It’s a big week, so Myke Hurley and I spend a lot of time on the latest Upgrade discussing tomorrow’s launch of Apple Music and Beats One, along with the ugliness of music industry negotiations. Plus I talk about using the iOS 9 beta on an iPad Air 2, we provide our entirely unqualified legal opinions, fight off questionable attacks on Taylor Swift, and I praise “Mr. Robot.”
On June 8, 2015, at 1:12 p.m. Eastern Time, Apple senior vice president of software Craig Federighi announced the latest update to OS X, El Capitan. At that moment, my annual ritual began. I broke out into a sweat and began refreshing the liveblogs, looking for two magic words: system requirements. The life of a beloved Mac hung in the balance.
A couple of hours later, I got the good news: Yet again, the first unibody MacBook Pro (“Late 2008,” also known as MacBookPro5,1) had been spared. I would be able to upgrade it to El Capitan. For another year, I was able to breathe the long sigh of relief.
You’d be safe in assuming that this is the reaction of a crazy person. By modern standards, my laptop is ludicrously heavy. Its connectivity options are quaint: FireWire 800? ExpressCard/34? When its Nvidia 9600M GT discrete graphics card kicks in, the fan is deafening—and modern integrated Intel graphics outperform it at a fraction of the energy cost. A 2015 11-inch MacBook Air puts up roughly double its numbers on Geekbench 3. Today’s comparable 15-inch MacBook Pro has a Retina display and four times the power while weighing a pound less.
On paper, my laptop’s a fossil. But like the Saturn Ion I’m going to drive until it falls apart, I have no reason to walk away from this ancient MacBook Pro. I’m not just being a cheapskate, however: When this laptop’s time finally comes, I’ll shed a tear. (I won’t be weeping for my Saturn.)
In continuing to support the MacBook Pro (Late 2008), Apple demonstrates one of the value propositions that fans clung to even during the dark times when Apple lurched toward bankruptcy and the Mac toward irrelevance: that Macs simply lasted longer than their PC cousins. You could hold onto your investment for one or two more years, upgrading not from necessity but by choice. Macs didn’t simply “just work,” they worked for much longer.
That was my experience early on. I eked out five years of page layout and primitive web design with my first Mac, a Performa 600, despite its lackluster specs. Although I switched desktop platforms, I continued to buy laptops from Apple—and the MacBook Pro (Late 2008) wound up becoming my primary productivity machine.
I bought it out of desperation. My Titanium PowerBook was beginning to break down, and just as I was debating its replacement Phil Schiller announced that the 2009 MacBook Pros would eliminate the ExpressCard/34 slot. Horrified by the abandonment of such a vital expansion technology—eSATA was essential, dammit!1—I snapped up its refurbished predecessor.
Proving Schiller right, I rarely used the slot. But the MacBook Pro has been my faithful companion ever since. It helped me launch two pop-culture podcasts, and I could often be seen hunched over it at “Doctor Who” conventions, uploading the latest release over the hotel lobby WiFi. When I was tempted to replace it a couple of years ago, I instead replaced the 5400 RPM hard drive with an SSD and was overjoyed.
If my wife’s PC hadn’t failed, this MacBook Pro (Late 2008) would still be churning out podcasts. Instead, she inherited my gaming PC and an iMac with Retina Display came into my heart and workflow.
I’m loyal, but not a masochist.
But I’m typing on the MacBook Pro right now, on one of the best keyboards ever made, reading from a beautiful display. I’ve completely bought in to the Apple ecosystem, which actually makes it harder to justify replacing this laptop. I have a Retina iMac to do serious work at home. I have an iPad Air for the painless portability that would otherwise tempt me toward trading in my laptop for today’s sleeker, faster, lighter lineup. For work that requires a laptop—seamless multitasking, windows, adaptability and keyboard/trackpad comfort—this laptop is perfectly satisfactory.
We Mac partisans once justified Apple’s tiny market share by arguing that Apple didn’t sell as many Macs because it made them too well. We joked about the PC industry’s model of planned obsolescence. There was an element of whistling past the graveyard back then, but it was true that Macintoshes held their value, in monetary and productivity terms, longer than PCs.
