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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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Jason Snell for Yahoo

This Week in Space: Weird Pluto and No Plan for Mars ↦

We’re lucky to have Pluto. If people in the early 20th century hadn’t mistakenly thought Pluto was a major planet, much larger than it actually turned out to be, we might have declared it a boring icy body of the outer solar system and not gone to the trouble of sending the New Horizons probe to fly past it.

And we would mean we’d have missed out on the real Pluto — a beautiful icy body that continues to offer surprises months after New Horizons flew past it. This week, yet more new data from New Horizons revealed that Pluto has more water than originally thought. Water on Pluto isn’t like any water on earth: It’s so cold out there that it’s ice as hard as a rock.

Continue reading on Yahoo ↦


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‘Error 53’: Security measure or devious plot?

There’s a story going around that Apple is maliciously disabling iPhones that weren’t serviced by an Apple authorized service organization. Here’s a good post about it on Tech Insider.

What’s happening in many of these “Error 53” cases is that Apple is sensing that a Touch ID sensor is not properly paired with the rest of the system. Since Apple can not verify the integrity of the sensor—it could’ve been replaced with a different Touch ID sensor that has access to the Secure Enclave, which would be a major security breach—it turns it off or bricks the phone. Pretty serious, and badly communicated, but understandable from a security perspective.

Here’s security researcher Filippo Valsorda:

I get why people might be frustrated if they got their iPhone repaired at an unauthorized location for the sake of convenience or savings and found that their phone was zapped. Apple needs to do a much better job of communicating things. But one of the iPhone platform’s strengths is its security, and this seems like a security measure to me, not some conspiracy by Apple to claw back incremental revenue currently going to off-brand iPhone repair shops. That won’t stop people from freaking out about it, though.


Linked by Jason Snell

Apple Watch as gateway drug

Marco Arment’s use of an Apple Watch drove him to mechanical watches:

I simply like mechanical watches more. I’ve completely converted, and I don’t foresee myself wearing the Apple Watch much in the future — the additional functionality it offers isn’t useful enough to me (your needs may vary) to overcome the far greater joy I get out of wearing a nice mechanical watch.

I’m actually not surprised that the existence of an Apple Watch would get tech enthusiasts to put on a watch for the first time, which would then act as a gateway drug to other fancy watches. That’s a path that sort of makes sense.

As a lifelong watch wearer, I don’t think I could ever go back to a non-smart watch. I’ve got my Dad’s old Rolex, which I will wear on those rare occasions where I’m dressed up and want to be fancy. Those mechanical watches are beautiful, and I hope smartwatches get much more beautiful over time. But I wouldn’t give up notifications on my wrist for them.


Dan Moren for Macworld

A Mac for all seasons: Why the Mac has so much staying power ↦

Let’s hear it for the Mac.

There’s been plenty of ink shed on the meaning and impact of iPhone and iPad sales in Apple’s most recent quarters. In and of itself, that’s no surprise: The iPhone is the company’s biggest product and makes up more than two-thirds of its revenue. The iPad, on the other hand, has been struggling, unlike most of Apple’s other devices.

But through it all, the Mac has quietly kept on doing steady business, and I think the sturdy workhorse of Apple’s lineup deserves some accolades. Not only has the Mac entered its fourth decade—impressive for any piece of technology—but it’s seen tremendous success and even growth in an era where all anybody can talk about is smartphone this and tablet that.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Linked by Jason Snell

Amazon’s take on an iOS music app

Speaking of getting frustrated by Apple software, Joe Rosensteel is frustrated by the iOS Music app in a whole bunch of ways. But what’s interesting is what happens next—namely, he tries the Amazon Music app for iOS.

Amazon is routinely criticized for their grotesque, and difficult-to-use software, but comparing Apple’s and Amazon’s music apps is like night and day. How did Amazon manage to out-Apple Apple on Apple’s own platform? The application is not only slick, but it’s considerate.

It’s interesting to see how Amazon’s approach differs from Apple’s.


Linked by Jason Snell

‘Hulu Minus’

The future of TV is exciting, depressing, frustrating—all of these things at once. MoisĂ©s Chiullan has a whole lot of great thoughts about the situation, with Hulu at the center:

Time Warner Inc. (not Time Warner Cable, more on it below) wants to effectively buy enough of Hulu to break Hulu’s core business, which provides people with a pretty solid alternative to the old world of cable bundling (provided Hulu has the shows that you want). It’s one that I’ve been using for years now, and I really would rather it not go out the window.

