Once every three months, I have the self-inflicted privilege of producing a complete text transcript of Apple’s post-results conference call with a gaggle of financial analysts. I used to type it all out by hand, but these days I use an automated transcription service and just edit that so that it makes sense.
But this week, something strange happened. A whole portion of the call, which I never heard with my own ears, somehow ended up in the transcript. Did it happen after the rest of the world dropped off the line? Was a microphone left on? Did the automated transcription pick up words that were inaudible to human ears? I don’t know how it happened, but the results are downright unbelievable:
Operator: All righty, here’s Carol Manalist from Research Group.
Carol Manalist: Tim, Luca, congratulations on the big quarter. I was wondering, could you give any more detail on which iPhone models are the most popular?…
After several years of very slowly inching my way toward the precipice, it all happened in a hurry this summer: A discovery that I preferred to watch shows via Apple TV apps, even if they were also available on my TiVo. The realization that other than “Jeopardy!” and live sports, everything I watched was streaming. Wanting to simplify my TV (and remote control) setup when a TiVo was stuck in the middle of it all.
Finally, I broke down and did the math: I could replace my Xfinity cable TV and internet with AT&T gigabit fiber internet and an over-the-top TV service. And, after swapping a few streaming service freebies (Comcast gave me Peacock, AT&T gives me HBO Max), I’d get faster internet and everything running on the Apple TV—for $65 less every month.
For TV—because, yes, I’m not giving up live sports—I went with Fubo TV. I’ve already got a long, long, long list of ways the Fubo TV app could be improved—and I am going to test drive YouTube TV, which lacks a single channel that would’ve made it my choice over Fubo—but it will serve my baseball and football and “Jeopardy!” needs just fine.
In truth, even after consulting the excellent site Suppose, which lets you compare over-the-top TV services, I was disappointed to find that essentially no service offered all the channels I wanted.1 However, Fubo offered everything but TBS, which broadcasts baseball playoff games in October. So for one month, I’ll also subscribe to Sling Blue, just to get TBS, and then I’ll turn it off when the playoffs are over. Annoying, but also sort of freeing.
After years of dreaming about fiber being available in my neighborhood, the installation itself was easy. The hard part was adapting my home network to the new fiber gateway. While AT&T’s included Arris router is nifty—the optical terminal is built in, so it’s a single box—it is like every other cable box in wanting to provide firewall, routing, and wi-fi. There was no way the AT&T router’s wi-fi was going to cover my whole house the way that my two Eero boxes do, so I didn’t need its wi-fi. But I was willing to give it a try as my router.
So I switched my Eero into bridge mode, and used the AT&T box’s web interface to set up port forwarding to my server. It all worked pretty well, with one fatal exception: lack of support for an esoteric feature called “hairpin NAT.” I run a server at my house, and want it to be accessible both inside and outside my network. Hairpin NAT is a feature that realizes when you are trying to connect to an internet server (let’s call it snell.zone) that’s inside your network, and routes your outbound request back to the right place. With it, my scripts and widgets that reference snell.zone work everywhere. Without it, they only work outside my home network.
So I decided to go back to the network setup I was using with Comcast’s router—no wi-fi, no routing, just a dumb pass-through to the Eero, which would do all the routing. I set it up using the AT&T router’s clever Passthrough mode, and… everything failed. Couldn’t load a single thing inside the house.
After an hour of pulling my hair out and trying any number of different network configurations, I finally realized what the problem was: While my Eero router was running my entire network and piping it through the AT&T router, it was relying on the AT&T router for a bunch of its network information, including DNS server addresses. While Comcast’s router was happy to tell Eero the addresses of Comcast’s servers, AT&T’s router prefers to list itself as the DNS server of record. The result: all the devices on my network tried to connect to a server that they couldn’t actually see, because the Eero stood in the way. Once I realized this, I entered AT&T’s actual DNS server addresses in Eero’s settings and rebooted, and everything fell into place.
What I’m saying is, networking is dumb.
In any event, now everything is working, our entertainment flows only out of apps on our Apple TV, and things are good. While I’m going to keep my eye on the over-the-top competition, Fubo TV gets the job done—at least well enough to make me confident in calling Comcast today and canceling my account. It’s the end—I’ll miss you most of all, TiVo!—but the moment has been prepared for. I’m ready for the future.
Locals, NBC Sports Bay Area, NFL Red Zone, and Pac-12 Networks were the big ones. ↩
Among the things Wall Street likes are growth—always growth—and certainty. This past year has provided a lot of uncertainty, both in life and in business. And while Apple has done well over the last year—its latest financial results included $81 billion in revenue, the best third quarter in the company’s history—it’s also been uncertain about its future.
Once again, Apple’s executives have declined to forecast the company’s results for the next quarter. However, they were willing to predict that it would see “very strong double-digit year-over-year revenue growth” that will be lower than this quarter’s year-over-year growth rate of 36 percent. (That’s actually some guidance, albeit of the broad variety; it means next quarter’s revenue will be between $71B and $88B.) But overall uncertainty remains, about the progression of the COVID pandemic, about foreign exchange headwinds, about increased shipping costs, and most notably about whether Apple will be able to get enough component parts to make iPhones as iPhone season approaches.
