a song when listening to the station. This affects how “For You” works, so Apple Music will begin to recommend more music and bands like the songs I’ve previously loved. That leads to more new music.

When I first started using Apple Music, I thought “For You” would be the way I’d find most of my music, but it’s actually through the curated radio stations that I’ve been most successful. “For You” has become a secondary path for playlists and albums that I can use, and I do.

I’ve found myself reaching for my iPhone to “Love” a song only to see that I already did—that’s when I add it to my library. Sometimes I add it on the first play, but if I try to “Love” a song a second time, I must really like it.

I’ve been using Apple Music like this for a couple of months and it’s working really well for me. In fact, it’s rare that I’ll play an album from my library anymore—in the past, that’s all I’d play.

I’d really like to have an area in the Apple Music app where I could see all the songs that I’ve “Loved” over time. There is some great music that I need to add to my library.

For now, this method of listening to some of my favorite songs and finding new music is working quite well for me.

Vulture:

There are few movies as quotable as the 1980 disaster-movie parody Airplane! — and of the movie’s many memorable gags, arguably the most enduring is the moment when reluctant pilot Ted Striker (Robert Hays) tells Dr. Rumack (Leslie Nielsen), “Surely you can’t be serious,” and Rumack replies, “I am serious — and don’t call me Shirley.”

As part of our weeklong 100 Jokes That Shaped Comedy series, we dug into the origins and execution of that exchange — as well as the overall comedic mechanics of Airplane! — with the trio who wrote and directed the film, Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker.

Airplane! is one of the funniest, silliest movies I’ve ever seen, and as enjoyable now as when I first saw it as a kid. I remember hearing that line for the first time and using it in real life millions of times since. One of the funniest lines ever uttered in a movie.

A few days ago, I wrote about Parse shutting down:

Never heard of Parse? Not surprising. But no doubt you use it. Parse offers massive database services, making it easy for app developers to collect data while managing many of the details.

As an example, Parse offers tools that handle login registration as well as login verification. You hand your visitors over to Parse code, they login, then Parse gives them back to you, all logged in. You don’t have to store the data locally and you don’t have to reinvent the validation code. Parse handles it all.

But all that is about to end. And all those developers need to find another solution or shut down their apps.

Allen Pike, writing on his blog, points out the rude surprise waiting for many app users once Parse is turned off for good:

As much as Parse will try to get the word out that they’re shutting down, many apps’ owners don’t even know that they’re reliant on Parse. Parse’s overly generous free plan made them popular with freelancers and consultants building quick app backends for their clients. Many of those clients don’t know what Parse is, let alone that the little app they commissioned a couple years ago is a ticking time bomb.

Marco Arment, writing on his blog, gets at the source of the problem:

In particular, it’ll be problematic when possibly hundreds of thousands of iOS apps just stop working in a year because their developers have long since moved on, or their contracts expired, or they can’t afford to spend time on a significant update.

One of the most damaging side effects of unhealthy App Store economics is that developers have little motivation or resources to keep apps updated.

Is there a way to notify users of apps that are dependent on Parse, give them a chance to migrate elsewhere?

UPDATE: Here’s a starting place for developers who use Parse and want to migrate elsewhere. [H/T Dave Aiello]

Stewart Alsop:

Dear @ElonMusk: Thank you for reaching out to me. I heard from our phone conversation that you feel that my post, “Dear @ElonMusk: You should be ashamed of yourself”, was a personal attack on you. I also hear that you are not comfortable having me own a Tesla car and have cancelled my order for a Tesla Model X.

Really, Tesla? You cancelled his car order? Both sides should be embarrassed by this public back and forth.

Mikey Campbell, writing for Apple Insider:

After a week of testimony and deliberation, a jury in the patent owner-friendly East Texas Federal District Court handed down a unanimous decision against Apple’s FaceTime, iMessage and VPN services, as well as the devices running them, finding each in infringement of VirnetX intellectual property covering secure communications protocols.

VirnetX initially won $368.2 million in damages from Apple in a 2012 lawsuit involving the same IP, but that verdict was ultimately vacated on appeal last September. As part of its appellate ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit called for a damages retrial, which resulted in today’s decision.

