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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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PCalc: Wherever there is an SDK, PCalc will be there. The scientific calculator for all your Apple devices. Except the Newton.

By Jason Snell

The Mac: If not Sept. 7, then when?

Was March 21 truly the swan song of Town Hall? Probably, but you never know…

So Apple has announced a media event for September 7, the traditional place where it has unveiled the newest model of iPhone. Last year Apple made all of its fall product announcements at the event, packing the product pipeline and then announcing nothing more the rest of the year.

This year, though, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman is reporting that new Macs aren’t on the agenda, and are “currently expected to be announced at a later date.”

Mac people are getting restless. With the exception of a speed-bump update to the MacBook in the spring, 2016 has been a desert. And now, with a major Apple event on the horizon, is it true that new Mac hardware may still not be on the agenda?

As much as I want to believe otherwise, I’m going to take Gurman’s report at face value. And there’s good news in there for Mac users: Gurman’s sources say new Macs are coming—his report reinforces the much-rumored update to the MacBook Pro with a “Dynamic Function Row” touchscreen replacing the traditional row of function keys.

Gurman’s report also suggests that two other product updates are in the offing, both somewhat surprising. The much-dreamed-about standalone 5K display is apparently being worked on, and there is apparently a MacBook Air update1 that will add USB-C ports.

The question then becomes, if not September 7, then when?

Apple established a long time ago that it can launch products without major media events like the one planned for September 7. It can do so in a few different ways.

One possibility, though it’s not the most likely, is a small media event. Apple has held those in the past few years. In March Apple held what was likely the last event in its on-campus Town Hall space, but it could always choose to hold another. (It’s hard to say goodbye.) The iPhone is the product that draws the big media crowds. When Apple makes it clear that it’s just announcing Mac stuff, it can get away with a much smaller invitation list.

We don’t have to look very far back for a precedent: This happened just two years ago, when Apple followed up its September event launching the iPhone 6 and announcing the Apple Watch with a mid-October event announcing updates to the iPad and iMac. The October 2010 “Back to the Mac” Town Hall event was similarly low key.

If Apple doesn’t want to go to the trouble of staging another event so quickly, no problem: It could very easily roll out a set of products with a series of media briefings. This is the most likely scenario. Over the course of a few days, Apple would invite a bunch of members of the press to Cupertino or New York and give them individual briefings about a new line of products. I’ve been in these sorts of briefings many times: You come in, sign a non-disclosure agreement, agree to an embargo time2, and go home to quickly write up your experiences with some as-yet unannounced Apple products.

I’ve seen some people say that there’s a third option, of Apple just announcing everything via press release, but I doubt that would happen with a major update to perhaps the best-selling Mac model, the MacBook Pro. At the very least, you’d think Apple would brief a small group of key journalists and seed them with products in advance of release just to build up buzz. I don’t think the question is whether they’d brief people in advance or not, but how many people—is it eight or twenty?

As someone who cares about the Mac, I kind of hope Apple does one final event in Town Hall just to give the Mac some love after this barren year. But most likely, some day in mid-October you will discover a whole bunch of stories about new Macs appear on your Twitter feed and in your browser at 10 a.m. Pacific and you’ll realize that an embargo has dropped and new Macs have been announced.

  1. If the MacBook Air is truly updated at this late date, I will have seen everything. ↩

  2. I’ve also been in the second group, who gets the briefing right after the embargo has lifted. It’s still nice to be briefed, but more fun when you’re part of the surprise. ↩

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Upgrade #104: I Really Do Want to Win


An Apple event is happening next week! So it’s time for Myke Hurley and Jason to make their predictions for the announcements in the most competitive way possible—by drafting the top 20 announcements they think we’ll see.

By Jason Snell

Apple Event: September 7

It’s long been rumored, but now it’s official: Apple is holding an event at 10 a.m. on September 7. The venue is a familiar one: San Francisco’s Bill Graham Civic Auditorum, which hosted the WWDC keynote this year and last year’s fall Apple event.

