six colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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Dan Moren for Macworld

Apple off to a promising start with its revamped pro Mac lineup ↦

So, the iMac Pro is shipping. After many years’ worth of fretting and worrying, Apple once again has a pro-level desktop that boasts the modern technology. And all is right with the world.

But is it? There’s no disputing that the iMac Pro is a capable machine: with up to 18 cores, a maximum of 128GB of RAM, and a hefty video card, the benchmarks indicate that this is a machine that can take everything you throw at it.

And yet it’s not Apple’s whole “pro” story. In an interview with select outlets back in April of this year, Apple executive Phil Schiller had multiple shoes to drop, including this morsel:

With regards to the Mac Pro, we are in the process of what we call ‘completely rethinking the Mac Pro.’ We’re working on it. We have a team working hard on it right now, and we want to architect it so that we can keep it fresh with regular improvements, and we’re committed to making it our highest-end, high throughput desktop system, designed for our demanding pro customers.

In other words, pro Mac users have a lot to look forward to in 2018 and beyond.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


By Jason Snell

iMac Pro: The first shoe drops

The iMac Pro is here. Well, for some values of “here”—Apple’s taking orders and has shown it off in some press briefings and seeded it to some key people for testimonials. I ordered one this morning and Apple claims it will be here around the end of the year. Some configurations will roll out next year. But even if it isn’t widely available, it’s fair to say that the starting gun has been fired.

It’s a big milestone. This is almost four years to the week that Apple last released a professional desktop Mac, with the release of the redesigned, cylindrical Mac Pro. Since then there’s been… nothing, other than the grousing of high-end Mac users concerned about the lack of updates.

If Apple hadn’t announced it was bringing back the Mac Pro earlier this year, this would be a bigger deal; all the weight of expectations of Apple’s high-end user base would be crashing down on the iMac Pro. Instead, the iMac Pro is just the first shoe to drop in a revitalization of Apple’s pro Mac desktop line.

That’s good, because the iMac Pro doesn’t have a lot of features that many people will still wish for in a Mac Pro, mostly regarding upgradability. It was good to hear from the source that even though the iMac Pro doesn’t have a door for RAM upgrades, anyone who is authorized to service the iMac Pro can also install new RAM—so if you decide in four years that you need more RAM, you’ll be able to get someone to upgrade your Mac for you.

But that’s about it. If you want to expand graphic power down the road, your only hope is for an external GPU attached via Thunderbolt 3—which is a thing that you can do now, so that’s cool. Likewise, internal storage appears largely non-upgradeable. On a Mac Pro, these would be severe pain points, and since we know nothing about the new Mac Pro, we don’t know if they will be. But on an iMac they’re a lot less severe—especially when there’s a Mac Pro shimmering on the horizon, its exact specs lost in the haze of heat from its ventilation fans.

I’m still using the original 5K iMac, which I bought in 2014. It’s been a fantastic companion the past three years. But Apple has not been resting on the 5K iMac’s laurels—it’s been upgraded twice, in 2015 and earlier this year. The display’s been improved, SSD throughput has been increased, and of course Thunderbolt 3/USB-C has been added to the port mix. If I chose to get the successor to my three-year-old 5K iMac, the price tag would be around $3000.

It would be a nice boost, to be sure. The iMac Pro goes farther, though, and thanks to my mid-career transition into a writer who also produces podcasts, I actually find that I have a professional need for incredibly fast processors with a whole lot of cores and fast storage to save large media files quickly. Spend a morning removing the background noise from multiple three-hour-long audio tracks and you’ll find yourself wanting more processor cores and faster SSD throughput in a heartbeat. Encode some high-def video for YouTube and you’ll be begging.

But let me be clear: Most people shouldn’t buy an iMac Pro. It is the very definition of overkill unless you have a specific need for high-end, high-performance hardware. Even if you fancy yourself a power user, it’s unlikely you’d be better off with an iMac Pro than a regular 5K iMac unless you have a very specific task that requires as much processor power as possible (spread across multiple processor cores) or as much graphics horsepower as possible.

Basically, you know if you need an iMac Pro. If you don’t know, you probably don’t.1

As so often happens with products like this, it will take a while—at least a year, and probably longer—for us to determine if this is a transitional product or just a strange outlier. (The MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is in this same category.) For example, the iMac Pro comes with an integrated, Apple-designed T2 processor.

The rumors called it an A10, and for all we know it’s the same or similar to the processor that drives the iPhone 7. Regardless, though, it’s an Apple-designed ARM processor that’s integrated even deeper into the iMac Pro than the T1 was into the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. As Rene Ritchie reports at iMore, it’s acting as the system management controller, SSD controller, audio controller, the FaceTime camera controller, and of course, it’s handling all the security and encryption.

This is a great example of Apple taking its expertise, acquired over years of developing iPhone hardware, and applying it to portions of the Mac experience that previously were handled by separate components or subsystems. I’d imagine that over the next few months we’ll discover a few surprises about just how the iMac Pro is not like other Macs because of the presence of the T2 processor.