Here are some of the more interesting things that I noted in Tuesday’s results and the post-results conference call that Apple CEO Tim Cook and Apple CFO Luca Maestri hold with a bunch of Wall Street analyst types.
In a surprise twist, a macOS Monterey feature previously advertised as being available only on M1 Macs will now be available on Intel Macs as well.
The feature, Live Text, uses the Neural Engine on Apple-designed processors to convert text in images into text you can select and copy. But in the just-released fourth beta of macOS Monterey, Live Text has also been enabled on Intel Macs.
My understanding is that on Intel Macs, Apple is using GPU-based processing power to do the analysis of the images. Unlike iPhones and iPads, which are commonly used to take pictures which might immediately need to be analyzed for Live Text, on the Mac there’s a little more leeway for slightly less-than-instantaneous processing of text.
That said, my understanding is that Live Text—on M1 or Intel—is never intended to present any sign that you need to wait while text is being processed. The feature should be identical on both architectures.
It seems likely that this feature was original targeted for both architectures, and then disabled on Intel Macs in early betas because it just wasn’t good enough to release. Its appearance in this beta is perhaps a positive sign that Apple isn’t rushing Intel Macs into obsolescense.
(Live Text also gets my vote for this OS update cycle’s best stealth feature. It doesn’t seem like much when it’s described, but when you use a device with Live Text enabled, it changes how you see and interact with images. It’s instantly useful in numerous contexts.)
This week Myke and Jason join Netflix in pretending to be gamers while cable TV channels pretend to be streaming services. We also ponder a smarter Apple display, and Apple has designs on fancy Hollywood real estate. And Myke goes to the Streaming Services as we discuss “Loki” and the first episode of “Ted Lasso.”
Messages is likely the most used app on Apple’s platforms—especially iOS—and with our inability over the past year and a half to meet up with people in person, it’s probably become more popular.
iMessage, the Apple-created system that powers the modern day Messages app, is coming up on its tenth birthday this fall and it’s had quite the decade. In 2016, Apple said users sent roughly 200,000 iMessages per second; it’s not hard to imagine that, five years later, in a world more technologically connected than ever, that number has grown immensely.
But for all of the popularity of iMessage, and the company’s repeated addition of new features and capabilities, there are some places where Apple’s messaging system remains somewhat frustrating or even lackluster. For obvious reasons, Apple has a lot of vested interest in keeping the program stable and simple, and it can’t implement every possible feature, but a few pop out as things that can be improved, or even just more useful.
Chaoji Li, developer of iDOS reports that the app has fallen afoul of Apple’s prohibition on executed code, and will probably be removed from the App Store (though it’s still available as of this writing):
The bottom line is that I can not bring myself to cut the critical functionalities of iDOS2 in order to be compliant with Apple’s policy. That would be a betrayal to all the users that have purchased this app specifically for those features. Existing users should still be able to download this app in your purchased history, however, if someday you can’t and the appstore [sic] says “removed by developer”, it’s definitely not my doing.
This is a damn shame and points, once again, to the flaws in Apple’s one-size-fits-all rulemaking. As the developer points out, iDOS runs code inside an emulation environment within the app sandbox, meaning that it’s not really a security risk. While you might be able to argue that it provides the opportunity to load objectionable content outside of the purview of the App Store…we’re talking DOS here, people. I don’t expect you’re going to find a lot of kids trawling the Internet to find an old version of Leisure Suit Larry to install. After they learn how to use DOS.1
Apple also points out that this could allow for the loading of unlicensed material that circumvents App Review, which, fair, I suppose, but again, we’re talking software that is decades old, most of which is probably classified as abandonware.
iDOS is an impressive app: heck, you can use it to install Windows 3.1 on an iPad. Wild! Apple should be in the position of celebrating the resourcefulness of its developers, not punishing them for pushing the limits of the platform.
Over the last few years, Apple has been advancing the narrative that the iPad is just as good as a traditional computer2, but if Apple is going to continue to dictate the boundaries of its capabilities by arbitrarily deciding what software can and can’t do on the platform, the truth is simple: this platform, good as it is, will never be as good as a computer. And Apple will have no one to blame but itself.
DOS is by far the more objectionable content, amirite? ↩
Last year, I wrote about how I built a bunch of scripts to notify me about my local air quality. Well, it’s summer again, and wildfires are back—and with wildfires comes polluting wildfire smoke.
It can be really useful to get a quick read on the outdoor air quality, especially if you’re considering whether it’s safe to go for a run or even open a window. Fortunately, in the intervening year a few apps have arrived on the scene to make it easier to do just that.
Breathable is an iOS app that creates a widget you can place on your iPhone or iPad. The widget is customizable via the app, including an option to display an emoji instead of an AQI number. That’s actually smart—it’s so easy to focus on the number, but it’s the gross quality level that’s important, not the specific number.…
When Apple rolled out previews of the next versions of macOS, iOS, and iPadOS back in June, the most controversial aspect was the dramatic redesign the company gave to the Safari web browser. The new design sidelined much of the app’s user interface, choosing instead to prioritize web pages. And criticism has been fierce.
