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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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The very first time Apple made a laptop that compromised in numerous ways, all in the question of being as thin and light as possible.

Tired of paying fees to platform owners, Epic Games goes to court

Epic Games, the makers of the popular game Fortnite, doesn’t appreciate that mobile platform owners—we’re talking Apple and Google—demand that if you use their app stores, you have to pay them 30% of digital sales, which in Epic Games’s case, is basically 30% of everything it makes.

It hated Google’s policies so much that it initially released Fortnite for Android via sideloading only, before begrudgingly giving in a year and a half later and agreeing to Google’s terms to get on Google Play.

I’ll say this for them—they’re consistent. On Thursday Epic turned on a new Fortnite feature and trumpeted it in a press release—it was bringing direct purchase of digital goods to its iOS and Google Play apps, and at substantial discounts to buying through the purchase methods offered by Apple and Google.

Of course, this is a violation of the terms of both app stores, and Epic knew it would get shut down on both platforms. Which it did. But no worries—it had a video mocking Apple for the decision ready to drop, and a lawsuit ready to be filed.

This is not the usual story of a developer accidentally stepping into a confusing App Store policy, or even of a developer gently pushing the limits of the App store rules only to be rebuked. I doubt Epic Games has any expectation that they’ll be able to use this publicity as leverage to get Apple and Google to agree to different payment terms. That ship has sailed. What Epic Games wants to do is go to war with Apple and Google—in both actual courts and, more importantly, in the court of public opinion.

What Epic Games seems to want is for it to be illegal for platform owners to force software developers through a single commerce engine, from which the platform owners skim a percentage of the take. Epic’s behavior on Android suggests that it’s not really advocating for the freedom to sideload its app on iOS—because it knows that it would likely be an even worse user experience than what it found on Android. Epic wants the freedom to install its own sales engine in its app and keep all the money.

Epic also knows that this is all happening at a time where stories of large tech companies using their power to increase their control and profitability are breaking on a regular basis. Legislators and regulators have threatened to investigate and punish big tech companies, including Apple and Google. This is another log on the fire.

How this will end is anyone’s guess. It will be interesting to see how the tech giants play this. I really do believe that, if left to its own devices, Apple would simply shrug and walk away, leaving Epic unable to reach people who want to play Fortnite on an iPhone or iPad. But surely Apple is also considering the potential threat of government intervention in its business. If I were at Apple, I would rate that threat as one of the top two existential threats to Apple. (The other is Apple’s reliance on China both as a place to sell products and as its manufacturing hub, given the deteriorating relationship between it and the U.S.)

This goes beyond arguing over money. Should Apple be allowed to keep Microsoft’s game-streaming service off its platforms? Should the maker of any computing platform be able to set itself up as the arbiter of what software and services can run on it? Right now, companies have a great deal of latitude in this area—which is why the Mac has a free and open software market and the iPad and iPhone don’t.

My inclination is that Apple should compete on the merits of its features, rather than winning because it’s the only option. Apple’s in-app purchase system will be simpler, more convenient, and more familiar to most users of its platforms. Add in Sign In With Apple and Apple Pay and things could become even more frictionless. If Apple is afraid that video-game-streaming services threaten the future of games in the App Store, I can relate—but if that’s truly the future of gaming, Apple won’t prevent it from coming true by banning the future from its store. It’ll just end up being behind the times.

But this is a complicated, multi-faceted issue. Every time I try to simplify it, it gets more unwieldy. In the end, Apple can do what it wants—but it risks losing control of its platform if governments decide that what it’s doing needs to change.

By Dan Moren

Service Station: Headspace

It’s kind of tough out there right now, so if you’ve been finding it challenging to get through the days and weeks with some semblance of normalcy, you’re not alone. For my part, I’ve been trying to find a way to disconnect from the endless stresses and anxieties of the modern world, just to make sure I’ve got enough energy to take care of myself. One tool I’ve started using that’s actually been pretty helpful in this regard is the meditation app and service Headspace.

