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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren

Wish List: Temporarily disable Downtime

As with most of Apple’s major software releases, iOS 12 contained a slew of new features—often more than any one person would find themselves using regularly. But one new ability that I have found myself actually using over the past few months was Downtime. This subset of the Screen Time feature lets you define times where your access to certain apps is restricted. However, I ended up turning Downtime off the other week, because it lacked one specific feature: the ability to temporarily disable it.

Let me clarify: While you can override the Screen Time/Downtime restrictions on an app-by-app basis (or, in the case of Safari, a site-by-site basis), there’s no overall control for it other than navigating into Settings and turning Downtime off in the Screen Time section.

That bit me the other week as I was traveling for vacation. Normally, I had Downtime set to run until 7 a.m., around the time I usually get up. But because of our trip to Mexico, we had to leave for the airport at around 5:30 a.m. Now, I do have some apps whitelisted for Downtime (and iOS automatically whitelists things like Phone and Messages), and you can, as I said, override individual apps either for a day or for fifteen minutes. Usually if I find myself waking up before Downtime turns off, I don’t mind popping into a couple apps and telling it to ignore my restrictions.

But if I’m going to be up for a full hour and a half before my limit expires and I need to a) hail a ride to the airport, b) make sure I can access my boarding pass, and c) do all the other time-wasting stuff I do while waiting for a really early flight, well, I don’t want to spend the time overriding those apps one at a time. So I went with the nuclear option and turned the whole feature off.

Then, of course, the issue was that I kept forgetting to turn it back on. As a result, I realized only now, a week after we got back, that I’m not even using Downtime anymore. Which is a shame, because it’s not a bad feature; it’s just inconvenient, in more ways than it’s probably intended to be.

So my proposal is this: treat it a little more like Do Not Disturb. If I wake up before my scheduled Do Not Disturb window expires, I can always use the notification on the lock screen to tell it to turn off DND, and thus receive any suppressed notifications. Downtime should have its own equivalent: “disable until this evening,” for example. A button in Control Center would also work.

I realize that some people use Downtime as enforcement on their kids’ devices and, as such, it requires the Screen Time passcode to disable. But that’s fine; iOS should still prompt you for a passcode if you’re trying to disable it for the day. (And if you’re managing Downtime for your kids via Family Sharing, then there should be the ability for you to remotely override it for their devices in similar situations.)

I’m actually fairly optimistic that a feature like this could make it into a future version of iOS, perhaps even as soon as next year. The Do Not Disturb improvements in iOS 12 are a good example of how Apple refines a feature after it’s been in use amongst the general public, and I’m hoping for a similar refinement to Downtime. In the meantime, at least I’ve finally remembered to turn it back on.

[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]


Podcast

Upgrade

Upgrade #223: Impressive and Stupid

Are Apple’s recent aggressive promotional deals for iPhone an indicator that its aggressive pricing strategy isn’t working, or is this all part of a larger strategy? Are the old rules giving way to a whole new set of Apple strategies? We also discuss WarnerMedia’s strange streaming strategy and Jason’s attempt to merge Shortcuts with ancient Web APIs.

Episode linkMP3 (1 hour, 32 minutes)


Podcast

The Incomparable

The Incomparable #436: Most Important Chimpanzee

Consult the lawgiver’s scrolls and watch out for talking dolls! It’s a madhouse! A madhouse! And also, the 50th anniversary of “Planet of the Apes.” Join us as we explore the world of spaceman Taylor (Charlton Heston) and his long journey through an empty desert into a land populated by officious orangutans, plucky chimpanzee scientists, and wry yet violent gorillas. Does it hold up? Why did such a dark vision generate kids’ lunch boxes and multiple sequels and spinoffs? And what are the intricacies of Ape Law?

Episode linkMP3 (1 hour, 6 minutes)


Jason Snell for Tom's Guide

Apple’s Sitting Out the 5G Party — It’s the Right Move ↦

This week, a lot of the focus of the tech industry was on Hawaii, of all places. That was where Qualcomm was putting on a three-ring circus (or was it a luau?) in service of the forthcoming rollout of 5G cellular networks, highlighting the company’s strong position as a provider of 5G-capable chips for smartphones, namely the newly announced Snapdragon 855.