The good news is, based on the most recent preview releases of macOS, Apple is treating that Safari design more like a first draft than a final edition. Apple may not be going back to the drawing board with Safari 15, but it seems to be committed to listening to the criticism and making changes before the new design arrives on everyone’s devices this fall.
Safari isn’t just another app. I would argue that the web browser is the single most important app on just about any device, and on Apple’s devices, Safari reigns supreme. Sure, you can run other web browsers, but Apple would very much prefer all its users stick to Safari and would view any abandonment as a major embarrassment. The stakes are high.
With the latest beta releases, Safari on macOS has been left in a state that clearly can’t be the finished product—it’s a sign that Apple wants to show progress while still needing time to undo or tweak what it has done. On iPadOS, changes are in the works, but not visible yet. And on iOS, the new design feels a bit more entrenched but also still clearly in flux.
A few big stories in the news over the weekend disclosed the existence of a piece of spyware called Pegasus, developed by NSO Group, which has hacked a number of phones—including iPhones—belonging to journalists, politicians, activists, and so on. It’s frightening stuff, but should you be concerned?
I downloaded and tried out the Mobile Verification Toolkit so you don’t have to and, well, it’s definitely not user friendly. I had to install some command line updates via Homebrew, which took a little bit of trial and error after the instructions proved to not be exactly correct for my system, then had to make a decrypted copy of my iPhone backup, plus had to make sure I’d downloaded the correct definitions file to compare it to.
In the end, it popped up warnings about a couple dozen cases where my web browsing in Safari had been redirected, all of which appeared to be innocuous (things like being redirected from strw.rs to starwars.com), and one warning of a “known malicious file” that appeared to be a Crash Reporter preference file.1
That’s not surprising to me, given that even with the widespread nature of this spyware, since, again, it seems to generally be of concern to those who are high-profile opponents of hostile regimes or companies. The average user is probably not going to be the target of very expensive and resource-intensive attacks like these.
However, it should still be of some concern that spyware now exists which can use previously unknown exploits to compromise a device without requiring users to take any action. That’s a new level of capability that, for obvious reasons, makes it difficult to take steps to protect yourself: you can’t even avoid opening suspicious links, for example.
Phones remain attractive targets, given the amount of personal data we keep on them, so there’s going to be more and more money and resources poured into finding ways to compromise them. Here’s hoping the companies that make them can keep up.
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at email@example.com. His latest novel, The Aleph Extraction, is out now and available in fine book stores everywhere, so be sure to pick up a copy.]
It’s funny how that story has evolved since I first posted it. In 2017 the answer was “Wow, it’s complicated, no choice is really great.” In 2019 it was “Now that it’s Retina, the MacBook Air is probably the choice despite the keyboard.”
In both games, you’re a sandsurfer endlessly sliding down mountainsides, doing backflips and grinding on cables and ruins for points while collecting coins and other items hidden along your path. Yes, it’s an “endless runner” of a sort—but what makes it special is its relatively simple mechanic and its gorgeous graphics and music, which end up making the game much more peaceful and calming than you’d expect.
And let me put my cards on the table: Alto’s Odyssey is my favorite iOS game ever.
Alto’s Odyssey: The Lost City is the original brought to a new audience via Apple Arcade—but with a new biome, featuring new graphics, music, and challenges. If you’re a newbie to Alto’s Odyssey, you can play the entire game from the beginning and get the whole experience. If you’re a veteran like me, there’s a button you can tap in the app’s settings to import all of your information from Alto’s Odyssey, letting you concentrate on the added content and challenges of the new game.
It’s still great. As a fan of the PlayStation game Journey (available on iOS, by the way), I’m amused by just how many homages to that game are contained within Alto’s Odyssey. The music and graphics in the original game were immaculate, but The Lost City just adds more.
When you arrive at the Lost City biome—which requires you to find ten map fragments scattered across the sands—you’ll see new background images, be able to interact with a few new object types, and of course the music will shift, too. Rather than add on to the old game’s existing level system, Team Alto has also introduced a new set of challenges, which you pick up as you explore. In a new mechanic, you can only “arm” a single challenge at any time, so there’s a single task you are trying to accomplish as you slide, flip, and grind.
And of course, there’s still Zen Mode, which lets you enjoy the sound and sights of this beautiful game without having to worry about scores or the game ending when you crash. I find it therapeutic. I wish more games would embrace the “you can’t lose, we’re just here to have a good time” ethos in more places.
When I completed my final tasks on Alto’s Odyssey, it was a bittersweet ending: I had conquered the game, but it also felt like a goodbye to something I loved. I’ve revisited the game a few times over the last couple of years, usually in Zen mode. Discovering The Lost City has given me a reason to revisit an old favorite, and I’m so glad I did.
And I’m also glad that Apple and Team Alto found a way to bring this game—plus a little bit extra—to a new audience. If you’ve got Apple Arcade, drop everything and get to the sandy slopes of Alto’s Odyssey: The Lost City.
Team Alto is a collaboration between development studios Snowman and Land & Sea. ↩