Meditation isn’t something that I ever thought I would be into, but I’ve found that doing even a tiny bit has been useful in dealing with what’s going on. In the past, I’ve often turned to the Apple Watch’s built in Breathe app for moments where I needed to step back from something particularly stressful—as someone with little to no experience in meditation, it was handy to have a framework to adhere to, and I appreciated that the results often seemed tangible.…

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Bloomberg: Apple service bundle on tap for this fall

Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman says that Apple may be ready to unleash a bundle of subscriptions alongside the iPhone this fall:

There will be different tiers, according to the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private plans. A basic package will include Apple Music and Apple TV+, while a more expensive variation will have those two services and the Apple Arcade gaming service. The next tier will add Apple News+, followed by a pricier bundle with extra iCloud storage for files and photos.

Gurman’s careful to note that the bundle plans may change—which should go without saying, given that this is still a few months off. But the proposed structure here is interesting. Layering TV+ and Music at the base makes sense on the face of it: they’re both media services and Apple has a ton of control over how it sells TV+ (witness the free year that it offered along with device purchases starting last fall). Music is also probably one of the company’s strongest both in terms of paid subscribers and in terms of how it structures its deals with content providers.

Arcade makes sense as an add-on. After an initial burst of enthusiasm, its adoption seems to have slowed somewhat, which jibes with recent reports that Apple was reconsidering its strategy. And News+ has been glacial in its pick-up by both consumers and news providers alike.

Which leaves us with iCloud, thrown in there at the end with a shrug. It’s perhaps the least interesting of Apple’s services, but also among the most in demand, thanks in no small part to the measly 5GB of standard storage the company continues to offer for free. By putting that at the high end of the pay list, users who want that storage may be convinced to fork over more money with the philosophy that at least they get a bunch of stuff thrown in (even if it’s stuff they don’t want).

Or, as one of the biggest and catchiest lies in capitalism has always put forth: “the more you spend, the more you save.”1

One additional tidbit that Gurman mentions is that Apple is working on a new subscription service focused around fitness, à la offerings from Nike. Given the rebranding of the Activity app to Fitness, and Apple’s continuing interests in health, this seems utterly plausible.

The bottom line seems to be that consumers will save $2-5 a month via bundle pricing. Which isn’t nothing, especially given the amount most consumers are probably paying for their mountain of subscriptions these days, but also may not prove that attractive. The real question will be whether Apple’s services are enticing enough to convince most customers to pay for ones that they might not even want.

  1. When really it should be “the more you spend…the more you spend.” 

We return to our Apple Watch roots this week and it turns out it’s Moltz’s turn to get picked on for some reason.

This week on the 30-minute tech show that has had a little too much gluten, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Paul Kafasis and Lory Gil to discuss Microsoft and Apple argue about cloud gaming, the iOS apps we want to run on our Macs, the future—or lack thereof—of foldable phones, and whether we’d trade our Face ID in for Touch ID.

By Jason Snell for Macworld

How Apple can improve AirDrop

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nine years since Apple introduced AirDrop as a part of Mac OS X Lion and iOS 7. I consider AirDrop to be one of Apple’s best moves of the past decade. It’s a feature I have used hundreds of times and have come to rely on to quickly exchange files and other information with my own devices and with the devices used by my friends and family.

But just because AirDrop is useful doesn’t mean it couldn’t be better. In fact, I would argue that it’s been largely ignored the last few years, and could stand some major upgrades that would benefit users of iPhones, iPads, and Macs alike.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

‘Blogging from Space’

David Sparks wrote an article in VR:

I recently tried out a new Oculus app that is intriguing. The app is called Immersed, and it is quite a trip. With the app on your Oculus Quest and the host software loaded on your Mac, you can have your Mac’s monitor appear in virtual space. They have a lot of options ranging from an alpine cabin, to a “productivity cave”, to a starship. I am currently orbiting the planet Earth on a starship while I compose this blog post. We just flew over Mexico.

This is weird and I’m not sure it makes any sense, but it sure is an interesting application of VR tech.

By Dan Moren

Automate This: Reading comics on the regular

As a person of routine, part of my morning regimen for the last several decades is settling down with my morning cup of tea and reading some comic strips. As a kid, I’d dig through the newspaper to find the funny pages, and the full-color Sunday section was the highlight of the week.

But for the past twenty years or so, my comic strip reading has been all digital; I’ve even added a few webcomics into the mix over time.1 At some point in the dim and misty past, I put all of my comics into a folder in my browser’s bookmark bar; every morning, I would click (or later tap) that folder and all my comics would open in tabs.

