six colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Apple’s fiscal 4th quarter in 5 charts

On Tuesday Apple announced its quarterly results, and then its executives spent some quality time with analysts who tried to get Tim Cook to announce unreleased products. Tale as old as time.

Here are five quick takeaways in the form of annotated charts. Because who doesn’t love charts?

Fiscal 2016 was rough for Apple in terms of growth. It turns out that the runaway year-over-year growth of fiscal 2015, fueled primarily by the huge upgrade cycle kicked off by the release of the much larger-screened iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, just couldn’t be matched. And so Apple posted three straight quarters of year-over-year revenue drops.

But all the curves began to turn back upward this quarter, and Apple is projecting that the next fiscal quarter will show growth over the holiday quarter of calendar 2015. That was Apple’s biggest financial quarter ever, so… that means Apple is basically guaranteeing that next quarter will be its biggest ever. That’ll be something to see, and a nice way to break out of this annus horribilis.

As Apple faced tough year-over-year comparisons quarter after quarter, it sounded the rallying cry: “Look at how great our services are doing!” And it’s not wrong. This is the one component of Apple’s business to grow solidly over the last year. It’s now a $6 billion per quarter business, and still growing. The App Store is a big part of this, but Apple Music and iCloud are in there too. This quarter Services was Apple’s second largest revenue line at 13 percent of total revenue, making it bigger than the Mac (12 percent) and the iPad (9 percent).

I love my iPad, but it feels like we’ve spent the last three years hoping that iPad sales have hit rock bottom, and every time it’s turned out that there’s a little bit farther to fall. This quarter’s 9.3 million iPads sold is the lowest iPad sales figure in five years, since the third quarter of 2011. The good news is that the last three quarters have shown a marked flattening of iPad sales. So we may have actually hit rock bottom… or I could be fooling myself.

This isn’t to say that the iPad isn’t a viable product—it’s clearly a solid business, generating $5 billion in revenue every quarter. But is there growth potential here, or is it a product doomed to be loved by people like me and ignored by the rest of the market?

What a lost year for the Mac. The only notable new Mac in fiscal 2016 was the 4K iMac. There were minor updates to the 5K iMac and the MacBook, and… yeah. That was about it. Is it any wonder that Mac sales slipped, and slipped again, and continued to recede from the prior year’s sales figures as the year went on? That’s a chart of a product line that hasn’t been shown any real attention in a couple of years. And that’s the story of the Mac in 2016.

Maybe Thursday’s Apple event will start turning things around. I’d love to see positive Mac growth in fiscal 2017. As for 2016… it was more like what happens when you throw a party and nobody comes.

You know, if you’re an investor you care about growth. But let’s not lose sight of some other figures: Fiscal 2016 was Apple’s second most profitable year ever, as the company generated $45.7 billion in profits. Apple ended the fiscal year with $237.6 billion in cash. (Only $21 billion of that cash was in the United States, though—the other $216 billion is cooling its heels overseas, waiting for a tax holiday from the U.S. government.)

Still, this is the big point: There’s a lot of angst about Apple’s growth, and that makes sense from certain financial perspectives. If you’re an investor, you care. If you’re someone who is more concerned with the general health and well being of Apple, well: In a year where it received financial scrutiny the likes of which it hadn’t seen since the earliest days of the second Steve Jobs era, Apple had its second-best year ever, threw off nearly $46 billion in profit, and now sits on a $237.6 billion cash pile. Yeah… as bad years go, it was pretty okay.

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By Jason Snell

Analysts fail to perform Jedi Mind Trick on Apple CEO

You do comment on unannounced products…

Analysts are like the rest of us. They want to know what Apple’s got up its sleeve in terms of new product introductions. The difference between them and us is, every three months they get on the phone with Tim Cook and get to ask him a question or two. And some analysts just can’t resist an attempt to get Cook to slip up or play coy or otherwise violate the first rule of Apple Club: We do not comment on unannounced products.

