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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Safari 14 added WebExtensions support. So where are the extensions?

Library Extension helps you find library books, but it doesn’t work on Safari—yet.

At WWDC 2020, Apple announced it was going to support Chrome-style browser extensions (the WebExtensions API) in Safari. But with a catch, as Dan pointed out:

Apple’s approaching this in an unsurprisingly Apple-like fashion. If you want to distribute a web extension, it’s got to be wrapped in a native Mac application designed in Xcode. Installing the app from the app store will also install the web extension.

This feature, which shipped last fall in Safari 14 (on Big Sur, Catalina, and Mojave), theoretically lets the developers of JavaScript-based extensions—for Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and other browsers—bring largely the same code and make it available to Safari users on the Mac.

At the time, it seemed to me like it might all amount to nothing if extension developers didn’t want to do the extra work to get up and running in Safari:

That’s a lot of barriers just to reach Mac users running Safari who could just as easily open a different browser to get that functionality…. If you’ve got a favorite Chrome extension that you’d like to see come to macOS, you may need to write to the developer and try to convince them.

I hope Apple makes this work and Safari gets a much richer extension library out of this, but there’s also a scenario where plug-in developers just don’t bother with Safari. That would be a shame. We’ll see.

Months after Safari 14’s release, are developers “bothering with Safari?”

The answer seems to be largely no—at least, not yet. The Mac App Store’s Safari extensions library seems to be largely populated with the same stuff that was there before Safari 14 was released, though there are some exceptions.

OneTab, now on Safari, collects open tabs in a single window.

PocketTube is a YouTube-focused extension that recently added Safari support. OneTab coalesces open tabs into a single page. And Blue Canoe Dictionary lets you highlight English words and learn how to say them

Tony Andrews of Blue Canoe Learning says that Blue Canoe was happy to port its extension to Safari, motivated by the ability to reach all of those Safari for Mac users who were previously unable to use it. “It definitely helps if you’re already familiar with the Apple developer tools and ecosystem,” he told me, and said the process went very smoothly.

Andrew Abrahamowicz is the developer of the excellent Library Extension, which overlays book availability from your local library on top of book-related pages at sites like Amazon. Abrahamowicz has been developing Library Extension for a decade now, and while it doesn’t support Safari yet, he’s working on it.

Abrahamowicz told me that since Library Extension isn’t his day job, he’s limited in the amount of effort he can give to it—and of course, supporting a new platform takes a lot of extra work. However, I discovered that Abrahamowicz had recently gotten a new M1 Mac and had begun work on a Safari version of Library Extension. Beyond needing to get set up with Xcode, Abrahamowicz has had to deal with some specific security limitations Apple applies to extensions, which may require him to actually write some Mac-specific code in order to give the Safari version of Library Extension the same features it has on other platforms.

Blue Canoe, now on Safari, lets you look up and hear pronunciations for English words.

I was encouraged by Abrahamowicz’s interest in building a Safari extension, but my conversation with him also highlighted some of the barriers many extension developers may have: Limited time, lack of access to Apple hardware, unfamiliarity with Apple’s developer tools, Safari’s incompatibility with some existing extension-development tools, and the requirement to make some code changes in order to fit inside Apple’s security model.

Even the most popular browser extensions are, like Library Extension, the product of someone who is scratching their own itch in their spare time. If that person doesn’t use Safari or even own a Mac, it’s a lot harder to imagine they will do the extra work to bring their extension to Safari users.

Take Beyond20, an excellent extension that connects the D&D Beyond character sheet to virtual tabletop services like Roll20. When I want to use Beyond20, I have to switch to Chrome or Firefox, but when Apple made its announcement last year I wondered if I might one day be able to use it in Safari.