As systems go, it’s fine. But it presents two challenges: first, not every comic I read updates on the same schedule. Some are seven-day affairs, like reruns of “Calvin & Hobbes” and “Doonesbury.” Others update only on weekdays. Some are just on Sundays. Others solely on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Which meant that most days I knew I would just be automatically closing some of those tabs.

In and of itself, I could handle the sheer onerous nature of having to close some tabs—the horror!—but there was another more bothersome annoyance. Many of the comics I read are served up through one of the major comics syndicate websites, GoComics. Several years ago, the site changed its interface so that when you go to the main landing page for a comic—say, again, Calvin & Hobbes—all you would see is a crop of the day’s comic, which you would then have to click to get to the full comic. That meant every comic I read on that site now required an extra, obnoxious step.

This page basically seems to designed to force you to look at a bunch of ads before getting to the content you want (and it runs half the content in the bargain!)

Boy, this sounds like a job for automation, if there ever was one.

A few weeks back, I finally had the impetus to create a shortcut to streamline this process. After mucking with it on and off during various beta updates, I finally ended up with a version that works pretty well and is easily customizable, meaning I can share it with people.

The whole process ended up being more complicated than I initially thought, for a few reasons. First, though I’ve spent more time in Shortcuts recently, I’m still in a scenario of having to fit my programming knowledge (derived mainly from my time as a PHP developer) into the available receptacle (creating Shortcuts), which is, at times, very much a round-peg, square-hole situation.2 Second, some of the iOS 14 beta releases had glitches that interfered with Shortcuts, meaning I had to set the shortcut aside until the next release came along.

But what I ultiamtely ended up with is this shortcut: It takes a list of comics, each of which has an associated schedule and a URL. When it’s launched, it checks to see which of the comics have the current day in their regular schedule, then compiles a list which it opens in tabs in Safari. And, as a bonus, if the comic in question is hosted on GoComics, it automatically edits the URL so that you’re taken directly to the full comic, rather than making you click through.3

Perhaps nobody else in the world has this particular habit. Who knows? But maybe someone out there will get something out of this shortcut. If so, you can download it at the link above and may it increase your comic reading habits a thousandfold.

  1. The highlight of that period was probably about 20 years ago, and I’ve given up on all but a few. 
  2. Figuring out how to loop through a multi-dimensional dictionary in Shortcuts almost broke my brain, especially as this is something I know how to do in PHP and could implement almost without thinking about it. 
  3. If I were being perhaps a little more…subversive, I would be scraping for just the comic images on the page. But that seems to take this to a different level. 

[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.]

Jason reviews the new iMac (with nano-texture display) and the public beta release of macOS Big Sur. Myke thinks Apple’s making a big mistake in keeping game streaming services off of its platforms. And in Upstream, the transformation of the film industry continues at a rapid pace.

PowerBook Duo Photos by Stephen Hackett.

By Jason Snell

20 Macs for 2020: #19 – PowerBook Duo

Most of Apple’s early laptops were, like today’s MacBooks, complete Macs. The premise was: “Let’s engineer a Mac that’s like the one on your desk, but put it in a single package with screen, keyboard, pointing device, and battery.” My first laptop was a PowerBook 160 and it did everything my old Mac SE did (and much, much more).

The PowerBook Duo was different. It wasn’t trying to be the Mac on your desk.

Continue reading “20 Macs for 2020: #19 – PowerBook Duo”…

By Dan Moren for Macworld

What the iMac refresh can tell us about Apple’s future products

August tends to be right in the middle of the summer doldrums, the time when everybody goes on vacation and thus news—including tech announcements—are few and far between. Then again, 2020 isn’t your average year, so perhaps it’s not a shock that this week saw a departure from the norm with Apple announcing a surprisingly substantial update to the iMac.

My colleague Jason Snell has already expounded upon what the revamp to Apple’s popular desktop means for the future of that product, but I think it’s worth it to take a moment and see what we can extrapolate from this update and learn about the future of Apple’s other devices. Apple is no stranger to introducing updates in one device that eventually migrate to the rest of its lineup, even from the Mac to the iPhone and iPad and vice versa, and this iMac update is certainly no exception.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

August 7, 2020

In the summer I love to kick back with an ice-cold beta. Also, Microsoft’s in the news for weird reasons.

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The classic “cheese grater” design of the Power Mac G5 influences the design of the modern Mac Pro, and also represents (in the worst way) the last time Apple embarked on a chip transition.