I’ll be there to give you the live play by play and some post-game analysis, too…

Linked by Dan Moren

How fair are your dice?

We’ve all1 had a sneaking suspicion that maybe our dice just aren’t fair. That natural 1 on that key skill check? Come on. Over at Ars Technica, Sebastian Anthony covers a couple of rigorous ways to check out how unbalanced your dice are:

The die rolling machine is essentially a servo attached to a small ice cream tub, hooked up to an Arduino. The servo fires, the die is rolled, and then the Arduino triggers a camera overhead that takes a photo. Some computer vision software locates the die in the photo and extracts the number on the face of the die. The number is recorded, and then the process begins again, rolling the die hundreds or thousands of times until an adequate sample size has been reached.

Finally, a good way to confirm if your buddy has been microwaving their d20s.

  1. Yes, all of us.  ↩

Jason Snell for iMore

The age of the dramatic Apple event reveal is over, and that’s okay ↦

In the early 2000s — during Apple’s spectacular rise on the back of the popularity of the iPod — what sticks out the most to me is the mystery and the theater of Apple’s product unveilings. There were still times that Apple didn’t quite pull off the reveal, like when Time magazine’s Canadian website posted an image of the chrome-arm iMac G4 the night before the Macworld Expo keynote. But for the most part, Apple’s early events were all surprise and no spoiler.

As hard as it is for me to believe, however, that era of Apple is long since past. It’s been nearly a decade since the iPhone launched. In those days we thought we were pretty web savvy, but digital media was still largely a curiosity — an add-on to traditional print, TV, radio and the like. These days, we’re all so interconnected: The prospect of a true surprise, on the order of what Apple pulled off consistently during the heyday of Steve Jobs, seems unrealistic.

Continue reading on iMore ↦

Dan Moren for Macworld

Why Apple Watch 2 doesn’t need cellular anyway ↦

Many garments were rended and much hair torn last week over a report in Bloomberg that the next version of the Apple Watch would not arrived with cellular networking.

Setting aside some of the questions about the reporting of that story and Apple’s development timelines, allow me to share with you my nuanced, carefully considered, and thoughtful reaction to that news: meh.

Look, I get it: the ability to have your Apple Watch connected no matter where you are and let it function untethered from your iPhone seems like a nice addition. And I’m sure Apple will get there some day, but there are a few reasons why I think this is much ado about nothing.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

Linked by Jason Snell

New iPhone tap-to-pay feature coming, home button going?

Mark Gurman’s scoopage is back at Bloomberg:

A future iPhone will include technology called FeliCa, a mobile tap-to-pay standard in Japan developed by Sony Corp., according to people familiar with the matter… Apple has planned to launch these new features with the next iPhone models, which the company is set to unveil in September, according to people familiar with the matter. However, the company could hold back the transit card feature to next year’s model if discussions with the Japan-based payment networks fall apart, one person said.

It’s hard to parse this, but it sounds like the Japan-compatible NFC hardware would be in the new iPhone, but the feature wouldn’t be turned on in software until later? Apple’s undoubtedly making new iPhones right now, so this is not a last-minute decision. (It’s also possible that Bloomberg’s sources are stale, though that seems less worthy of this sort of story.)

Gurman drops another tidbit in the story too:

Apple is already at work on a major redesign of the iPhone for 2017 that focuses more heavily on the display by removing the Home button, according to a person familiar with the matter.

This goes along with previous speculation that next year’s iPhone may be “all screen”, powered by a new OLED display and with no physical home button at all.

Linked by Jason Snell

Apple’s presentation at Black Hat

Ivan Krstic, Apple’s head of security engineering and architecture, presented at the Black Hat security conference earlier this month, announcing Apple’s new security bounty as a part of a much larger talk about iOS security.

If you’d like to see the nitty-gritty details of Krstic’s talk, it’s now on YouTube.