Gene Munster—who spent several years trying to get Apple to admit it was making a TV set, but to no avail—attempted to confuse Cook with a run-on sentence: “Historically in terms of new product categories you guys have always looked for unique advantage before getting into a segment, and I’m curious about the car, and there are a lot of rumors out there, and would like your perspective on how you think about an advantage that Apple could add in the auto space.”

Cook’s response is pretty great, because he knows that we know that he knows that we know about Project Titan. But we know that he knows that… well, you get the idea.

“I can’t speak about rumors, but as you know, we look for ways that we can improve the customer’s experience on different sets of products, and we’re always looking at new things,” Cook said. “It’s clear there’s a lot of technologies that will either become available or will be able to revolutionize the car experience, and so it’s interesting from that point of view. But certainly nothing to announce today.”

Are you sure, Tim? You sure you don’t want to announce the Apple Car 40 minutes deep into a telephone call? Okay, I guess, if you really want to be that way.

Steve Milunovich of UBS also took a run at Cook. “Does Apple today have a grand strategy for what you want to do? I know you won’t tell us what it is, but do you know what you want to do over the next three to maybe five years?” (In other words, I know you won’t tell me what you’re working on, but do you know what you’re working on, or are you going to be as surprised as the rest of us?)

Cook with the smackdown: “We have the strongest pipeline that we’ve ever had and we’re really confident about the things in it, but as usual, we’re not going to talk about what’s in it… We have a strong sense of where things go, and we’re very agile to shift as we need to.”

There were a couple more teases in the call as well. When asked about the possibility of Apple doing something in the media business—the question referenced AT&T’s purchase of Time Warner—Cook didn’t pooh-pooh it. “In terms of owning content and creating content, we have started with focusing on some original content… And I think it’s a great opportunity for us, both from a creation point of view and an ownership point of view,” he said. “It is an area that we’re focusing on.”

Similarly, Cook didn’t throw in-home digital assistants like the Amazon Echo and Google Home under the bus, though he could have. While extolling the virtues of Apple’s own approach with Siri, he qualified his comments: “I think that most people would like an assistant with them all the time… That doesn’t say that there’s not a nice market for a home one; I’m not making that point. I’m just saying that on a balance point of view, I think the usage of one on the phone will likely be much greater.”

Meanwhile, leave it to CFO Luca Maestri to be the biggest tease of all. “We’ll have some exciting news to share with current and future Mac owners very soon,” he said. See you at Town Hall on Thursday, Luca.

By Jason Snell

Apple Financial Results: Live coverage

It’s that time again. We’ll be covering Apple’s financial results and conference call live, with commentary, right here in a few hours. Results usually come out about 1:30 p.m. Pacific, followed by all the charts. Apple’s conference call with analysts begins at 2 p.m. Pacific.

You’ll be able to read along with our commentary in the embedded box below, or read in a separate window.

Continue Reading "Apple Financial Results: Live coverage"

Linked by Jason Snell

New MacBook Pro images appear in macOS Sierra 10.12.1

MacRumors notes that some system files in the new macOS Sierra update show a MacBook Pro with a touchscreen/touch ID bar at the top of the keyboard, as has been rumored.

The files are in /System/​Library/​PrivateFrameworks/​PassKitUI.framework/​Resources/, if you’re so inclined.

By Dan Moren

Logitech brings some Harmony to the Amazon Echo

Echo and Harmony

If you’ve been looking to control your home entertainment gear from your Amazon Echo without a bunch of cumbersome workarounds, good news: Logitech has officially released a Smart Home Skill for the Amazon Echo, letting you control all the devices connected to your Harmony Hub.

I set up a similar system a while back, using a combination of other services like IFTTT and Yonomi, but Logitech’s first-party integration definitely puts it in the reach of anybody with an Echo and a Harmony Hub who doesn’t want to muck around with nitty-gritty technical details.