The real question is, what next? Will T2-style processors crop up in every other Mac in the line, or will some version of it roll out to every other Mac? I’d assume that’s Apple’s intention right now—but we’ll have to see how it’s able to manage that roll-out, and if any unexpected complications crop up.

The other issue, of course, is about the overall pace of Mac updates. If I could bottle the complaints of the Mac market for the last few years and distill one single complaint about Mac hardware, it would be that Mac models don’t get updated often enough to take advantage of the newest processors and graphics cards.

With the updates to the MacBook Pro earlier this year, Apple has taken strides in showing that it’s going to be more diligent about updates. But a single update here or there isn’t going to do it—Apple will need to continue rolling out updates on a regular basis across all its product lines. That includes a new iMac Pro model in a year or so, and an update to the Mac Pro a year or so after it ships, continued MacBook Pro updates, and, yes, a resolution to the fate of the Mac mini.

But those are all questions for another day. This is a day that’s been four years in the making—and there’s the promise of another day just like it next year when the Mac Pro arrives.


  1. I ordered the base model. 💸 ↩


Podcast

Download #34: Regrets…

Download

This week on Download: A former Facebook executive bemoans the world he helped create, and Patreon goes back on its controversial change in how it collects money. In lighter news, Stephen is looking at a 21st-century Clapper and Jason is ordering an iMac Pro. With Alex Cox and Megan Morrone.


Podcast

The Rebound 166: Sinister Plots

The Rebound

iMac Promas is here! With no Lex, John and Dan are on their own this week, so they not only discuss Apple’s new professional-level beast, but also Jony Ive’s “return” to design head honcho status (replete with bad Jony Ive impressions), Phil Schiller’s recent interviews, the future of Apple’s operating systems, and the addition of app preorders.


By Jason Snell

Muffling many tweets in Twitterrific

There are a lot of annoying things on Twitter. My Twitter client on macOS and iOS, Twitterrific, will filter them out. You just need to know how.

You can quickly create a muffle from the contents of a tweet (people, hashtags, or web addresses) by tapping the ellipsis icon in a tweet, then choosing Muffle. But if you want to filter particular words or go a little bit more, you’ll need to access the the full-on interface.

On iOS, all filters live behind the Muffles tab in the sidebar. On macOS, it’s the Muffles tab in the Preferences window. (These locations are also where you can upgrade a Muffle—it collapses a tweet so you can’t see its contents, but you can see why it was filtered out—into a full-on Mute, which entirely removes it from view.)

Megan’s Star Wars tweet has been muffled.

As helpfully explained by The Iconfactory, Twitterrific supports more than just filtering on arbitrary text strings: you can use regular expressions to create powerful sets of filters, or to pile a whole bunch of rules together in a single place.

For example, I want to mute everything about the new Star Wars movie until I’ve seen it, so I created a muffle rule:

Last Jedi Spoilers :: (The Last Jedi)|#starwars|#thelastjedi|Jedi|TLJ|porg

This rule, titled “Last Jedi Spoilers”, blocks all instances of the phrase “The Last Jedi”, related hashtags and acronyms, and more. It’s not necessarily going to stop everything from getting through, but if I see some string I hadn’t anticipated, I can add it to the list.

This is the part of the story where I mention that even though I don’t use it, there’s a Twitter app called Tweetbot that’s very popular and it has these filters too, so if you use Tweetbot and aren’t taking advantage of them, you should give it a go.

Whenever I feel like there’s too much noise in my Twitter feed, I redouble my efforts to seek out strings and hashtags and sites I don’t want to see and get them out. It makes my feed a more pleasant place to be. And, yes, it lets me avoid film spoilers from time to time.


Linked by Jason Snell

“Photos: A Take Control Crash Course” update released

Photos-ATCCrashCourse-1

My ebook, Photos: A Take Control Crash Course, has just been updated for High Sierra and iOS 11.

If you bought the previous version of this book, the update is free. (I imagine I’ll do a more substantial update to the book next year.) It includes information about the new People interface, the revised sidebar, new editing tools, and more.

If you haven’t bought the book and use Photos on macOS and iOS, you may learn about some of the unexpected features of the apps. And people who are considering a dive into Photos and iCloud Photo Library may find it the perfect guide to getting up and running.

You can buy the book here for $10.


Linked by Dan Moren

The FCC decision that helped pave the way for the Internet

Ars Technica has dug out of its archives a 2008 piece about the FCC’s Carterfone decision from 1968, and it’s a fascinating read:

Within a few years of the FCC’s Carterfone decision, America had become a motley world of funny receivers, slick switch boxes, and rickety answering machines. More importantly, consumers quickly embraced the “modulate/demodulate” device, otherwise known as the telephone modem. A 1999 FCC policy paper noted the significance and justly gave the agency credit for the proliferation of this application. “The Carterfone decision enabled consumers to purchase modems from countless sources,” the agency concluded. “Without easy and inexpensive consumer access to modems, the Internet would not have become the global medium that it is today.”