A visit to Beyond20 support cleared that up in a hurry. Beyond20 project owner Youness Alaoui wrote:

This wouldn’t happen unfortunately because I don’t use Safari and it’s not chromium based so it would require additional work to get it working. Even Microsoft have contacted me asking to add the extension to the Edge store (zero changes required) and I’m hesitating because of the extra overhead in submitting the package to yet another site upon release.

Getting it to work with Safari would be a headache in itself that I don’t think I’ll ever be ready for. Sorry!

Alaoui’s reluctance to submit his extension to Microsoft’s directory says it all—it’s more work, and commitment to ongoing support, for what is essentially a passion project. (And presumably there’s also the $99/year cost of an Apple developer account, which is beyond the scope of a lot of these projects.)

The good news is, if an extension is an open-source project, it might only take a motivated fan to get it up and running on Safari. The Vue developer tools for JavaScript don’t work on Safari, but someone is trying to get community funding to pay someone to make it work. That requires a community with time or money—and a developer who thinks it’s worth the work—but it’s not impossible.

So in the end, what was the net effect of Apple’s announcement of support for the WebExtensions API in Safari? It’s a work in progress. A very small number of extensions have appeared in the App Store, and it seems quite likely that others will follow at their own pace. Other developers remain utterly unmoved by all the extra work moving to Safari would entail.

It strikes me that Apple could rapidly drive adoption of Safari extensions if it would finally bring that technology to iOS. Targeting the Mac is nice, but if they could target iPads and iPhones, we might really have something.

Major spoilers for the Mac in 2021

If you like to be surprised about what new products Apple is planning, you might want to avert your eyes. On Friday there were two major reports about Apple’s forthcoming Mac plans.

First off, Mark Gurman of Bloomberg reported about new Mac desktops.

Gurman reports that Apple will (finally) redesign the iMac, launching two new versions that are styled more like the Pro Display XDR, with small bezels and a flat back, and using a next-generation version of the M1 processor.

On the Mac Pro side, Gurman says that Apple is planning an update to the Mac Pro that might actually retain Intel processors, but is also designing a half-sized Mac Pro (he likens it to the Power Mac G4 Cube) that would run on souped-up Apple silicon chips.

And then Gurman drops this news:

As part of its revived Mac desktop efforts, Apple has started early development of a lower-priced external monitor to sell alongside the Pro Display XDR. Apple’s current monitor debuted in 2019 and costs $5,000 — before factoring in the $1,000 stand.

It’s hard to imagine Apple releasing a new Mac Pro mini without an external monitor, but it still boggles my mind that Apple only sells a $5,000 monitor right now.

In laptop news, supply-chain analyst Ming-Chi Kuo is at it again, with details about forthcoming Mac laptops, as reported by Benjamin Mayo at 9to5Mac.

Kuo’s report says that Apple will release two new MacBook Pro models in the second half of the year, both using those next-generation Apple silicon processors that more capable than the M1. He says these laptops won’t have Touch Bars, but will use a new version of the old-fashioned MagSafe plug to charge.

Kuo also says the laptops will offer more diverse IO options to reduce the need for dongles, which is a little perplexing—SD card slot? USB-A port? HDMI port? What does it mean?

In any event, 2021 is shaping up to be an eventful year for the Mac.

Apple TV+ website gets better

Apple has tidied up the Apple TV+ website, according to Benjamin Mayo of 9to5Mac:

As of today’s overhaul, the new TV+ website homepage features the same featured header that you see in the Apple TV app, along with sections for latest releases and genre categories. This makes it feel much more familiar for customers who are used to the native TV app experience.

The Web interface is required if you want to watch Apple TV+ content on Windows, Android, or Macs not running Catalina or later. Of course, as Mayo points out, the site still has a lot of limitations. But at least it’s a bit better now.

By Dan Moren

Export your Apple Notes in bulk

I’m an avid user of Apple’s Notes app: it’s where I keep all my random jottings, from ideas for books to thoughts for podcasts I’m recording, and pretty much everything in between. In general, I’m pretty happy with the built-in iCloud syncing that makes sure those notes are available on all my devices in short order, but what if you want to take those notes out of Notes, either to share them with somebody who’s not on iOS, or perhaps to back them up.