Right now a lot of the forces in the entertainment world seem to be exerting power to make life as painful for cord cutters as possible, while other forces seem to be viewing the advent of cord cutters as an opportunity.

I always bet on the people who are expecting change rather than fighting to prevent it, so I’m guessing the latter will eventually win. But in the meantime, things are going to be ugly and confusing for a while. Maybe a long while.


Linked by Jason Snell

Jason answers questions!

My Product Hunt chat is now over. Click through to see me answer questions about tech, podcasting, and even one about sports.


Jason Snell for Macworld

How far can the iPad fall? ↦

The iPad is big in my house. I use one (Pro), my wife uses one (Air 2), my son uses one (Mini 2). Suffice it to say that we see the appeal. But at some point, even the biggest boosters of the iPad have to admit that something’s wrong. With iPad sales down year-over-year for 10 out of the last 11 quarters, it’s safe to say that this is more than a blip.

Many observers have been waiting for a while now for the iPad to find its level—for sales to flatten back out and reveal what size Apple’s iPad business will really be going forward. It’s clear that the heady days where Apple sold 80 million iPads in a year are gone, and won’t be coming back for quite a while. But as sales continue to decline, it’s worth asking when it will all stop.

At this point, Apple’s selling iPads at a rate of approximately 48 million iPads per year—roughly the rate it was selling them in 2011, at the very start of the iPad’s lifespan, just before iPad sales kicked into gear. So is this the bottom? Or will it get worse before it gets better?

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Podcast

The Rebound #71: The Smirror

The Rebound

Virtual reality—as good as real reality? Dan, John, and Lex discuss the successes and not-so-successes of VR, Gatekeeper vulnerabilities that we haven’t heard of, and finally, the ultimate in smart home devices: the Smirror. You’ll want one. Trust us.


By Dan Moren

Stream Spotify via your Amazon Echo

spotify

The Amazon Echo integrates with Amazon’s own Prime Music service, which has a pretty solid music selection, but if you happen to be a Spotify subscriber, you can now stream directly from that service to your Echo as well.

Now, since the Echo can act as a Bluetooth speaker, you could always hook it up to your phone—via voice command, such a nice touch—and play Spotify from there. The integration allows you to access your playlists, request songs via voice command, and more.

All very nice, but there is a catch: you’ll have to be a paid Spotify user in order to use it; the free tier doesn’t work with the Echo. That’s not really a surprise, but it does put another tick in the Spotify column for me. Apple Music, meanwhile, will continue to rely on pairing your Apple device with the Echo, and I don’t expect that to change anytime soon.

For the moment, though, I’m content with Amazon’s own music offering, which is included free with my Prime subscription, and my own iTunes library. Because apparently I’m cheap.

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


Linked by Jason Snell

Mossberg: Apple’s software has problems

Apple’s hardware remains great while its software quality has issues? Marco Arment wrote about that 13 months ago, but the issue hasn’t gone away. Here’s Walt Mossberg at The Verge (that still feels weird):

In the last couple of years, however, I’ve noticed a gradual degradation in the quality and reliability of Apple’s core apps, on both the mobile iOS operating system and its Mac OS X platform. It’s almost as if the tech giant has taken its eye off the ball when it comes to these core software products, while it pursues big new dreams, like smartwatches and cars.

Apple’s iTunes program was once the envy of the world. A combined digital music store and player, it could also sync your iPod. And it worked on both Mac and Windows. It was reasonably fast and very sure-footed…. Now, I dread opening the thing.

Today I was listening to a shuffle of a couple of albums1 when someone sent me an email with an interesting link to a free iOS app. I clicked on the link, and clicked on the Free button to kick off a download—mostly as a reminder to myself to download it from Purchased Apps on my iPhone or iPad later.

First iTunes threw up a dialog box saying that the amount of iTunes credit had changed, so I would need to click OK and try my purchase again. (It’s a free app, so this entire experience is already pointless, but whatever.) I clicked OK and the Free button was now inactive. I typed Command-R to see if that would reload the iTunes page—no normal user would do it, but it worked because the App Store and iTunes is more or less a disguised web page—and then was able to click Free and download the app.