Meanwhile, it looks like the iPhone will be sitting out the initial the 5G rollout, with reports suggesting that Apple won’t have a 5G-compatible iPhone until 2020, because Intel can’t supply the modem chips in time and Apple hasn’t spoken to Qualcomm since their band broke up last year.

Catastrophe! How can Apple survive without 5G iPhones until 2020?

Here’s how: The same way the company survived being way behind on 3G and LTE technologies, both of which it embraced long after its competitors did.

Continue reading on Tom's Guide ↦


By Jason Snell

Adventures in Shortcuts: Posting content using ancient web APIs

This week I got a little envious of Matthew Cassinelli, who was proudly posting how he’s building all these Shortcuts on iOS that let him do cool stuff involving automatically posting things to his blog.

His blog, you see, is WordPress—and there’s a WordPress app with Shortcuts support. Through nobody’s fault but my own, this site is built on Movable Type 4, the ancient blogging tool that I know by heart, which explains why I still use it when it’s woefully out of date.

So I don’t have fancy iOS apps or even fancy iOS-friendly web templates. If I want to post a story from my iPad, I end up loading a page template that was designed years before the iPad was a glimmer in Steve Jobs’s eye and pasting and tapping and zooming.

But wait, I thought. Movable Type has an external posting interface, a web API that lets apps like MarsEdit post into it. And I wondered if I might be able to figure out how to build a Shortcut that did all the interfacing with my blogging software’s ancient API and allowed me to post stories from my iPad without using the Movable Type web interface.

I got stuck a couple of times along the way—thanks to Matthew Cassinelli himself for giving me a couple of pointers, and to MarsEdit author Daniel Jalkut for reminding me of the best way to encode web content in CDATA statements so that an XML parser will accept it—but in the end, I made it happen. I now have two different Shortcuts that post directly into my Movable Type setup.

The first one, which lets me post the latest episodes of my podcasts to the site, is a total knockoff of Cassinelli’s, so I’ll suggest you read his post for inspiration. The item yesterday highlighting this week’s episode of Download was posted from this Shortcut.

The second one is built around my current iOS text editor of choice, 1Writer. In 1Writer I’ve created a very basic custom action that runs this URL:

 shortcuts://run-shortcut?name=Post%20to%20Six%20Colors&input=[name]

All this action does is tell a specific Shortcut named Post to Six Colors to run, and passes along a single item as input—the name of the current file I’m working on. The shortcut picks up the baton, loads that file from my Stories folder in Dropbox, parses it, asks a couple of questions, and sends the result to Movable Type.

Along the way I had to dig up a Jay Allen post that detailed an obscure Movable Type preference that I had to change in order to control whether a post sent by this method would automatically go live or be saved as a draft, to be published later. In the post, Allen wrote “I expect this to garner interest from about three or four people in the entire world”—and that was written fifteen years ago.

Yet somehow, there I was on a December day in 2018, sitting in my local Starbucks working on an iPad, and once I read Allen’s post I logged in to my server (via Panic’s Prompt app), edited the mt.cfg settings file with vi, and—just like that—the whole thing worked perfectly.

Who knows how many people in the world this will garner interest from, but the larger point is that if there’s a web API, you can probably control it via Shortcuts! Below, I present how I use Shortcuts to post content to Movable Type via the XML-RPC API in annotated form.

This is a gigantic screen shot with text annotations. Sorry, no equivalent available here.

You can also view the Shortcut here.


Dan Moren for Macworld

Two important ways Apple is preparing for life after the iPhone ↦

Over the many decades of its existence, Apple has faced a lot of challenges. There was the company’s battle against IBM early in the PC era, the seeming dominance of Windows during the 1990s, and even the worry that the company itself might cease to exist in the dark days of 1997.

Lately, though, it seems as though the challenge for Apple might simply be that it’s ahead of its own game. Rumors of slow iPhone XS and XR sales are hard to substantiate, with the company stepping back from providing information on how many smartphones it is selling. But it does seem clear that the amazing growth of previous years is leveling off somewhat, whether because the new phones are more expensive or haven’t wooed customers away from their current phones.