To be fair, today’s PCs have closed the longevity gap with Macs. Windows 8, Windows 8.1 and now Windows 10 install to the same hardware as Windows 7.2 Both Apple and PC makers are struggling to find reasons to entice consumers and businesses to buy new computers now that general computing is “fast enough”; Retina displays, touchscreens, DirectX 12 and Metal are efforts to make more powerful technology matter again.
Many in the general public, however, don’t need faster computers. We have other purpose-built devices to assist and delight us. Yesterday’s laptop will be tomorrow’s laptop with few regrets.
The one in front of me is a seven-year-old product, a contemporary of the iPhone 3G, but it runs GarageBand, Audacity and Audio Hijack just fine.3 Its form factor has stood the test of time, still offered in the Apple Store through its otherwise long-in-the-tooth 13-inch descendant. It’s heavy, and it’s slower, and someday it won’t run the latest OS X upgrade. It’s no longer the only productivity machine in my life.
I don’t care. I love my MacBook Pro (Late 2008). Ridiculous ExpressCard/34 slot and all.
The Iconfactory’s iOS Twitter app, Twitterrific, keeps getting better. The company recently added support for Twitter’s official tweet-quoting format, making it a pleasure to read. And the latest update uses Apple’s facial recognition API to improve the display of images in your timeline:
As Twitterrific displays media thumbnails in the timeline (pictures, videos, etc), the app tries to detect faces and frame the thumbnail so faces are always showing. In short, if Twitterrific sees a face in a tweet, it tries to make sure you see it too!
Twitterrific’s been my favorite iOS Twitter client for a while now, and I’m constantly impressed by the new features the team (led by developer Sean Heber) keeps adding.
My thanks to Automatic for sponsoring Six Colors this week (and for the rest of this month).
Automatic is a small “connected car adapter” that you plug into your car’s diagnostic port. (Automatic works with most gas and hybrid cars released since 1996.) I installed it in one of our cars this week, and was struck by how thoughtful the setup procedure is. The Automatic app on my iPhone walked me through the process—even providing a flashlight button just in case I needed some extra light while finding where the diagnostic port was in my car.
Once Automatic was installed, it began to transmit data back to my phone. The app logs trips, displays my car’s current location (so I know where I parked), and even explains what’s wrong if the “check engine” light comes on.
It does a bunch more, too, including integrating with other smart devices. Automatic normally costs $99.95, but readers of Six Colors get 20 percent off. Automatic ships in two business days for free, and there’s a 45-day return policy.
We were talking about Apple rumors, and Mark—who despite his NPR-ready voice is only 20 years old(!)—didn’t realize that the Apple rumor mill didn’t start with Mark Gurman or even MacRumors and Apple Insider, but back in the prehistory of print media and MacWEEK. I got Mark in touch with my old boss Rick LePage, who worked at MacWEEK for almost its entire existence, and Rick’s one of the primary sources in this episode. Mark Gurman’s there too, as is only right, as is John Moltz, onetime vendor of Crazy Apple Rumors.
The other week I was rummaging through my old audio CD library.
I pulled all the discs I bought from the ’80s through the mid-2000s out of their jewelboxes and filed them in big envelopes after I ripped most of them into iTunes years ago—and found a few discs that I don’t remember buying. Classic Yo-Yo by Yo-Yo Ma. A Bob Dylan live album. A Johnny Cash live album. Where did they come from?
Then I remembered. Oh, yeah—Steve Jobs bought those for me.
This is a momentous month for Apple’s future as a part of the music world. On June 30 we’ll get our first glimpse at Apple Music, Apple’s own music subscription service. But Apple’s history with music goes back 14 years, and what a long, strange trip it’s been.
We got pretty deluged with the impressive abilities of iOS 9 during Apple’s WWDC keynote earlier this month, but obviously, the company didn’t have time to show off everything. And one of the things it didn’t talk about was a much longed-for feature that lets you take most anything you’re looking at on your iOS device and turn it into a PDF.