At some point in this process, the song I was listening to finished and another song began to play. It was a randomly selected track from my entire music library. The act of viewing the App Store had destroyed my music shuffle.

This is what Walt Mossberg means by “I dread opening the thing.” I don’t dread playing music in iTunes, but I dread doing anything else because of its capricious, confusing behavior.


  1. In My Music, I selected an artist from the Column Browser and selected two albums I wanted to shuffle, then began playback. ↩


Podcast

Clockwise #122:  It Always Comes Back to Robot Butlers

Clockwise

This week on Clockwise Dan and Jason are joined by Casey Liss and Aleen Simms to talk streaming services we rely on, home automation we’re proud of, Apple’s rumored move toward exclusive video, and shiny happy customer service stories.


Linked by Jason Snell

New Kindle software update revises home screen

kindle-sales
Thanks to Scott McNulty for alerting me both to this software update and to the new Bujold book!

The E-Ink Kindle screen interface is largely unchanged since the first-generation Kindle was released in late 2007. At least until today, when Amazon released a software update for the Kindle Paperwhite, Voyage, and Kindle (2014) models.

A bunch of the new features aren’t at all interesting to me, since they involve recommendations—essentially, the space on your Kindle home screen that Amazon uses to try to sell you more books. A large amount of the redesigned screen is devoted to recommendations and your own wishes for future book purchases. It really enhances the feeling that Amazon is constantly trying to get you to buy more Kindle books.

Fortunately, you can turn off recommendations, which I did. The fancy graphics disappear when you do this, but the entire interface has still been overhauled. There’s a new typeface that’s absolutely gorgeous on the high-resolution screen of my Kindle Voyage. There’s a new toolbar at the top of the screen, which gives you direct access to common commands—toggling Airplane Mode, forcing a content sync, and adjusting the lighting—with a single tap. There’s also an updated sharing feature that shares a highlighted quote, with a web preview of the book. (All the better, again, for Amazon to sell more Kindle books.)

Still, it’s great to see Amazon updating the Kindle software, and on a more regular basis.


By Jason Snell

Exterminate… the shows?

Back in 2014 when Netflix lost “Battlestar Galactica”, I pointed out the sad truth of being the subscriber to a video streaming service: It’s all shifting sands, so you can’t count on what you’re watching today to be available tomorrow.

“Doctor Who” fans found that out yesterday, as the popular BBC series disappeared from all American video-streaming services. Not only Netflix and Amazon Prime were affected—Hulu, which boasted by far the largest number of classic “Doctor Who” episodes due to a deal with the BBC a few years back, also went completely dark.

While there’s no word about what will happen to the show, the most likely scenario is that the BBC is readying the launch of a U.S. streaming service of its own. This is interesting, given that’s there’s already a streaming service devoted to British TV.

Whether “Doctor Who” migrates to a new U.S. version of BBC iPlayer or returns to existing subscription services for a while longer, this sort of thing is going to keep happening. The owners of The CW network, CBS and Warner Bros., are pondering whether to pull their shows from Netflix. “Star Trek,” a popular staple of Netflix and Amazon both, could possibly migrate to CBS All Access in advance of the new “Star Trek” series debuting there next year.

This is why a large chunk of the $6 billion Netflix will spend on content this year (my back-of-envelope calculation is between 1 and 1.5 billion dollars) will be devoted to original programming: Because it knows that it can’t rely solely on other programming providers to create the value of its service. By the time your favorite old shows from other networks are no longer on Netflix, the reasoning goes, you’ll be too addicted to Netflix’s original series to cancel your account.

The real question is this: Who wants to subscribe to a half-dozen different $10/month streaming services? This is going to be a tough business, and some of these services aren’t going to make it.


By Dan Moren

Habitica lets you kill monsters, get loot, be productive

Nobody likes having a list of things hanging over their head, but everybody’s got stuff that simply needs to get done. The key is how to motivate yourself to finish those tasks, and the answer is a system of ice cream rewarding behavior. Or, you know, turn it into a game. Habitica certainly isn’t the first service to gamify your to-do list, but it’s the first one that’s really sucked me in.

habitica

The app, available on the web and for iOS, merges to-do lists with classic RPG tropes and social networking to provide a potent potion of productivity, letting you team up with friends to get things done and acquire sweet loot along the way. Moreover, Habitica also aims to help you build good habits by providing a way to reinforce that good behavior you want to do every day. Also you get to create a character and arm them to the teeth, and who doesn’t love that?