The iPhone is, of course, a huge chunk of Apple’s business. In the most recent quarter, it accounted for 59 percent of the company’s revenue. Even if sales do start slowing or, eventually, declining, the company’s still going to be selling plenty of iPhones for years to come. But every product has a lifecycle—just ask the iPod—and Apple is all too aware of that. That’s just one reason that the company has worked hard to position itself for the future.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Podcast

Download

Download #82: No! This Is Terrible!

Qualcomm rolls out 5G cellular networking at a Hawaiian resort; Tumblr bans sexual imagery and nudity; Apple fails emoji biology; and streaming services consider inserting ads into paused video.

Episode linkMP3 (1 hour, 4 minutes)


Linked by Jason Snell

‘The Many Setups of the 2018 iPad Pro’

I had been planning to write an article on this topic—and I still probably will, eventually—but Federico Viticci has done a marvelous job in detailing all the ways he works on his iPad, most notably with stands and keyboards:

One of my favorite aspects of working on the iPad is the flexibility granted by its extensible form factor. At its very essence, the iPad is a screen that you can hold in your hands to interact with apps using multitouch. But what makes iPad unique is that, unlike a desktop computer or laptop, it is able to take on other forms - and thus adapt to different contexts - simply by connecting to a variety of removable accessories. The iPad can be used while relaxing on a couch or connected to a 4K display with a Bluetooth keyboard; you can work on it while waiting in a car thanks to built-in 4G LTE, or put it into a Brydge keyboard case and turn it into a quasi-MacBook laptop that will confuse a lot of your friends who aren’t familiar with iPad Pro accessories.

I’m happy to have been mentioned in the article in a few places as an influence. Thanks, Federico!


Linked by Jason Snell

Microsoft bringing Edge to Mac (via Chromium)

The big story from Microsoft land is that the company is throwing in the towel on doing its own web rendering engine and embracing the Chromium open-source project, which is what powers Google Chrome. The new version of Microsoft’s new Edge browser will be based on Chromium and—most interestingly for Mac users—it will run on the Mac. As Tom Warren of The Verge reports:

Microsoft now wants to collaborate with Apple, Google, and everyone else who also commits changes to Chromium. “If you’re part of the open-source community developing browsers, we invite you to collaborate with us as we build the future of Microsoft Edge and contribute to the Chromium project,” says Belfiore. “We are excited about the opportunity to be an even-more-active part of this community and bring the best of Microsoft forward to continue to make the web better for everyone.”

Chromium is itself a fork of WebKit, the rendering engine used by Apple in Safari. What this means is that the Web should become more compatible across devices and browsers than it has ever been before because all the major vendors will be using browsers that are rooted in WebKit (and originally KHTML. Eventually the lives of Web developers should become easier.

Microsoft adopting Chromium also suggests that Google might now have some serious browser competition. Microsoft Edge will have the opportunity to compete with Chrome on browser features without being different in terms of HTML compatibility. (Presumably Chrome and Chromium will become better citizens of Windows as well.)


Podcast

The Rebound

The Rebound 216: Frog Content

This week, on the irreverent tech show that spends a surprising amount of time talking about amphibians, we touch on some hot button issues, including Tim Cook’s speech at the Anti-Defamation League and Tumblr’s ban on adult content. Fortunately we round it all out with lighter fare as Dan considers switching to Apple Music because of its upcoming Echo integration, while John doesn’t budge at all on smart speakers.

Episode linkMP3 (37 minutes)


Jason Snell for Macworld

Is Apple’s TV service bound for the Apple TV’s competition? ↦

Just how big is Amazon’s announcement last week that Apple Music is coming to echo devices? It all depends on if you see it as saying something larger about how Apple is prioritizing its subscription services compared to its traditional focus on making money by selling hardware.

The cold war between Amazon and Apple seems to be thawing at last. Amazon’s Prime Video app finally arrived on Apple TV late last year. Apple devices are widely available on Amazon thanks to a new deal between the two companies. And now there’s this new wrinkle, in which Amazon will become the second third-party speaker vendor (after Sonos) to offer support for Apple Music.