Linked by Dan Moren

The future of board games: malleable, personal, and finite

Slate has a nice piece on the changing future of board games, from things that you play endlessly to a more finite experience, and the designer who started the trend:

Designers like Rob Daviau are at the center of this change. In 2008, Daviau was working at the toy behemoth Hasbro, cranking out variations on classic games—a Harry Potter edition of Clue, Star Wars Trivial Pursuit, and countless version of Risk. One day, at a brainstorming session for Clue, he cracked a joke. “I don’t know why they keep inviting these people over,” he said. “They’re all murderers.”

I’ve been playing Daviau’s Pandemic Legacy with a few friends since earlier this year, and it’s just as good as the buzz says. Last night, during our latest session, we ended up FaceTiming one of our players who couldn’t make it, because we had to share with her the utter craziness that had just gone down.

Seafall, Daviau’s next title, might be among the most hotly anticipated games of all time. When I was at Gen Con earlier this month, one of my friends made a beeline to the booth for publisher Z-Man as soon as the doors to the exhibit hall opened, but they were already sold out of all their copies. (It doesn’t ship for real until later this fall.)

The current Pandemic Legacy is billed as “Season 1”, so I’m intrigued to see what happens when a Season 2—which they’re reportedly working on—comes down the pike.

Linked by Dan Moren

Report: Remote iPhone jailbreak in use by state-sponsored hackers

A report by Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai at Motherboard says that a remote jailbreak exploit for the iPhone was uncovered after a human rights activist in the UAE was targeted:

NSO’s malware, which the company codenamed Pegasus, is designed to quietly infect an iPhone and be able to steal and intercept all data inside of it, as well as any communication going through it.

“It basically steals all the information on your phone, it intercepts every call, it intercepts every text message, it steals all the emails, the contacts, the FaceTime calls. It also basically backdoors every communications mechanism you have on the phone,” Murray explained. “It steals all the information in the Gmail app, all the Facebook messages, all the Facebook information, your Facebook contacts, everything from Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, WeChat, Telegram—you name it.”

This is scary stuff. Motherboard says today’s release of iOS 9.3.5—which you should install post haste—contains patches for the vulnerabilities in question, but it may just be a harbinger: as we spend more time on our phones and put more of our personal details into them, they’re going to be increasingly tantalizing targets for malware created by criminals, hackers, and surveillance organs.


The Rebound 100: Why Aren’t We Doing THAT Show?

The Rebound

Welcome to The Rebound episode 100 extravaganza! Special guest Guy English joins Dan, John, and Lex to revisit the triumphs and tragedies of the last ninety-nine episodes…orrrr they just end up talking about the Apple Watch 2 rumors. Plus Vesper’s shut down, Amazon’s Echo music-streaming plan, and games aplenty.

Most importantly of all, you can now get your very own Rebound shirt to wear in moderate embarrassment pride.

Jason Snell for Macworld

Music subscription services are so good that I’m totally trapped ↦

I always resisted joining a music-subscription service. My former Macworld colleague Chris Breen was always a fierce proponent of them, first Rhapsody and then Spotify. (Now that Chris works at Apple, I assume he also likes Apple Music!)

I was never comfortable with subscription services. I was comfortable liking what I liked, and buying new stuff from familiar artists as well as new stuff from artists I discovered… elsewhere, and didn’t see the value in an unending tap of music from every artist everywhere. The second was that I was concerned that by renting my music, I would end up trapped, with years of music discovery that would disappear (or have to be purchased at a high price) if I decided to cancel my subscription.

I’ve been a paying Apple Music subscriber for a year now, more or less, and I can report that my first complaint was completely wrong and my second was exactly right.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

Linked by Dan Moren

Bloomberg: Apple developing Snapchat competitor

Mark Gurman’s back with a report about Apple trying to cash in on the Snapchat phenomenon:

Now Apple is starting to develop a video sharing app that allows users to record video, apply filters and drawings to the media — much like Snapchat does — and send it to contacts or via existing social networks such as Twitter Inc., according to the people familiar with its development. The software is currently being designed to be used mostly with one hand and with the intention that video could be shot, edited, and uploaded in less than 1 minute, the people said. At least one of the prototype designs for the app would shoot video in an Instagram-like square shape, one of the people said.