Logitech’s integration mostly delivers what I could already do with those other services, but there are a couple of nice additions. For one thing, it gets rid of the “trigger” nomenclature imposed by IFTTT.1 Additionally, it lets you declare “friendly names” for your devices, so even if your Harmony Activity is “Watch Apple TV” you can just say “turn on Apple TV”, or you can use “turn on game console” or “turn on Xbox.” Other smart home devices that work with the Harmony Hub, like Hue lights, can also be triggered, though of course the Echo already has built-in control for those devices as well.

If you’re a Roku user, you can take things a step further by actually specifying certain apps, like saying “turn on Netflix”, and you’ll be automatically taken to that app. (It works for TV channels too, if you program an activity to go to a specific channel.) Unfortunately, that level of control isn’t available to devices like the Fire TV and Apple TV, which I believe still leverage Harmony Hub’s IR blasting features. That’s a bit of a bummer—I doubt Apple will make the Apple TV friendlier any time soon, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Amazon built in some deeper control between the Echo and the Fire TV.

As it is, you can’t do much in terms of issuing other commands to your smart devices, such as changing the volume or muting, without jumping through some more elaborate hoops. This points to some of the limitations in both Echo’s smart home skills and what Logitech currently offers with the Harmony.

That said, I’m still eagerly awaiting the Echo’s integration with Sonos, a private beta of which is supposed to roll out this fall. Along with Google Home and rumors of Apple’s entry into the market, voice control of smart home features is really starting to heat up.

  1. Yonomi, which I had been using for a few things, let you do the same thing—it essentially created virtual “devices” which you could use the Echo to turn on or off.  ↩

[Dan Moren is a freelance writer, podcaster, and former Macworld editor. You can email him at or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]

Jason Snell for Macworld

The 10th anniversary of the 5th anniversary of the iPod ↦

[Yesterday was the 15th anniversary of the iPod. I’d write a reminiscence article about it, but I already did one 10 years ago…]

Since its first release five years ago on October 23, 2001, the iPod has become one of the most recognizable products in the world. It has transformed Apple’s business and its public image, and is probably responsible for a “halo effect” that has improved the Mac’s image and fortunes as well. Whether you’re a rabid iPod lover or someone who just doesn’t see why the iPod’s such a big deal, it’s hard to dispute the gigantic impact the iPod has had on our technological world.

On the day the iPod was unveiled, none of us knew we were witnessing the arrival of the first iconic product of the 21st century. We had a pretty good idea we were going to see an Apple music player, but we got more than we were expecting. I was there with Macworld’s Rick LePage, Jonathan Seff, and Philip Michaels—if you look on the video of the event posted on YouTube, you can see us in one of the cutaways.

My notes from the event are still on my Mac: an overview of the Digital Hub concept. iDVD 2’s ship date had slipped a second time, to early November. A demo of iMovie, of iTunes, and of Mac OS X’s Image Capture utility (because iPhoto wouldn’t come into being until 2002). And then, at last, the main event: a music product. “It’s a large target market,” Jobs said. “It knows no boundaries. No one has really found the recipe yet for digital music. And we think, not only can we find the recipe, but we think the Apple brand is going to be fantastic, because people trust the Apple brand.”

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

Linked by Jason Snell

The New York Times buys The Wirecutter

Peter Kafka at Recode:

The Times will pay more than $30 million, including retention bonuses and other payouts, for the startup, according to people familiar with the transaction. Brian Lam, a former editor at Gawker Media’s Gizmodo, founded The Wirecutter in 2011, and has self-funded the company’s growth.

Brian Lam had a vision and built The Wirecutter to meet his vision. He did a fantastic job, and hired some amazing people to build it with him. Having written a couple of Wirecutter projects, I have seen how the organization has tried very hard to build a new kind of editorial process that isn’t indebted to old assumptions. It’s tough stuff—systematic product reviews in dozens of product categories is about as high a degree of difficulty as it gets.