That’s a capability that OS X has had for a long time in the form of Print to PDF (more recently dubbed “Save as PDF”). In iOS 9, however, it’s not squirreled away under the printer options—rather, it’s included in the Share sheet as “Save PDF to iBooks.” (So it would seem third-party apps would need to implement Apple’s standard Share sheet to get access to it.)
And it does pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Say you’re looking at a picture in Photos, a note in Notes, or a webpage in Safari. You can turn any of those into a PDF that’s automatically dropped into iBooks, alongside any other PDFs you’ve saved there.
As someone who makes pretty extensive use of Print/Save to PDF on OS X, I’m psyched to see this feature make its way to iOS 9. Previously you could sort of duplicate it using Printopia, but it still required you have a Mac handy.
It’s particularly useful for webpages, since it keeps all the text, and makes it searchable and copyable unlike, say, taking a screenshot.
Now, it would be great if we could get some built-in PDF markup tools to go along with that…but perhaps that’s a topic for another time. (Update: I’m reminded that Mail in iOS 9 has markup tools, if you choose to email the PDF from iBooks.)
And that is called putting your money where your mouth is. That’s a big deal because the album isn’t currently available for streaming on Spotify. Which also means that this is the first big, public “win” for Apple Music—when people ask “What does Apple Music have that Spotify doesn’t?” here’s the answer. (Update: In a subsequent tweet, Swift says that the album won’t be exclusive to Apple Music, though she doesn’t clarify where it will be available.)
It also means that whatever terms Apple Music offered Swift, they were attractive enough to overcome any objections she had. What isn’t clear is whether artists without the high profile of Swift will get the same terms that she did.
The upshot is this: Hulu subscribers, who already pay $8 per month for the TV streaming service, will be able to stream Showtime content for an additional $9 per month—$2 off the premium cabler’s $11/month streaming service. Showtime’s content will then be delivered via Hulu’s existing website and apps across a variety of platforms, including the Apple TV.
It’s a clever move, solidifying Hulu’s role as a content platform, and extending its reach beyond just broadcast and basic cable networks.
I’m on record as being concerned about the fragmentation of online streaming. If every network starts offering its own streaming service, then we’re left with a mess—$8 per month here, $10 per month there, $15 per month over there. That death by a thousand tiny monthly payments could end up being as expensive as buying a bundle from the cable company.
What I’d like to see from Apple is similar to the system now where you have to sign into your cable provider to prove you have service, except instead you would simply log in with your iTunes account, where you’ve forked over your $20 per month or whatever. For one thing, that would allow Apple to simplify things with a single sign-on approach (and hopefully without the pesky need to “activate” devices). That’d also mean a single place to manage all your subscriptions.
Furthermore, if Apple can follow Hulu’s example and offer extra (or “premium,” if you prefer) channels at a discounted rate, but deliver them through the company’s own infrastructure rather than requiring you to use a separate app or website, then that’s even better. Because that could make it far easier to find a show, rather than having to remember which network to browse to. That simpler approach of “all in one place” that the company is promulgating right now with Apple Music could be equally, if not more, appealing in a TV service.
Of course, all of that means getting the content providers to sign on and cede some degree of control to Apple. Doubtless they’re all still plenty wary of giving away too much of their business.
Currently, Sling TV is the closest analog to what I’d like to see Apple offer, but where I think it still falls down is in its add-on packages. If I want to pick up Disney XD so I can watch Star Wars: Rebels, I can only get it in a package with a bunch of other kids channels. That’s exactly the kind of bundling I canceled cable to escape.
There are, of course, far too many questions left to answer about Apple’s still non-existent service, but I feel like the pieces are starting to fall into place.
Adobe has patched a bug in Flash that could allow someone to take over your computer:
Adobe has released security updates for Adobe Flash Player for Windows, Macintosh and Linux. These updates address a critical vulnerability (CVE-2015-3113) that could potentially allow an attacker to take control of the affected system.