Unsurprisingly, this is the sweet spot for me. You need look no further than our own Total Party Kill podcast to see my love of role-playing games and adventures and like everybody, I’ve got a to-do list that often seems as long as a half-giant’s arm.

So I’ve been using Habitica for a month or so now, not only to track my normal everyday to-do items, but also to try and encourage myself to simply do certain things more often. In addition to your one-off to-do items and recurring items, Habitica also lets you create “habits.” They’re not to dos, precisely, but more like sliding scales that you shift slightly everyday that you do them. So, for example, some of the habits I’ve got included reading more, walking 30 minutes a day, eating better, and so on.

Every time you complete items or reinforce habits, you get experience and gold. Don’t complete your items? Your character may lose some health—especially if you’re engaged in a dangerous quest.1

Yes, quests! There are quests! Habitica’s other joy is letting you party up with friends and take on quests, knocking off your items to damage a larger monster and potentially accruing new items along the way. (My personal favorite: eggs that you can hatch into pets, then feed until they become large enough to ride.) Over time you level up, and once you hit a certain threshold you can even change classes—everybody starts as a warrior—and get access to new gear.

Overall, I really enjoy Habitica, though I’ve got a few minor complaints. For one, it’s sometimes hard to figure out if something should be a daily to-do or a habit, and what the relative benefits or disadvantages are. That’s in part because, despite pop-up windows that try and explain what’s going on when you load each section of the app for the first time, some mechanics aren’t explained well. (I didn’t know, for example, that you can essentially hide in the inn if your health is running low.) And it unfortunately doesn’t integrate with iOS’s Reminders, so you can’t use Siri to add items to your Habitica list.

The app and service are free, though there are of course in-app purchases which let you buy gems that you can then turn into in-game items that you otherwise have to generally wait to get from random drops.

If your run-of-the-mill to-do app simply isn’t cutting it anymore and you’re a fan of the RPG genre, Habitica might very well be just what you need to get back on the warhorse.


  1. My character has not perished yet, but he has come darn close a couple of times.  ↩

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


Linked by Jason Snell

App rot

If you’re not a developer, you might not care about the news that Facebook is shutting down the cloud API service that it bought in 2013. Developers loved it because, as Allen Pike wrote, developers love shortcuts.

As a user, you might care about Parse because an app you use might break when it dies. As Marco Arment writes:

It’ll be problematic when possibly hundreds of thousands of iOS apps just stop working in a year because their developers have long since moved on, or their contracts expired, or they can’t afford to spend time on a significant update. One of the most damaging side effects of unhealthy App Store economics is that developers have little motivation or resources to keep apps updated.

There is nothing worse as a technology user than having a key part of your workflow just stop working, or be “sunsetted”, or be updated into something that no longer does what you need it to do. I still remember the feeling when my VideoGuide1 just stopped working one day, with a cold, unfeeling notice saying the service had been turned off and would no longer function.

It’s a terrible feeling, especially when there’s no warning. If you’re using an app that relies on Parse and isn’t going to be updated, you may never receive that warning. And that’s going to be rotten.


  1. A predecessor to the DVR; it’s a long story. ↩


By Jason Snell

How Screen Sharing saved my bacon

I visited my mother in Arizona for a few days last week, so I rushed to get a bunch of work done before I went. The project files associated with my Total Party Kill podcast are extremely large, so I decided to edit the next episode before I left rather than cramming those files into the small amount of free space on my MacBook Air and doing that work in the desert.

I edited, exported, and uploaded the episode, setting it to launch during the middle of the following week. Fast forward several days: I’m in Arizona, but my Twitter app is filling up with people who have listened to the new episode and discovered that it becomes a bunch of pops and whistles about 40 minutes in.

I’m a bit mystified about how this could happen—everything sounded fine and I’ve never had an export error like this before. But I check the file, and indeed, the last 30 minutes is just noise. The problem is, I’m in Arizona and my project file—all 20 GB of it—is back in California.

Fortunately, I store all my projects on my home server, which recently got a storage upgrade to make it much more usable. And my home server is accessible over the Internet via the built-in Screen Sharing app.