Turn out, it’s surprisingly tricky. Yes, you can sort of export a single note using the Share button—though it doesn’t really save it to a file—or, if you’re on a Mac, you can export one as a PDF.1 But if you want to export a bunch of notes as individual files, seems like you’re out of luck!

But there’s a loophole, and it comes courtesy savvy Six Colors reader Ken, who reports that he discovered a way to bulk export your Notes into text files, and all it takes is an iPad and some digital—the finger kind, not the ones and zeroes kind—acumen.…

This is a post limited to Six Colors members.

January 14, 2021

A pirate’s life—and little laptops—for us. Also, AirTags stalkers and Fitness+ possibilities.

Become a member (members, sign in) to listen to this podcast and get more benefits.

Yet another leak of Apple’s tracking fobs, who should moderate online content, good password hygiene, and Spotify’s podcast listeners.

We’ll take our leave and go

Clayton Ashley of Polygon can help explain why you’re hearing sea shanties in your head now. And if you’re not hearing them now, you will be hearing them as soon as you click through:

Just like the crew of a ship would join each other in song to keep up their spirits on a long, isolated journey, TikTok users began to duet and remix the aged sea shanty… A sea shanty such as this one was meant to help keep sailors on tempo as they worked on the ship. The lyrics and melody typically aren’t too tricky to sing for that reason, which also happens to make the genre a perfect fit for the collaborative users of TikTok. You can just join in for the surprisingly catchy chorus or, if singing isn’t your thing, add some musical accompaniment instead.

Don’t miss Kermit getting in on the action.

While I’m on the sea shanty beat, I also appreciated this Tweet:

There’s also a nice Daily Dot report about how “The Wellerman” made it big thanks to a band called The Longest Johns and the pirate-themed video game, Sea of Thieves.

By Jason Snell for Macworld

The case for a 12-inch MacBook Air

I’ve been a fan of tiny Mac laptops for many years. From the 12-inch PowerBook G4 to the iBook to the 11-inch MacBook Air, I’ve always opted for the smallest laptop I could get my hands on.

And yet, with the discontinuation of the 12-inch MacBook, the smallest Apple goes is the 13-inch MacBook Air. Is the Air as small as a Mac laptop can get? I don’t think so. And that’s why I think Apple should add an additional laptop to its product line and bring back the 12-inch MacBook.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

Existence of Apple’s item tracking tags leaks…again

MacRumors’s Joe Rossignol:

MacRumors reader David Chu today alerted us that the hidden “Items” tab in the Find My app can be enabled on iOS 14.3 and later by typing in the link findmy://items into Safari and tapping on “Open” in the prompt that appears.

I just tried this myself, and sure enough, it works: the Find My app opens to an Items screen where you can tap Add Item and it will start searching for nearby tags.1

Find Items screen

Apple’s tracking tags are probably the worst kept secret in the history of the company’s products, given the sheer number of times that indications of their existence have leaked over the past year or two. Most recently, we saw a leak from a third-party company’s designs for accessories for the Apple product.

But that raises the question of why the product hasn’t been released yet: Is it not quite ready to go? If the software component is in the shipping OS, it would seem to be pretty far along. Is Apple waiting for a more opportune moment, say, when people are actually leaving their house and traveling again in order to make a more compelling product story? Certainly possible. Or, heaven forbid, is this another AirPower story where the enthusiasm has outstripped the ability to actually ship a product? One doubts that Apple would get bitten in that same way twice, but nothing’s impossible.

Or maybe, just maybe, Apple’s tracking tags are readying for an imminent launch. Stranger things have happened!

  1. Just to play devil’s advocate, this could simply be an interface for Apple to offer compatibility with third-party trackers like Tile—the words “tags” or “AirTags” don’t appear anywhere within the interface. But come on. 