Sometimes I disagree with what I read at Wirecutter, but I’ll tell you this: I always visit it before I buy pretty much anything. And my house is full of products bought on The Wirecutter’s recommendation.

Congratulations to Brian and the entire Wirecutter team, and congratulations to the New York Times for snapping up a gem of a digital media brand.


The Incomparable #323: Abe Vigoda Knows All the Toilets

The Incomparable

Leave the gun and take the cannoli— this week The Incomparable discusses 1972’s “The Godfather,” with guests John Gruber, John Siracusa, Joe Rosensteel, and David J. Loehr.

By Jason Snell

Go Play: Mini Metro

It was an innocuous tweet. “Hey, have y’all played Mini Metro?” he asked. “It just got ported to mobile this week and it’s great.”

Oh, no, I had not played Mini Metro. It’s $5 on the App Store. And it is amazing.

Developed by Dinosaur Polo Club and available as a $10 Mac/PC download on Steam since last fall, Mini Metro is a game inspired by the classic style of Harry Beck, creator of the famous London Underground map. And now it’s available for iOS and Android.

In Mini Metro, your job is to connect stations on a map—represented by circles, triangles, squares, and the occasional special shape (I like to imagine they represent things like hospitals, stadiums, and Superman’s Fortress of Solitude)—in an efficient way to keep people moving around your city. You set up the lines and equip them with trains. After every week of simulated commutes, you get more resources, like additional subway lines, more trains and train cars, and station upgrades. Oh, and all the while, the commute traffic in your simulated city increases.

Your commuters are represented by shapes waiting at each station, indicating their destination. The app simulates all of their commutes, and the game ends if one of your stations gets too crowded for too long. You can see the little shapes riding around in the train cars—and see them get deposited at their destinations. It’s pretty amazing.

The touch interface of iOS and Android seems perfect for this game—it’s just so easy to draw out transit lines with your fingers. But there’s enough complexity here that it takes a little time to learn some of the most important gestures. You have to tap on a line and then hold on a station to disconnect the station from that line, and sometimes selecting the right line can be tricky. But once you get the hang of it, the tactile interface is great fun.

All the while, there’s an adorable, minimalist soundtrack playing in the background. It’s soothing, which is good because once the map gets complicated you can get pretty stressed out. But of course, the sound gets more complicated as the maps get complicated. You can’t win.

No, seriously: you can’t win. Losing is inevitable. You lose when a station gets too crowded—because you’ve failed in your job as a transit planner. Now, on the Steam version, once you lose the game you’re offered a chance to play in “endless” mode, where you can just keep building your transit lines as your city grows. That option doesn’t exist yet on iOS, though Dinosaur Polo Club says they’ll add it in an update. This is good, because I miss my cities once they’re gone and sometime you just want to watch the trains run and not stress out, you know?

Mini metro reminds me a whole lot of SimCity, and in the best way. You can appreciate it on a very simple level, but if you really get into it you’ll discover all sorts of layers of strategy. Don’t connect too many circles together, for instance—they’re commuter stations, and the people who arrive there want to go to squares and triangles, not other circles. The list goes on.

Based on my description, I think you probably already know if Mini Metro is for you. It’s definitely for me! You can get it for $5 on the App Store and Play Store.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for a new extension on the Blue Line.

Dan Moren for Macworld

What the new MacBook Pro might have learned from iPhones and iPads ↦

As we wait with bated breath for the announcement of new Macs next Thursday, it’s worth thinking about the future of Apple’s PC line. I don’t mean its future in the grand scale of things—I’ve already said I’m bullish on the Mac, and that hasn’t changed—but the technologies that are going to propel the Mac into the next stage of its life.

With the Mac as mature as it is, we are no longer in the era of huge fundamental changes, but rather refinements and enhancements. There’s still plenty of excitement to be had over these new features and technologies, because they have the possibility to improve and update the way we interact with our computers. And though it might be scary to hear it, a lot of these decisions and additions are informed by what Apple has learned from its other major product lines, iPhones and iPads.>

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


The Rebound 108: The ROKR of Cars

The Rebound

Is Apple even making a car anymore? We’re unclear on the concept. But we do talk about Apple’s rumored plans of making an E Ink keyboard, more exploding Samsung phones, the Echo’s new powers, and whether Siri really listens.