Apple, Microsoft spar over cloud gaming against antitrust backdrop

Pursuant to the announcement earlier this week that Microsoft would not be bringing its xCloud game streaming service to iOS, the two companies have exchanged fire over where the blame lies. First, Apple lashed out, providing a statement to several outlets, including The Verge, confirming that xCloud violates the App Store guidelines:

The App Store was created to be a safe and trusted place for customers to discover and download apps, and a great business opportunity for all developers. Before they go on our store, all apps are reviewed against the same set of guidelines that are intended to protect customers and provide a fair and level playing field to developers.

Our customers enjoy great apps and games from millions of developers, and gaming services can absolutely launch on the App Store as long as they follow the same set of guidelines applicable to all developers, including submitting games individually for review, and appearing in charts and search. In addition to the App Store, developers can choose to reach all iPhone and iPad users over the web through Safari and other browsers on the App Store.

There’s a lot to unpack there, but let’s just start by noting that the requirement to vet all individual games is, let me be frank, a load of hooey. Apple doesn’t review all the titles available on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, or any of the myriad of streaming services that have apps on the App Store. Nor does it check every book title available on the Kindle, Nook, or Kobo apps. But we’ll get back to that in a moment.

Microsoft didn’t take long to shoot back, issuing its own statement to several publications, including Gizmodo:

“Our testing period for the Project xCloud preview app for iOS has expired. Unfortunately, we do not have a path to bring our vision of cloud gaming with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate to gamers on iOS via the Apple App Store. Apple stands alone as the only general purpose platform to deny consumers from cloud gaming and game subscription services like Xbox Game Pass. And it consistently treats gaming apps differently, applying more lenient rules to non-gaming apps even when they include interactive content. All games available in the Xbox Game Pass catalog are rated for content by independent industry ratings bodies such as the ESRB and regional equivalents. We are committed to finding a path to bring cloud gaming with Xbox Game Pass Ultimate to the iOS platform. We believe that the customer should be at the heart of the gaming experience and gamers tell us they want to play, connect and share anywhere, no matter where they are. We agree.”

So, Microsoft has a number of good points here. First, that all of its games are already reviewed and issued content ratings by the ESRB, an industry organization that’s essentially the MPAA for games. Second, that Apple does seem to treat gaming apps differently from other streaming apps, as I noted above.

This isn’t the first time recently that Microsoft—and I get it, it’s rich, Microsoft—has attacked Apple because of anticompetitive behavior. Ahead of the antitrust hearings in Washington last week, Microsoft had already expressed concern about Apple’s position with the App Store. It’s entirely possible Microsoft knew this particular fight was brewing, but it also seems as though Redmond had already run afoul of App Store restrictions with other products, like Office.

All of this boils down to things not looking great for Apple and the App Store. Cupertino has doubled down on its defenses, with Tim Cook insisting that it treats everybody the same, but the best you can say for that is that it’s an Obi-Wan Kenobi-style equivocation about it being true from a certain point of view.

As Apple has become the most valuable company in the world, it’s increasingly clear that its biggest threat is itself. Throw out whatever cliché axiom you prefer—power corrupts, or the road to hell being paved with good intentions—but Apple certainly seems to increasingly have become one of those entities that will go to any lengths to protect its people, even if that means verging into the authoritarian.

Update: I no sooner hit publish on this piece than I saw this story about Apple forcing the Facebook Gaming app to launch with no games in it, due to App Store rules. Certainly provides more ammunition for Microsoft’s argument that Apple treats games differently. Moreover, this seems to look even more transparently bad from a competitive standpoint, as Apple Arcade clearly benefits from these moves.

By Jason Snell

First Look: macOS Big Sur Public Beta

So here we are, at the end of OS X. Two decades ago Apple parked the sixteen-year-old Classic Mac OS and leaped to version 10.0, but four years ago the company rebranded the software that drives the Mac as macOS, and the writing was on the wall. And now in 2020 it’s macOS Big Sur, version 11.0. The name is an extension of Apple’s use of California places to brand its Mac releases, but the version number is the real story. The Mac OS X era is truly over. macOS Big Sur is the start of a radically new era in the Mac’s life.