Apple amps up its Racial Equity and Justice Initiative

The “big announcement” teased yesterday is an expansion of Apple’s Racial Equity and Justice Initiative, which the company founded last year after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and others sparked mass protests:

These forward-looking and comprehensive efforts include the Propel Center, a first-of-its-kind global innovation and learning hub for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs); an Apple Developer Academy to support coding and tech education for students in Detroit; and venture capital funding for Black and Brown entrepreneurs. Together, Apple’s REJI commitments aim to expand opportunities for communities of color across the country and to help build the next generation of diverse leaders.

Apple’s putting $100 million towards these efforts, which it sees as part of its goal to leaving the world a better place.

Dr. Drang on text utilities

I had a sneaking suspicion that my post about using BBEdit to process text might tempt Dr. Drang to write a nerdy follow-up post or two, and it did:

One of the cleverest things Jason does, which I think he undersells, is nibble away at the dataset as he processes it. In this screenshot we see that “Delete matched lines” is checked. By deleting each set of entries as he finds them, he makes it easier to develop the criteria for finding the next set. And with “Copy to clipboard” checked, he hasn’t lost the entries he’s just found—they’re ready to be pasted into a new document for checking and counting. This nibbling technique is one I’ve never used but will keep in mind the next time I’m faced with this type of problem.

Drang, of course, compliments me before displaying how he can do a lot of what I did with a single Terminal command:

    sort cancolors.txt | uniq -c | sort -nr

Drang’s command doesn’t weed out misspellings, which is why I used my approach (and also because I had never even considered using Terminal commands to do this!). Anyway, if you’re curious about how many ways you can misspell Bondi Blue, here’s the list that came out of my survey results when I used Drang’s script.

By Dan Moren

Where Apple could improve Fitness+

Fitness Plus

In some ways, Fitness+ couldn’t have come at a better time. At one point or another, we’ve all probably made that New Year’s resolution to work out more, and with the pandemic forcing many of us to stay in our homes, a friendly exercise option is suddenly much more appealing.

Both my wife and I have spent the last several weeks with Fitness+1, and in general, the service has really impressed us. The trainers are an inclusive, engaging group and the focus on mobility and providing alternative workout options is a marked contrast from many other competitors.

But that’s not to say that there aren’t improvements to be made. Even after just a few weeks, we’ve definitely run into places where the service could be tweaked or offer more. That’s understandable, given that Fitness+ just launched, and no doubt Apple is planning to make changes down the road, especially once it sees how customers are using the service. But just in case Cupertino’s paying attention, here are a few ways we’ve noticed that Fitness+ could use a little more attention.

Get back in the groove

It’s certainly not ideal to have to stop a workout in the middle, but sometimes life gets in the way. The kids need attention, or someone rings the doorbell, or heck, the Fitness+ app crashes. We’ve all grown accustomed, in this modern era, to being able to drop out of something and pick up right where we left off. But Fitness+ has proved to be much touchier about such interrupts. My wife has had her workout prematurely ended a couple times, and thus far the only option is to start all over again, which clearly isn’t ideal.

Fitness+ Workout

Certainly, a workout is a little more complicated than a movie, since your Apple Watch is tracking your vitals at the same time, but there should still be an option to easily jump back in where you left off. Right now, you can’t even fast forward through workouts to get back to where you were, which can quickly turn what should have been a positive experience into a frustrating one.

Switch it up

Along those same lines, it should be easier to switch devices mid-workout. If you’re using the Apple TV to do your yoga workout, and somebody else wants to use the TV, you should be able to switch to your iPad without missing a beat. Again, it’s the kind of seamless continuity we expect from other Apple apps. Even trying to use AirPlay from your iPad to your Apple TV and then switch to using the iPad can cause some hiccups in the workout experience, and then it’s back to our previous problem about resuming interrupted workouts.