By Jason Snell

Apple event confirmed for October 27

Well, there it is: Apple will say “hello again” on Thursday, October 27, at 10 a.m. Pacific. I’ll be covering the event from the Apple campus in Cupertino, which means we may be getting one final event at Town Hall.

By Jason Snell

Wish List: Easier Alexa Skills

I have a weather station on my roof. I have an Amazon Echo in my house. I should be able to get these two things together, somehow, right? “Alexa, what’s the temperature at my house?” is something I’d like to ask.

But here’s the thing: Right now it’s extremely hard to build any add-ons to Alexa unless you’re an accomplished developer, which I’m not. You have to set up a web service—ideally via Amazon’s AWS Lambda—and jump through a whole lot of hoops, no matter how simple your add-on “skill” is.

So here’s a rare Six Colors Wish List item that’s not for Apple, but for Amazon: Wouldn’t it be nice if Echo users could fairly easily connect data from web services to the service? My Weather Station offers the current outdoor temperature in a text file that’s accessible via the web, but there’s no way for me to configure the Echo to respond to a specific voice command by reading the contents of that web address out loud.

Services like IFTTT offer Alexa integration, but it’s one-way — I can give Alexa a command, and it will trigger an IFTTT action. But grabbing information from the Internet and then speaking it to me? That’s another trick altogether.

So that’s what I want. I want a tool that will let me build simple Alexa skills, using content pulled from the Web. The more parsing that Amazon can provide, the better. I realize that most users won’t want a feature like this, but one of the joys of using cutting-edge technology like this is being able to extend its capabilities in interesting ways. Amazon should allow users to build custom responses in some way that doesn’t require setting up an AWS server and building a complete web app.

Jason Snell for Macworld

What’s next for Project Titan and the Apple Car? ↦

For more than a year we’ve seen reports about Apple investing lots of money, time, and personnel into designing an Apple-branded car. From the very beginning it seemed strange, yet somehow plausible. Rather than weeping because there were no more worlds to conquer, the tech giant was doing what its competition does-investigate what other kinds of product categories could be conquered by tech industry cash and talent.

Earlier this year, I argued that Apple was wise to not become complacent and continue seeking new product categories that could help the company grow and diversify. But this week, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman and Alex Webb reported that Apple has made major changes to its car program, and “has drastically scaled back its automotive ambitions.”

So, what to make of this report?

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

Linked by Jason Snell

Mac event coming next week?

Recode reports that Thursday, October 27 is the date for the next Apple event, a small gathering on or near Apple’s Cupertino campus. Mark Gurman at Bloomberg agrees.

Mactober! It’s happening!

Reports suggest we’ll see a new MacBook Pro take center stage, one with no traditional USB ports, which will make some people unhappy. The question is, what other Macs will be updated? Will there be a new MacBook Air, as previously rumored? What about updates to the iMac, Mac Mini, and Mac Pro? Stay tuned.

By Jason Snell

Go Play: Really Bad Chess

I have been playing chess since I was a kid. But I’m terrible at it, so I rarely play anymore. This past week, though, I’ve been really enjoying Zach Gage’s Really Bad Chess, an iOS game that puts a clever spin on Chess by seeding the board with a totally random collection of pieces.

What if you had three queens and four knights? What if you had eight bishops? All of these crazy scenarios can occur in Really Bad Chess. And it makes the game different. If you know how to play chess, your knowledge will come in handy—but you will find yourself confronting problems radically different from the ones you’d find in a normal game.

Really Bad Chess comes with a few different ways to play. There’s a Ranked mode that lets you play increasingly difficult boards—you start with a huge power advantage over your computer opponent, and the advantage slowly shifts until you’re trying to defend while underpowered. There are daily and weekly challenges, where you compete with other players to perform the best on a single board configuration.