Has there ever been a piece of software as popular as Flash that’s been riddled with more security problems?1
I was at my parents’ house the other day, and my mom mentioned that Flash updates seemed to pop up every other week. I’d considered simply removing it from both her iMac and my dad’s MacBook, but there are still too many websites they use that rely on it. This is the zombie/Terminator hybrid of software: you can’t kill it, and it will never ever stop.
As far as I’m concerned, the only Flash I need is Barry Allen.
One of the reasons I promote Call Recorder as a tool for Mac podcasters is that it records what you hear on Skype. Whatever microphone is selected as an input in Skype, that’s the one Call Recorder records. So if I can hear you, and you sound good, and you’re using Call Recorder, you’re going to give me a recording of your microphone that sounds good.
When people don’t use Call Recorder, I often discover that while they sounded great on Skype—their fancy high-quality external microphone was selected as the input in Skype’s Audio/Video settings—they were accidentally recording their conversation using their computer’s built-in microphone.
It’s very sad. It means I have to choose with a local recording of a bad microphone or a Skype recording of a good microphone. The Skype recording is generally of pretty good quality, though I prefer a local recording because it doesn’t ever get weird Skype sound artifacts (common when someone has a dodgy Internet connection) and it’s an isolated version of the one person’s voice. A recording of a Skype conversation contains everyone in the conversation, and when they all talk at once there’s nothing you can do to pick them apart.
Anyway, this scenario happened this week. One of my guests accidentally recorded using their computer microphone rather than the good microphone we heard on Skype. So I was going to have to use the Skype recording, but I had local recordings of the other guests.
This is doable, and in fact what I have to do when someone’s local recording utterly fails. (The most recent episodes of Total Party Kill feature a recording failure, so when one person talks I have to delete everyone else’s voices and use the everyone-on-Skype track instead.)
But in this case, I did have a track from the person. It did record a voice, just not one at a quality I could use. To save the day (and my time), I cheated. Here’s what I did.
First, I had to trim the local recording so that it synced perfectly with my Skype reference track. Then I dropped both tracks into Logic and synced all the other local audio files with them, using the Skype track as a reference.
I use Logic’s Strip Silence feature to make noisy areas in a track visible, and remove all areas of a track that contain silence. Once I run the Strip Silence command, only areas containing noise remain on any given track.
In this case, I could use Strip Silence to my advantage. I ran Strip Silence on the local recording of the computer microphone, meaning that Logic was only using that track at times when that panelists was speaking. It was, essentially, a map of when that person talked and when they were silent.
If only I could use that set of Strip Silence-created audio blocks as a sort of audio mask (forgive me, that’s my Photoshop creeping in)? After all, when the panelist is taking, it’s going to be (mostly) just them talking in the Skype track, too.
So that’s what I did. I quit Logic, opened both the local recording and the Skype reference track in Sound Studio, copied the Skype reference track, and pasted it right over the local computer-microphone recording, replacing it entirely. Then I saved the file and quit Sound Studio.
When I opened Logic back up, it did yell at me—it looks like this file has changed!—but then continued on its way. In the place of the old local audio was now the audio from the Skype reference track, but only the moments when my panelist was talking.
At that point, I still had some work to do—stripping out coughs and microphone clicks that weren’t actual talking, removing other audio tracks when there truly was cross-talk, and the like—but it was clean-up work. And much less work than having to manually cut in the Skype track (and cut out all the other tracks) every time the panelist with the bad recording spoke.
This week on Clockwise, Dan Moren and I are joined by John Moltz and Christa Mrgan to discuss Apple unleashing its executives on Twitter, the community’s increased attention to accessibility, a crazy dream about a Mac Nano on a stick, and I ask, “What’s the deal with Amazon hardware?”
I’m not feeling a lot of love for OS X El Capitan out there. That might not be surprising, given that it’s firmly in the tradition of Mountain Lion and Snow Leopard-new-feature-light, speed-and-stability-focused OS X updates.