With the release of the macOS Big Sur Public Beta, Apple is inviting users to get a head start on the journey that will eventually lead to Macs running Apple-designed processors and software built for iPhones and iPads alongside apps made specifically for the Mac. With huge changes to Mac hardware looming on the horizon, Apple has made the biggest design changes to macOS since the launch of Mac OS X.

Last year’s macOS Catalina felt like a release designed to settle old scores and clear the field for future advancement. It broke a lot of old software, frustrated a lot of users, and generally had the worst reputation of any macOS update in a decade. (I see you, Mac OS X Lion.) Did Apple sacrifice Catalina so that future OS updates wouldn’t be blamed for them? That’s probably a conspiracy theory too far, but I will say this: Good Cop macOS Big Sur fills me with excitement about the future of the Mac in a way Bad Cop Catalina never did.

Continue reading “First Look: macOS Big Sur Public Beta”…

By Jason Snell

2020 iMac review: The last picture show


This has got to be the end, right?

Apple has announced that it’s moving the Mac to Apple-designed processors. The design of the iMac is stale and in desperate need of reinvention—just as it was last year when Apple updated the iMac. But before the transition to Apple silicon arrives, it’s time for one last hurrah.

The 2020 revision to the 27-inch iMac adds in many (but not all) of the features of the late 2017 iMac Pro. It’s an update with some intriguing options and which addresses some of the iMac line’s most glaring weaknesses. If this is the end of the Intel Mac era, at least it’s going out with a bang.

Continue reading “2020 iMac review: The last picture show”…

Microsoft ends cloud streaming beta for iOS, preps Android-only launch

The Verge’s Tom Warren reports on the latest casualty of Apple’s App Store policies, Microsoft’s forthcoming cloud gaming system:

“Our Project xCloud preview TestFlight period has ended on iOS and we are focused on delivering cloud gaming as part of Xbox Game Pass Ultimate to Android customers beginning September 15,” says a Microsoft spokesperson in a statement to The Verge. “It’s our ambition to scale cloud gaming through Xbox Game Pass available on all devices.”

This is disappointing, to say the least. I took a look at the xCloud preview back in February and found it passable, if not amazing, but I was hopeful that its continued development would see it becoming a more refined product.

That seems not to be, at least in the short term. The Verge’s piece cites a number of App Store rules that may be standing in the way of xCloud’s launch on iOS and iPadOS, including the onerous restrictions on in-app purchase and limits on “remote desktop clients.”

It’s worth noting that Microsoft also has a console streaming option that’s distinct from xCloud; instead of streaming games from the cloud, users can stream titles from the Xbox in their house to their mobile device. But unlike the cloud gaming system, that option never even made it to a beta test for iOS/iPadOS devices (though there are third-party options that do seem to allow it).

Steam Link, Valve’s app for streaming games from PC to mobile devices, did end up available on iOS and tvOS after a year-long process, so on the one hand this doesn’t bode well for Microsoft or Xbox owners—but, on the other hand, one hopes that perhaps Apple may have learned something from that process.

Game streaming’s not going anywhere, and this only adds to the mounting pressure on the App Store, for which Apple most recently found itself brought before congress to answer questions about anticompetitive behavior. Only now, it’s not just developers who are finding themselves frustrated by the strictures in place, but consumers as well.

Apple’s AI chief on the critical nature of machine learning in the company’s products

Interesting interview (and, I think, perhaps the first major one) with Apple senior vice president for machine learning and AI strategy, John Giannandrea, along with product marketing VP Bob Borchers, by Ars Technica’s Samuel Axon. One tidbit that I hadn’t heard elsewhere: Giannandrea actually drove the development of the handwriting features in iPadOS 14:

“When I joined Apple, I was already an iPad user, and I loved the Pencil,” Giannandrea (who goes by “J.G.” to colleagues) told me. “So, I would track down the software teams and I would say, ‘Okay, where’s the machine learning team that’s working on handwriting?’ And I couldn’t find it.” It turned out the team he was looking for didn’t exist—a surprise, he said, given that machine learning is one of the best tools available for the feature today.

There’s a lot packed in here, from Apple’s feelings about on-device processing of data to the company’s view on privacy, to even the threats—or lack thereof—of machine learning and AI. Well worth a read, as this technology becomes more and more essential to Apple devices. And, as the interview points out, with Macs about to make the jump to Apple silicon, expect even more powerful machine learning-based features in macOS going forward.

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