Filter it out

Currently, Fitness+ lets you filter by three criteria: type of workout (cycling, yoga, strength, etc.), duration, or trainer. That’s all useful, but when you’re trying to do a little more targeted exercise, it would be helpful to have some additional information about workouts. For example, Fitness+ could let you filter by which part of the body a session focuses on (upper body, lower body, core, etc.) or even by the intensity of the workout.

Filtering options
Fitness+’s filtering feature is useful, but could be improved.

To the latter point, yes, Fitness+ does do a nice job of providing different options within a workout, but some trainers and some sessions can definitely be more strenuous than others, and it would be helpful to have a better idea of what you’re getting into. The Absolute Beginner classes are a great way to start off, but beyond those it would be nice to know whether you’re diving into the deep end or taking a slower ramp up.

Absolute Beginners
The Absolute Beginner workouts are great, but where do you go from there?

Context is king

The integration with the Apple Watch is definitely part of Fitness+’s secret sauce, but it would be nice if those metrics had a little more context to them. For example, Fitness+ shows you your progress through the workout in the corner of the screen, including your current heart rate, but there’s not a great indication of what your heart rate should be.

One useful data point would be whether your heart rate is within the target range for the workout. (Target heart rate is generally based on your age and the kind of workout you’re doing.) That would make it easier for you to adjust on the fly during a workout, taking things up a notch if you’re not quite feeling the burn, or maybe cutting back if you’re going too hard.

Get social

One aspect that Fitness+ is kind of light on at present are social features. The only real concession to connecting with other people—aside from the Apple Watch’s built-in competitions and achievements—is the Burn Bar.

The Burn Bar is supposed to give you an idea of how you’re doing compared to other people who’ve done the same workout. The more calories you burn, the better you do on the Burn Bar, which at least gives you some idea of context (see above)—except that the Burn Bar is only available in a small number of workout types: Treadmill, High-Intensity, Rowing, and Cycling.

Now, I get it: I may not want to be focusing on how my calorie burning stacks up to everyone else when I’m doing a relaxing yoga workout, but in some of the others, like Core, or Strength, or even Dance, it would be nice to at least have the option to turn it on.

And if Apple wants to take social features a step further and create ways for you to, say, remotely do a workout with a friend, or otherwise compare performance, that might be fun too—assuming, of course, that they’re purely opt in.

The rest

In addition to the above areas, there are a handful of other small improvements that Fitness+ could stand. The Apple TV app could use a way to access workouts you’ve saved to your list (if there is one, I couldn’t find it); likewise, on the Apple TV, it’s impossible to do a workout if you don’t have an Apple Watch, which seems like an unnecessary requirement given that the iPad version doesn’t require it; and it would be useful to have more overarching, holistic guidance if you’re working toward a specific goal—say, running a 5K—rather than relying on the algorithms which seem to suggest workouts based largely on things you’ve already done.

Workout without Watch
On the iPad, Fitness+ lets you workout without an Apple Watch, but not on the Apple TV.

On the whole, despite the potential for improvement, Apple Fitness+ has had a promising start. It’s only a month old at this point, and Apple’s obvious commitment to continually adding new content does provide a solid hook to keep coming back, but it will be intriguing to see where the company goes from a feature standpoint over the next years or so.2

  1. Her more than me. 
  2. And remember, stay active and close your rings.🤣 

[Dan Moren is the official Dan of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at His latest novel, The Aleph Extraction, is out now and available in fine book stores everywhere, so be sure to pick up a copy.]

It’s January and the avalanche of 2021 Apple product rumors has already begun. But we also take time to reflect about the first decade of the Mac App Store, have a difficult discussion about when tech companies should deplatform those planning political violence, and Jason exchanges helpful messages about buying late-model Intel Macs with someone who is a friend, a fish, or both.

By Dan Moren for Macworld

Apple gets ready for a new reality

I think we can all agree that there are times when the current reality could be a little…better.