But as someone who reviewed Snow Leopard and Mountain Lion, I can tell you that not only did these cat modifier cat releases contain a bunch of bug fixes and other internal tweaks, they also managed to add a bunch of new features, too. Apple can’t help itself.
So let me present to you six reasons to be excited about what’s coming in El Capitan.
Eagle-eyed Christina Warren spotted a huge flaw in Hulu’s recreation of Jerry Seinfeld’s apartment from “Seinfeld,” created to promote the sitcom’s arrival as a Hulu exclusive:
Hulu recreated nearly every aspect of the Season 8-era Seinfeld apartment with great attention to detail. Except for one thing. They gave Jerry an old PC. In the words of Cosmo Kramer, “Oh, come on!”
After Carrie Bradshaw, Jerry Seinfeld might be the most visible Mac user in 1990s television. Over the course of Seinfeld’s 9 seasons, Jerry’s apartment frequently showed off various models of the Macintosh. Everything from the Mac SE 30 (or was it a Mac Classic), to a PowerBook, to the 20th anniversary Macintosh were featured on the show.
What we can decide, we can undecide. But stare decisis teaches that we should exercise that authority sparingly. Cf. S. Lee and S. Ditko, Amazing Fantasy No. 15: “Spider-Man,” p. 13 (1962) (“[I]n this world, with great power there must also come—great responsibility”). Finding many reasons for staying the stare decisis course and no “special justification” for departing from it, we decline Kimble’s invitation to overrule Brulotte.
It’s the first time I’ve seen the wisdom of Ben Parker used to describe the legal principle of preferring to follow previous judicial decisions, but I’ll take it.
This week on Upgrade, Myke Hurley and I discuss the tough decision facing Apple when it comes to marketing a rumored iPad Pro and recap the Taylor Swift/Apple Music kerfuffle. I also talk about the experience of buying my kids an Xbox One and a bunch of Wii U games, discover something surprising that Myke keeps in his wallet, and end the show by discussing Cameron Crowe’s 1989 classic film, “Say Anything…”
I spend a lot of day working on my iMac, and since I store a lot of files on here—including archived GarageBand files for many of the podcasts that I edit—I often end up running kind of close to my disk’s storage limit.
Thanks to apps like DaisyDisk, it’s pretty easy to track down where all your disk space is going, but if you also happen to be running close to full, here are a few culprits that I’ve found might be flying under the radar.
iOS device backups: If you’ve ever backed up an iPhone, iPod touch, or iPad to iTunes, it can take up a lot of disk space. In general, though, you probably don’t need to keep a ton of these backups—especially if you’re also backing up to iCloud.
Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to get rid of any old, unwanted backups. In iTunes’s Preferences, click on Devices and you’ll see a list of backups, along with the dates they were made. Leave your most recent one (or two or three, depending on how far back you want to go), but select the older ones and click Delete Backup. Gigs of free space, in an instant.
Caches: Ah, the old “clean the caches” trick; it’s been around since time immemorial. Caches are where your computer stores copies of frequently accessed information, so that the operating system (or other software) can quickly look up that data. But those caches can take up a lot of room over time, so if you’re running low on storage, flushing them is one way to reclaim some much-needed space. (The OS will simply rebuild the caches, so there’s no ill effect.) You can clear OS X’s caches manually, but I’ve always found apps like Maintain’s Cocktail pretty handy for that sort of thing.
iOS apps: I don’t sync my iOS devices with my computer, but I discovered recently that iTunes on my Mac was still storing local copies of many of the iOS apps I use on my iPad and iPhone.1
If you are actively syncing an iOS device with your Mac, you’ll probably want to keep the apps—the same goes for if you’re planning on restoring an iOS device from a local backup. (Restoring from iCloud, by comparison, will redownload all the apps, which can take a long time.)
But if neither of those cases applies to you and iTunes seems to be storing a lot of iOS apps, this can be a great way to reclaim some disk space. Just go into iTunes, click the Apps tab, then click My Apps, then select all the apps and hit delete. You’ll be asked to confirm that you really want to delete those apps and move them to the Trash. Bye bye, apps. Hello, space!