The potentially larger wrinkle is the idea that Apple’s stated quest to rapidly grow its Services revenue line—encompassing the App Store, iCloud, Apple Music, and more, it’s been growing every quarter for the last few years—might finally have overridden its decades-long focus on making money by selling hardware with large profit margins.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Podcast

Clockwise

Clockwise #271: I’ll Be Backed Up

This week, on the 30-minute tech show that never goes on vacation for long, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests James Thomson and Rosemary Orchard to discuss Apple Music coming to Amazon Echoes, the celebrity tech PSAs we’d like to see, what tech knowledge we’d grant instantly, and our large (or small) collections of iPhone cases and Apple Watch bands. Plus, a special travel-related bonus topic.

Episode linkMP3 (29 minutes)


By Jason Snell

Reading comics on the new iPad Pros

Comixology on the 12.9- and 11-inch iPad Pros.

I love reading comics on my iPad Pro. The iPad is the best thing to happen to comics since four-color printing. Now that the new iPad Pro models are out, I thought it was worth revisiting the current state of the art in iPad comics to see where things stand.

The reader apps

The three apps I use to do most of my comic reading on iPad are Comixology, Marvel Unlimited, and Chunky Comic Reader.

Comixology, owned by Amazon, is the leading digital comic-book storefront. Because it’s an Amazon property, you have to buy comics on the Comixology website and then switch to the app to download them. It’s an extra step, but it’s easy to buy comics in Safari and then read them in the app.

If you prefer in-app purchases, Apple will sell you comics inside the Books app, though I find Comixology’s reading experience superior in almost every way. (Books wants to pan back and forth across comic book spreads, which I just don’t like - I prefer to see just the current page I’m reading.)

Amazon’s Kindle app will also let you read comics, and it uses the same technology as Comixology, so it’s a good reading experience, other than needing to buy comics via the web. I prefer using Comixology for comics and Kindle for books—Comixology’s organizational system is built around comics, so it works better if you buy a lot of individual issues or collections in a series. But if you’re a heavy Kindle user and don’t read too many comics, reading in the Kindle app could be more convenient.

Marvel Unlimited is Marvel Comics’ subscription service, featuring more than 20,000 digital comics including old stuff from the catalog and new issues released between six and twelve months after initial release. At $69 per year I think it’s a spectacular deal if you’re a Marvel fan—it’s easy to read $69 worth of comics in a single sitting. The app was pretty rocky when it started out, but it keeps getting better.

dc-universe-ipad13
DC Universe mixes subscription video with comics old and new, but it’s a good deal if you’re a DC fan.

Chunky Comic Reader is an independent comic reader app that you can load up with comics in CBR, CBZ, and PDF formats. It’s got spectacularly good network integration—you can add comics directly into Chunky from most cloud services as well as local file servers and even remote FTP servers. It has a bunch of friendly reading features, including the ability to automatically crop blank page borders to fit more comic on screen and dynamically calculate a background color that matches the color of the comic page.

Where do you get comics for Chunky Comic Reader? While piracy is definitely what comes to mind, there are actually lots of legal ways to get digital comics. I’ve bought numerous Humble Bundles of comics, as well as indie comics, that offer PDF and CBR/CBZ downloads as options. And while it’s not widely known, Comixology will let you download the comics from many independent publishers as DRM-free files. (Go to My Books on the Comixology website and click Backups for a list of your downloadable comics.)

While I’m not an ongoing subscriber of DC Comics’s new DC Universe service, which bundles TV shows, movies, comics, and a bunch of other stuff into a single $75 annual (or $8/month) subscription. It’s a much smaller selection of comics than Marvel offers, but if you’re a DC fan it won’t take much—again, a few comics a month and the occasional TV series—to make it worthwhile.

New screen sizes

chunky-ipadpro
Chunky Comic Reader is great, though it doesn’t hide the Home Indicator.

Apps need to be updated to take advantage of the displays on the new iPad Pros. The 12.9-inch model’s display is the same size as the old one’s, but it’s got curved corners and a Home indicator at the bottom of the screen. The 11-inch model is a completely different aspect ratio, plus it has the curved corners and Home indicator.

The whole point of reading comics on these new iPads is to take advantage of those screens, and the good news is that most apps have been updated for the new hardware. However, some quirks remain.