In its retrial, VirnetX sought $532 million, though the sum was inflated to $625.6 million due to continued willful infringement on the patents-in-suit. The second court action also appended FaceTime infringement allegations on a new claim construction.

Given that this is a retrial, can Apple appeal this verdict?

What’s interesting about this is the possibility that a bad USB-C cable can fry a laptop. Clearly the cable is the culprit, but is there something about the standard that allows a mis-wired cable to direct power to where power should never go? That’s one bad cable.

Tim Bajarin, writing for Tech.pinions:

Over the last two years, the technology to deliver a more robust 2-in-1 experience has gotten much better. There are two products on the market I think might be pointing us to the next major shift in portable computing. Microsoft’s Surface Pro and Apple’s new iPad Pro are, at the moment, the best of breed 2-in-1s. I will probably be dragged, kicking and screaming, toward these new designs. But after using both for some time now, I am starting to warm up to them.

And:

When Tim Cook announced the iPad Pro, he said it could do as much as 80-90% of what anyone could do on a traditional laptop. On a recent trip, I decided to try that theory out. I only took my iPad Pro with me and used it as if it was my MacBook or a Windows laptop. I found, in general, Cook was right.

I want to believe. I really want to. But as I’ve said before, the iPad works best as a content consumption device, with light duty creating content. For the heavy lifting, I still turn to my Mac.

Melissa Holt, writing for the Mac Observer:

Today, though, I’m going to talk about enabling Remote Management to monitor what your children are doing at any given moment while they’re on your home network. I’m not saying this should necessarily be the first thing you do to keep your kids safe online, but hey, if the little buttheads keep doing stuff they’re not supposed to or that might endanger them, you gotta do what you gotta do, I guess.

Melissa’s post does a nice job walking you through the settings that let you watch someone else’s screen, with or without them being aware that you are watching them.

As a parent, I can understand the temptation to watch over your kid’s shoulder to make sure what they are doing is safe. You love your kids and worry constantly. I get it.

But I struggle with the anonymous part of this.

If you want to be stealthy, choose “Observe” only; that way, the child won’t know you’re logged in. But you can also decide to control things, change settings, and so on. Click “OK” when you’ve got things configured, and you’re done!

Now how do you dial in from your own Mac and watch what that dastardly kid is doing? Easy peasy. Just open a Finder window by clicking on the blue smiley face in your Dock, and then under “Shared” in the sidebar, you should see the kid’s Mac appear.

This just isn’t for me. I love the idea of remote management, especially since it makes it easy for me to help my parents or others when they need help with their computer. But the anonymous watching just feels creepy, especially given Apple’s commitment to privacy.

Craig Grannell, writing for Revert to Saved:

I’m starting to feel like Apple has a vendetta against anyone with a vestibular disorder. Since OS X Lion, we’ve increasingly seen aggressive animations added to Apple’s desktop OS that can trigger dizziness, motion sickness, vertigo and related symptoms. These include slide transitions when moving between full-screen apps, the ‘morphing’ animation to and from full-screen apps, the slide between Launchpad pages, and entry/exit zooms for Mission Control. iOS 7 then introduced similar animations, along with parallax effects that made people ill. And now tvOS has followed suit.

iOS at least helped users, in providing a Reduce Motion option in the Accessibility section within Settings. Within six months, most of the worst animations were possible to replace with non-aggressive crossfades, much to the relief of vestibular disorder sufferers worldwide. But we’ve seen no such progress on OS X, and the tvOS ‘Reduce Motion’ setting turned out to be so ineffective that it may as well have played a little sniggering noise when activated.

The iOS team clearly understands the problem. My guess is, no one on the tvOS or OS X team suffers with a motion disorder.

OS X’s aggressive default animations — something that could leave me groggy and feeling ill for an hour or even until going to sleep at night.

If you know anyone on either of those teams, please pass this along. As Craig mentions, perhaps there’s a terminal command that allows you to turn off OS X animations. That’d be good to know. And if not, perhaps one could be added.