There are probably more than a few other places where you could free up some extra space, but just those three have reclaimed 20GB or so from my hard drive. That should hold me for at least a couple weeks.
I’m still not sure whether they were left over from a sync or backup a long time ago, or whether they were some vestige of iTunes automatically downloading apps I installed on my devices. ↩
And it’s not the wrangling over terms with artists, or the muddled messaging, or even that the catalog might be on the limited side. It’s in an area where Apple traditionally excels: the execution of the product itself.
For one thing, Apple Music is a cloud service, and the company’s track record with those types of products is…uneven, at best. For another, the trend in both the iOS and Mac versions of Apple’s music-playing software seems to be towards both more confusing and less polished—none of which inspires confidence.
Put the best parts of those two together, and Apple Music could be a winner, easy. Put the worst parts together, and, well…like I said, I’m worried.
Match me if you can
I’ve been an iTunes Match subscriber since the company launched that service back in 2011, and while I’ve been generally positive about my experiences, I’ve still run into any numbers of bizarre and usually inexplicable problems.
Just the other day, as I was on my way home, I tried to play a track on my iPhone. With five bars of LTE signal, the network connection indicator spun, never-ending, and the track refused to play. No amount of tapping the Pause/Play button, or even force-quitting and relaunching the Music app would produce the sound of Chuck Berry’s guitar. Why? I have no idea.
This isn’t a rare occurrence in my experiences with cloud-based music on iTunes Match. Sometimes, for some reason, it just refuses to work. It’s one of those disproportionally maddening things: “Why won’t my magic pocket-sized box, which contains all of the music in the world, submit to my whims?”1
I’ve essentially been using cloud-based music for the last four years, and while I appreciate the convenience of not having to manage and sync my music, I also know how frustrating it is when the network-dependent service encounters glitches or simply doesn’t work the way that I expect. Most frustratingly, there is often no recourse other than to, as Siri all too often suggests, “try again later.”
The company also has a history of not fully thinking through its cloud services, even after its disastrous experiences with the likes of MobileMe should have been taken to heart.
Take, for example, Photo Stream’s confusing limitations on how many photos were stored online vs. on your devices. Or the initial launch of iWork.com back in 2009, with basically no support for real-time collaboration. iCloud’s only recently remedied lack of file management (rumored to be improved again in iOS 9). Heck, just the other day it was pointed out to me that while you can easily share photos from a Shared Photo Stream, there was no likewise simple way to get access to videos shared with you. Weird.
Granted, media consumption is a somewhat less complicated process than, say, online collaboration, or even photo sharing. Fewer moving parts means, hopefully, less room for error, but once again, Apple’s track record for online services doesn’t necessarily impel me to give the company the benefit of the doubt.
That said, if there is one area in which Apple has done pretty well with network-based services, it’s the iTunes Store.
Even in the non-cloud realm, Apple’s recent forays into media playback have been at times underwhelming. Take Apple’s Music app on iOS, for example. Besides its inane album art view, the redesign that came with iOS 7 was not very popular. But I’ve also run into bizarre bugs in the app which seem like they really should have been ironed out long ago.
For example, when searching for songs in Music on my iPhone, several of the results are pretty much always mismatched with the album art. And not the same wrong album art, either—different search results show different combinations of art and music. A pattern there may be, but I haven’t determined yet what it is. (Also note that the incorrect album art is not associated with the music file itself; it shows up only in search results.)
Much in the same way that it’s time to tear down iTunes on the Mac, the Music app on iOS needs a fresh take. I’m not optimistic whether or not the revision we’ll see arrive in iOS 8.4 will truly go as deep as it should, but I’m hopeful that the Music app will continue to improve.
Try before you buy
It’s possible I’ll…(wait for it)…change my tune on Apple Music after the three-month free trial. After all, the promise of an extensive catalog of the world’s music at my fingertips is hard to pass up. Despite all my concerns, I’m ready to be surprised and delighted by the experience of Apple Music.
Let’s just forestall the emails by linking to Louis C.K., shall we? ↩