Comixology fades out the Home indicator when you’re reading, as is only proper, but still doesn’t display pages all the way to the bottom of the screen—so there’s wasted space down there unless you zoom in. Chunky fills the entire screen from top to bottom—but doesn’t fade out the Home indicator, so a wide black horizontal bar hovers over the bottom of the page. DC Universe does the right thing and displays the pages top to bottom and fades out the Home indicator. Marvel Unlimited and Kindle haven’t yet been update, which is a bummer—especially on the 11-inch model, which can really take advantage of the extra space.

Which model is best?

I’ve been a user of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro since the first generation, and that hasn’t changed with this new third-generation model. I like the larger screen for multitasking, for reading, for watching video, and for reading comics. The size is especially great for reading two-page spreads, which are too small to be readable without zooming on smaller displays.

That all said… if there’s an ideal comic-reading iPad, it’s the new 11-inch model. That new aspect ratio, which is taller when held vertically, gives comics far more room to breathe. And the device is thin and light enough to be held comfortably with one hand while reading, which isn’t really the case with the larger model. I’m sticking with my 12.9-inch iPad Pro, but the size increase on the smaller model makes it a much closer thing.

I can’t advocate buying a $799 iPad Pro just to read comics—if you don’t use an iPad for anything else, maybe consider the sixth-generation iPad?—but evaluated just as a reading device, the 11-inch iPad Pro is the best combination of screen size and weight.


Podcast

The Incomparable

The Incomparable #435: Fun Facts!

Break the shrink wrap and lift off the lid! It’s time to get together with friends and family to play some games. In this second Incomparable Board Game Draft, we’re allowing all sorts of tabletop (non-roleplaying) games. The result: 21 more games you might want to consider playing this holiday season—some classics, some brand new.

Episode linkMP3 (1 hour, 24 minutes)


Podcast

Upgrade

Upgrade #222: That’s Not a Plan

John Siracusa joins Jason to discuss the future of Apple’s ARM processors and how they might change the Mac, Apple Music coming to the Amazon Echo and what that might mean about the future of Apple’s forthcoming TV service, whether they’re using their TiVos as much as they used to, and the prospects for an Apple-built external touchscreen display.

Episode linkMP3 (1 hour, 48 minutes)


By Jason Snell

All the merchandise is for sale right now

[Update: This is the last day for the sale, so get ‘em now or regret it for.. a while.]

Apologies for this filthy commerce, but I know some people enjoy getting or giving tech related gifts for the holidays, and right now we—Jason, Dan, and our affiliated entities—are selling a bunch of new stuff. Consider this the Comprehensive Merch Wrap-Up Post.

Six Colors — This site gets to go first. The Six Colors t-shirt is back on sale through December 3.

The Incomparable — There’s a bunch of stuff on sale in The Incomparable Shop. Shirts now on sale are: the Spoiler Horn, Skeletor, the Zeppelin, and the Robot. There’s also a new Robot Hoodie, a Zeppelin hat, and a Robot pin.

Dan’s Galactic Cold War — You can pick up shirts from both sides of Dan Moren’s Galactic Cold War novels, the Commonwealth of Independent Systems and the Illyrican Empire.

Upgrade Podcast — Jason’s podcast with Myke Hurley is currently selling a Dongletown t-shirt in two colors, as well as the official Upgrade logo tee, an Upgrade hoodie, and an Upgrade logo pin.


By Jason Snell

Fun with charts: The iPad bests the MacBook

On this week’s episode of Accidental Tech Podcast, the hosts rolled a bunch of the hot topics of the moment into one - namely, how the iPad Pro compares to laptops and the potential Mac future of Apple’s custom-built processors.

John Siracusa mentioned that he had built a few charts based on the price of various Apple devices as well as their GeekBench 4 processor scores. The stats definitely show some interesting quirks in Apple’s product line-up — most notably that the iPad Pro kills the Macs in terms of the price/performance ratio.

A chart showing mobile Apple devices on overall value per processor speed.

You might say it’s not fair to compare these devices because the iPad Pro is a computer but not a PC. But even if you don’t buy the fact that the iPad Pro is perhaps the best value in terms of processor performance in Apple’s mobile product lineup today, you’ve got to admire the power of that eight-core A12X Bionic processor. The only MacBooks that can beat it right now in overall score are the two fastest 15-inch MacBook Pro models.