So I connected to my home server via Screen Sharing and used the app to transfer the full-quality audio file of the podcast, hoping that what had happened was an encoding error. A few minutes later: nope! This was apparently an export failure on the part of Logic Pro X. I really didn’t want to copy 20 GB of data over the Internet in order to fix this problem.

Instead, I used Screen Sharing to open the App Store app on the Mac mini and install Logic Pro X. Then I launched Logic, opened the project, and re-exported the last 35 minutes of audio to an Apple Lossless audio file. I copied that file over to my MacBook Air via Screen Sharing, replaced the bad audio in the original file, re-exported and uploaded, and the problem was solved. And all without transferring 20 GB of project data.

This worked because I had a Mac mini server running, with the right ports (3283, 5900, and 5988) open on my router to allow me to connect to the server.

Could I have done all of this with only my iPad Pro? (I had to bring my MacBook Air with me on the trip because there was no good way for me to record Clockwise and Upgrade with just the iPad Pro, so it wasn’t an issue this time.) In thinking about it, it would have been a more circuitous process, but it probably would’ve worked. I would have used Screens to remote-control my Macs from the iPad, used Dropbox to transfer the old and new files, and probably patched the two audio files together with Ferrite Recording Studio1. It would’ve been trickier than using the Mac, but it would’ve been doable.


  1. I edited this past weekend’s episode of The Incomparable on the iPad Pro using Ferrite, marking the third time I’ve edited an entire podcast with that app. ↩


Podcast

Upgrade #74: Tablet Incorporated

Upgrade

This week on Upgrade, Jason and Myke Hurley use Apple’s quarterly results as a jumping-off point to discuss Apple’s product philosophy, the overall strength of the iPhone, and Apple’s missed opportunities with the iPad.


By Jason Snell

Copy files back into a Photos for Mac library

Longtime Mac writer Ted Landau posted this on Twitter earlier today, and since I wrote the book on Photos for Mac, I was able to help him out:

By default, every image you import into Photos from your hard drive is copied into the Photos library. You can throw away the file that’s out on your desktop if you like, because a copy of it now resides inside the Photos library package. But some people want more control over their photos, preferring to organize their image files themselves, in the Finder. For those people, Apple offers a setting in Photos Preferences: “Copy items to the Photos library.” If you uncheck that box, any image you copy into Photos will not be copied into the library package. If you delete the photo later, Photos won’t be able to do anything to bring it back.

Accidentally unchecking that box can lead to some terrible consequences—like you deleting your photos without realizing you have no backup! Fortunately, in Ted’s case the photos still existed—but he had moved them to an external volume. Ted’s question then, was twofold: Can he do something so that those images are entirely copied into his Photos library, and what happens if he’s moved the image files in the meantime?

A photo not stored in the Library (left) and one with a missing source file (right).

First off, it’s worth noting that Photos displays a special icon on any photo that hasn’t been copied into its library: In the bottom-left corner of a thumbnail, it will display an image of a square with an arrow. (If it can’t find the source image, this becomes a yellow alert symbol with an arrow.) You can toggle this icon on and off via the View: Metadata: Referenced File command.)

Fortunately for Ted, Photos does include a command that will find all the source image files and copy them into the library. To perform this task, open Photos and select the photos you’d like the app to copy, then choose File: Consolidate. If you haven’t moved the files anywhere, once this task is completed your Photos library will be whole again.

Ted moved his items to a different hard drive, but if Photos can’t find a certain photo in its original location, it will ask you to pick a folder to search in. Ted was able to point Photos at his alternate disk, and then the app was able to import all of those files.

So if you ever regret leaving items outside of your Photos library, you can import them later with the Consolidate command. But for most people, it’s a better idea to leave the “Copy items to the Photos library” preference checked, now and forever.

[If you want more tips about Photos, check out my book, Photos for Mac: A Take Control Crash Course.]

[Don't miss all our Photos for Mac coverage.]


Podcast

Liftoff #13: It’s Important to Have a Dryer Sheet

Liftoff

This week on the Liftoff podcast, Jason and Stephen Hackett catch up on Space X and Blue Origin news, wish Opportunity a happy 12th birthday, and reflect on the 30th anniversary of the Challenger disaster.