This is a surprisingly fun game that’s worth a download and the $2.99 in-app purchase to turn off ads and unlock the full game. (If you become addicted, Gage sells packs of 100 move undos for 99 cents each. It’s nickel-and-diming, App Store style, but of the gentlest variety.)

Whether you’re a veteran chess player or just a frustrated fraud like me, Really Bad Chess will rekindle the fun of the game.

By Dan Moren

Rockstar Games officially announces Red Dead Redemption 2

After a couple days of teasing Twitter followers with mysterious images, Rockstar Games has officially announced what everyone had come to expect: Red Dead Redemption 2, a sequel to its hit Western-themed title from way back in 2010 (which shall forever be known among my friends as “Grand Theft Horse”). A trailer is scheduled to launch this Thursday.

Details are so far sparse, though the announcement confirms that the new game follows in the footsteps of the original in being “an epic tale of life in America’s unforgiving heartland.” The first RDR game was…unforgiving, to say the least, in its portrayal of the dying days of the Wild West, and it earned Game of the Year accolades from several publications. Personally, it remains one of my favorite video game experiences to date—I spent countless hours just enjoying riding a horse through the scenery.1

Rockstar also says the new game will feature “a brand new online multiplayer experience,” which will likely be music to the ears of those who played the original, which featured a somewhat limited and lackluster multiplayer experience that contrasted sharply with the single-player world. Certainly, the art so far used for RDR2, which features seven characters against a blood red backdrop, seems to point towards an experience that’s about a team—it’s hard not to draw a direct line to The Magnificent Seven. It’s worth noting, though, that none of the characters depicted in the initial image are women; Rockstar doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to the portrayal of women in its games. None of its popular Grand Theft Auto series have let you play as women, and its portrayal of female NPCs has often been reductive.

In an era where many franchises seem to pump out sequel after uninspired sequel every couple years, it’s kind of refreshing to see a company take its time—especially when it has such a tough act to follow. By the time RDR2 debuts in fall of next year, it’ll have been around seven years since the original game came out. Rockstar is known for taking time to develop its titles, and with a world as big and sprawling as RDR2 is likely to have, that’s important.

  1. Yes. I just rode around on a horse for hours—and it was glorious. Sometimes it rained!  ↩

[Dan Moren is a freelance writer, podcaster, and former Macworld editor. You can email him at or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]

Linked by Jason Snell

Jason talks Photos on MacVoices

Today I’m on the MacVoices podcast, talking with Chuck Joiner about what’s new in Photos for macOS Sierra and iOS 10, the magic of Memories, and how Apple’s approach to privacy affects its cloud services.

Linked by Dan Moren

Keep it secret: Apple files a lot of trademarks in Jamaica first

Joon Ian Wong and Christopher Groskopf of Quartz explain why Apple files so many of its trademarks for new products in Jamaica first:

It did this for Siri, the Apple Watch, macOS, and dozens of its major products months before the equivalent paperwork was lodged in the United States. Likewise, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft routinely file trademarks for their most important products in locales far flung from Silicon Valley and Seattle. These include Jamaica, Tonga, Iceland, South Africa, and Trinidad and Tobago—places where trademark authorities don’t maintain easily searchable databases.

In some ways it’s gotten harder and harder for Apple to maintain secrecy around many of its product launches—especially the ones that entail hardware, since the supply chain often makes sieves look watertight. Three people may be able to keep a secret if two of them are dead, but what about the hundreds if not thousands of people involved in the production of a new device?

Legal and regulatory hurdles make this more challenging as well: between the patent office and the FCC, there are a lot of government agencies who often need to be apprised of a new product in some fashion.

I doubt any tech news organization is quite at the point of bringing on a dedicated correspondent in Jamaica to check the trademark filings on a regular basis, but hey, there’s a nice little job niche.