(For those who are concerned that only measuring multi-processor scores is unfair because so many software tasks aren’t multithreaded and have to push a single processor core to the limit—don’t sweat it. The iPad Pro still comes out on top in all the single-core versions of these measurements.)

More starkly, it’s clear from the above chart that Apple’s chip design team is killing it, because all four of the top items on the chart are iPads. Of course a MacBook comes with a keyboard and a trackpad and the iPads don’t! It’s not a perfect comparison. But it’s still interesting, when you start to consider what Apple could do with their own processors inside Mac laptops.

With apologies to FiveThirtyEight, I also whipped up this scatter chart, showing current models, charting their benchmark scores against their prices.

A chart showing trends in processor speed versus price over time.

The real thing to measure in this chart is height above the trend line. And by that measure, the 2018 iPad Pro is way ahead. Meanwhile, the Touch Bar MacBook Pro models all retain a fairly consistent height above the trend line. (And the less said about the 12-inch MacBook, the better.)

You can’t measure the overall value of a product with a price/performance chart. Size and weight matter (for some). Compatible software matters. Screen size matters. There’s a lot that goes into a computer purchase, which is great, because otherwise you could replace me with a spreadsheet and call it a day. But it’s still fun to look at charts and graphs and ponder the ramifications.


Jason Snell for Macworld

How an Apple TV stick could make Apple’s video streaming service an instant hit ↦

You might have missed it between all the turkey brining and Black Friday sales, but last week The Information reported that Apple has considered making a tiny AppleTV “stick” similar to those made by competitors like Amazon and Roku.

Up to now, Apple has been steadfast in holding the line on Apple TV pricing. When the company introduced the Apple TV 4K, it didn’t even drop the price on the fourth-generation model—they’re still both for sale, at starting prices of $149 and $179 respectively.

Compare that to the competition: You can buy a Fire TV Stick for $40 and a 4K version for $50, and comparable devices from Roku cost $30 and $40, respectively. Yes, these sticks are underpowered compared to Apple’s box—Roku’s Apple TV equivalent box is $100—but no matter how you measure it, Apple’s not competitive in the TV box market when it comes to price.

That’s Apple for you. It’s never been the low price leader. The difference is that in 2019 Apple’s going to be launching a new video streaming service, featuring more than a billion dollars in content that it’s been buying for more than a year now. And while people will be able to watch that stuff on their iPads and iPhones and Macs, it won’t be easily accessible on a TV without an Apple TV.

We are in an era where Apple is trying very hard to grow its services revenue, from the App Store to iCloud to Apple Music to, yes, this new video service. The question is, is the growth of Apple’s video service important enough to abandon high margins and prices of hardware products like Apple TV? According to The Information, Apple has at least thought about it.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Linked by Jason Snell

Amazon’s latest cloud product: Toy race cars

Taylor Soper at GeekWire reports on a surprising Amazon Web Services announcement today:

Amazon Web Services chief and big sports fan Andy Jassy on Wednesday in Las Vegas unveiled a first-of-its-kind global autonomous racing league… The league features AWS DeepRacer, a 1/18th scale radio-controlled, self-driving four-wheel race car designed to help developers learn about [machine learning]. It features an Intel Atom processor; a 4-megapixel camera with 1080p resolution; multiple USB ports; and a 2-hour battery.

The car is up for pre-order now for $249. I have no idea how this will do, but I kind of love the idea that the future of machine-learning development might be Robot Wars.


Linked by Jason Snell

‘How to game the App Store’

Longtime app developer David Barnard details all the ways you can cheat to get ahead on the App Store:

The App Store is an incredible marketplace that has generated tens of billions in revenue while empowering billions of people around the world to do amazing things with these magical little computers we carry around in our pockets. But I do think the overall success of the App Store has blinded Apple to the need for various course corrections over the years. And as the financial incentive to build and maintain great niche apps dries up, the beautiful and diverse forest of apps that is the App Store will slowly start to look more like the unkempt Play Store.

His examples—there are ten of them—are all painful. All of these items should be at the top of the to-do list for Apple’s App Store team.