I can definitely see why Apple would want to capitalize on the popularity of these features, though I was initially a little puzzled as to why it wouldn’t simply be bundled into Messages, which—as of iOS 10—also includes some video annotation abilities. But then I saw this illuminating bit later in the story:

Apple is striving for a 2017 release, the people said, adding that the project could be killed if it doesn’t meet the company’s timetable and expectations. Apple has killed potential applications mid-development in the past. For example, the company considered releasing the new Memories machine-learning based photo management feature as its own app before bundling it within the standard iPhone photos program, according to one of the people.

So, it’s certainly possible that it would start out being developed as a standalone app, and then perhaps end up folded into Messages. I guess I have a hard time imagining Apple going all in on creating a social networking app of this sort, but it’s certainly not out of the question.

Linked by Dan Moren

Apple’s approach to machine learning and AI

Veteran tech journalist Steven Levy got a chance to talk to Eddy Cue, Craig Federighi, and some key machine learning experts at Apple about all things AI. The whole article is fascinating, as one expects from Levy:

Machine learning, my briefers say, is now found all over Apple’s products and services. Apple uses deep learning to detect fraud on the Apple store, to extend battery life between charges on all your devices, and to help it identify the most useful feedback from thousands of reports from its beta testers. Machine learning helps Apple choose news stories for you. It determines whether Apple Watch users are exercising or simply perambulating. It recognizes faces and locations in your photos. It figures out whether you would be better off leaving a weak Wi-Fi signal and switching to the cell network. It even knows what good filmmaking is, enabling Apple to quickly compile your snapshots and videos into a mini-movie at a touch of a button.

It’s fascinating to see all the places where neural nets and deep learning have come into play, and most importantly (and most Apple-y of all), how it’s often totally transparent to the user. We all think of Siri, but Apple’s AI ambitions clearly run so much deeper.

Also, this tangential point struck me:

When Acero arrived three years ago, Apple was still licensing much of its speech technology for Siri from a third party, a situation due for a change. Federighi notes that this is a pattern Apple repeats consistently. “As it becomes clear a technology area is critical to our ability to deliver a great product over time, we build our in-house capabilities to deliver the experience we want. To make it great, we want to own and innovate internally. Speech is an excellent example where we applied stuff available externally to get it off the ground.”

We’ve always kind of known this about Apple—it wants to control not just the whole widget, but the whole process, soup to nuts. They’ve become downright zealous about this self-reliant philosophy.


Upgrade #103: Significant Figures


Jason was happy to invite special guest Merlin Mann on Upgrade this week to talk about reviews, ratings, Rotten Tomatoes, mice, thumbs up and thumbs down, using numbers to quantify the unquantifiable, when it’s appropriate to show grown-up media to kids, and a whole lot more.

Linked by Dan Moren

Streaming trumping digital video sales and rentals?

Variety reports on a study by GfK about the prevalence of digital video purchases and rentals:

So much for digital dollars: A majority of consumers has never rented or bought a digital copy of a movie or TV show, according to a new GfK study. What’s more, the average digital media collection is much smaller than physical disc collections or even VHS collections have been on average.

46 percent of consumers have ever bought or rented a digital movie or TV show, according to GfK’s recent Home Technology Monitor. In contrast, 86 percent of consumers have rented or bought a DVD or Blu-ray in the past, and 78 percent have done so with a VHS tape.

At first blush, digital seems like it’s been slow on the uptake, but it seems like one big reason for that is the uptake of subscription streaming services—GfK says 78 percent of people who haven’t rented or bought digital video are using streaming services, compared to 92 percent of people who have. (It’s unclear whether that includes things like On Demand cable.)

I’d been hoping for a little more breakdown of digital rental vs. purchase. The closest they get is talking about relative collection sizes: “peak collection size” for DVDs was 87 compared to 23 digital movies.

Personally, I’ll rent movies pretty frequently via iTunes or Amazon, but I own only three digital movies. I don’t tend to watch a lot of movies more than once, and the prevalence of streaming and rental means that it’s usually a better cost trade off for me. (That said, my friends with kids do definitely end up rewatching the same things over and over again, so that’s a different value proposition.)