For several years, Apple has talked up the potential of the augmented reality space, and more recently, there have been rumors that the company is getting ready to take those ambitions to the next level by releasing a product focused on augmented reality, virtual reality—or possibly both.

But Apple isn’t one to take on projects casually: despite the multitude of calls for Apple to enter this market or that, the company tends to be very conservative in what projects actually make it through the extensive gauntlet to become shipping products. As Steve Jobs once said, “innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

If Apple truly is ready to take the plunge into this new product area—which reports are now suggesting could happen sooner rather than later—then that’s because the company believes that it’s figured out how to bring the combined might of its hardware, software, and services to bear on a type of device that no company has cracked quite yet. Which raises the question: what the heck is this thing?

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

Apple removes Parler from the App Store

Via The Verge, a statement from Apple PR regarding its removal of the “free speech” trumpeting Twitter clone Parler from the App Store:

“We have always supported diverse points of view being represented on the App Store, but there is no place on our platform for threats of violence and illegal activity. Parler has not taken adequate measures to address the proliferation of these threats to people’s safety. We have suspended Parler from the App Store until they resolve these issues,” reads a statement from the company on Saturday evening.

We’ll see if Parler’s community standards—it apparently removed some death threats from whackadoo lawyer L. Lin Wood earlier today—can ever be brought to a level that Apple feels is appropriate.

‘Not Easy, Not Unreasonable, Not Censorship’

Mike Masnick of TechDirt about social-media moderation and why Trump’s stream needed to be shut down:

The regular rules could never apply to Trump because Trump is not a regular person. And, no, not even comparisons to foreign leaders are apt, because as silly as American exceptionalism is, the United States is still different than nearly every other country in the world. And, it’s not just the position he’s in (for the next few days anyway), but also Trump’s willingness to use his account to make pronouncements unlike pretty much any other world leader (or at least, world leader of consequence).

Trump is, perhaps, the perfect example of why demanding clear rules on social media and how they moderate is stupid.

As for the question of why now? Well, clearly, the context has changed. The context is that Trump inspired a mob of goons to invade the Capitol building this week, and there remain legitimate threats that his cultish followers will continue to do significant damage. Certainly some people have insisted that this kind of violence was always a risk — and it was. But it had not actually erupted to this level in this fashion. Again, we’re talking about context. There’s always more context.

He links to Ben Thompson’s piece about turning off Trump’s account, which is also worth reading.

Apple tells Parler it has 24 hours to clean house or be removed

Input reports that Apple has put right-wing social media site Parler on notice:

In an email sent by Apple to Parler this morning (Pacific Time) and obtained by _Input, _the company provided numerous examples of Parler users explicitly calling for violence and referenced CEO John Matze’s comment that he doesn’t “feel responsible for any of this and neither should the platform.”

Apple disagrees. “We want to be clear that Parler is in fact responsible for all the user generated content present on your service and for ensuring that this content meets App Store requirements for the safety and protection of our users,” the company said. “We won’t distribute apps that present dangerous and harmful content.”

Inciting violence isn’t “free speech.” Assuming Parler doesn’t cave and change its entire business philosophy: Good riddance.

Update: Google Play too.

Reddit also swings the ban hammer

The ban hammer, she swings:

Amid a hardening consensus that conspiracy theories emboldened this week’s Capitol Building rioters—many adorned with “Q” garments, waving Q flags, screaming about election fraud—Reddit is quietly weeding out spreaders of election-related conspiracies.

As the Daily Dot first reported, Reddit admins on Thursday permanently suspended the account for r/conspiracy’s head moderator, axolotl_peyotl. He recently posted about the nascent, baseless conspiracy theory that Italy used a military satellite to interfere with U.S. election systems.

Reddit has also banned the unofficial Donald Trump subreddit r/donaldtrump, Axios first reported, and a Reddit spokesperson confirmed in an email.

Good riddance.

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