Digital purchases also seem to get discounted less frequently than even physical copies, so it’s possible more people are still buying Blu-rays and even DVDs from the local bargain bin, or via Amazon. Me, I just don’t want to stuff anymore discs on my bookcase if I can help it.

Linked by Jason Snell

Talkshow with John Gruber

(No, not that one. This is Anil Dash’s talk show Pop Life, which is done as a text interview on the Talkshow service.)

Today Anil’s guest was John Gruber. Some great stuff in there, including a laugh-out-loud Steve Jobs anecdote and a (very kind) mention of Six Colors.

Linked by Dan Moren

Amazon wants to offer a cheaper, Echo-only music streaming service

Over at Recode, Peter Kafka says Amazon wants to undercut Apple and Spotify for music streaming—sort of:

Amazon wants to launch a music subscription service that would work the same way services from Apple, Spotify and many others work: $10 a month, for all the music you can stream, anywhere you want to stream it.

But Amazon is also working on a second service that would differ in two significant ways from industry rivals: It would cost half the price, and it would only work on Amazon’s Echo hardware.

Industry sources say Amazon would like to launch both services in September, but has yet to finalize deals with major music labels and publishers. One sticking point, sources say, is whether Amazon will sell the cheaper service for $4 or $5 a month.

At first blush, this sounds kind of crazy. But, having used my Echo quite a bit for music playback, it’s actually not as wild as it might seem. While it may not have the best audio quality in the business, the Echo’s good enough for most casual listeners, and the ability to just say “play Don’t Stop Believin’” and have your house immediately filled with the dulcet tones of Journey is pretty amazing.1

This sort of works right now, since Amazon offers Prime Music for streaming, but that catalog is pretty limited, and most Echo owners have at one time or another ended up in a situation where a music request is prefaced by that dire disclaimer: “Here’s a sample from Prime Music…”

I also often end up connecting my iPhone to my Echo to play music from my iTunes library—the Echo has the most convenient Bluetooth connectivity of pretty much any device I’ve ever encountered—but that has its own problems. Chief among them, that I can’t then tell the Echo to play songs by voice; I either have to use my phone or Siri.

Would I be willing to pay $4 or $5 a month to avoid those situations? Maybe I would. Even if it didn’t work on my phone or any other devices—hey, at least they’re not charging me another $10 a month.

  1. Just in case you’re worried, it also works with many bands that are not Journey!  ↩

Linked by Jason Snell

The Mac OS Watch

When I was visiting Memphis last week, Stephen Hackett showed me his Mac OS watch.

This watch showcases Apple’s colorful, chunky design it used in print and some interface elements at the time, including the canned Gizmo theme. The bright colors are offset by a gray band with Mac OS text running its full length.

I have an Apple watch of my own. It’s a “Think Different” model that runs counterclockwise. Oh, ’90s Apple. Such a strange company.

By Jason Snell

All-star notes app Vesper reaches the end

Launched three years ago with fanfare by an all-star development team, the note-taking app Vesper is shutting down. “The time has come to say goodbye,” said the announcement from developer Q Branch Sunday, embedded in the release notes of a final App Store update.

The app, developed by John Gruber, Brent Simmons, and Dave Wiskus, featured a tasteful interface design. (I used it a lot, especially for recipes.) But it’s hard to compete with Apple’s own Notes app, especially after Apple upgraded it dramatically with iOS 8. The last post to the development blog was in February 2015 when the app was updated to support iPad screen resolutions.

The new update, version 2.007 (Bond fans till the end), allows users to export Vesper data as plain text and images to iCloud Drive or any other destination offered by a Document Provider extension. (I saved mine to Dropbox.) Q Branch is shutting down its sync servers on August 30 and deleting all the sync data, and removing the app from the App Store on September 15. (The app itself will hang on to its data indefinitely, so there’s no ticking clock there.)

Update: Brent Simmons on some details of the shutdown.