The posting of this piece comes on the eve of the FCC’s net neutrality decision, and Ars is pretty clear that’s why it’s being dusted off.


Podcast

Clockwise #219: Access to Tim Cook’s Checkbook

Clockwise

This week, on the tech podcast that is right at least twice a day, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Shelly Brisbin and Michael Cowling to discuss our wireless charging experiences, what companies or technologies Apple should invest in, whether the desktop computer has gotten a reprieve, and where in education we’d like to see AR make inroads.


Jason Snell for Macworld

Should you buy an iMac Pro? Here are the reasons why and why not ↦

Apple’s sure-sellers for the holiday season have been on store shelves for a while now, but for fans of high-powered Macs, Christmas comes early this week with the release of the iMac Pro on Thursday. It’s undoubtedly going to take the crown as the most powerful Mac ever made—and will undoubtedly hold onto that distinction until a new Mac Pro arrives on the scene.

There’s a lot to be said for the iMac Pro. It’s the first Mac with workstation-level processors with a plethora of processor cores (8 and up!) since the Mac Pro in 2013. The Radeon Pro Vega is the most powerful graphic processor ever in a Mac.

If you’re someone who uses a 5K iMac to get work done today, should you consider buying the iMac Pro or not? Here’s a list of reasons why you should—and also a few reasons you might want to keep that credit card in your pocket.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Linked by Jason Snell

The iMac Pro is coming Thursday

Apple updated its iMac Pro page today to announce that the iMac Pro will be available on December 14, just two days from now.

Among the people with early access: Marques Brownlee, Craig A. Hunter, Vincent Laforet, Thomas Grove Carter, and Mike Seymour.

This is undoubtedly the most powerful Mac ever made. I’m excited to hear even more about how it handles high-end workflows—not just 8K video and scientific applications, but software development and anything else that tends to push Macs to their limits.

Update: Hey, Cabel Sasser’s a developer!


Linked by Dan Moren

App pre-orders now available to all developers

John Voorhees at MacStories notes that Apple is now letting any developer put their app up for pre-order. The feature was first available for Super Mario Run last year.

Apple’s page on the subject says that the feature’s available for macOS and tvOS apps as well.

There are a lot of benefits of this, not least of which is the ability to generate buzz for an app before it’s out—after all, books, movies, and other media have all used pre-orders to great effect. But one big advantage, to my mind, is discoverability. There’s always a bit of a wait for the App Store’s search indexes to update when an app is released and, certainly as a tech writer, that can be a pain when you’re trying to find and download an app to test out. In theory, you should get your pre-ordered apps downloaded to your devices as soon as they’re available.

Of course, the fun part for developers are analytics. Apple notes:

You can track the performance of your app pre-orders in Sales and Trends, where you’ll find the number of ordered, canceled, and net pre-orders.

I’m sure nobody will find themselves refreshing that obsessively.


Podcast

Upgrade #171: Really Weird Chess Game

Upgrade

This week on Upgrade: What do Amazon’s battles with Google and Apple say about the strategies of the tech giants? Also, Jony Ive returns to the White Room, and a meeting with the hosts of Jason and Myke’s favorite podcasts brings some perspective regarding the connection between podcasters and their listeners.


By Jason Snell

Adding HomeKit to incompatible devices with Homebridge

homekit-control

Apple’s HomeKit system for communicating with smart-home devices started out slow, but it’s picked up steam in the past year. The first few smart-home devices in my house, alas, date from the before time: I’ve got a Nest thermostat, a couple of first-generation LIFX light bulbs, and some Belkin WeMo smart outlet switches that offer integration with Amazon Echo but not HomeKit.

In recent months I’ve bought Philips Hue lights, Lutron Caseta smart light switches, and Koogeek smart outlet switches that are all HomeKit compatible, and that’s made me much more appreciative of HomeKit. I’m also now frustrated that half of my smart-home tech talks to HomeKit (and shows up in the Home widget in Control Center) and the other half doesn’t.

The smart move would be for me to replace my non-HomeKit equipment with HomeKit-compatible devices. I bought a few more Koogeek switches, in fact, so I could retire the WeMo models. But I don’t really want to swap out my Nest for an Ecobee.1 And, anyway, this is silly! I’ve got a server running 24/7 in my house.2 Surely there’s some sort of software out there that will bridge these devices and make them accessible to HomeKit.

Yes, surely there is. It’s called Homebridge, and yesterday I got it up and running in about half an hour. Now my Nest, and those LIFX bulbs, and even the WeMo switches show up in my Home app.

home-app

Homebridge is a server that runs on Node, which you can install from the Node website or install yourself via this excellent how-to guide by my pal Dave McFarland.3

Like the name says, Homebridge acts as a bridge between non-HomeKit devices and HomeKit. Individual devices are supported via plug-ins to Homebridge. I installed homebridge-nest and followed the instructions to sign up for a Nest developer account and paste the right codes in the right configuration files. After a couple of pauses to correct faulty JSON syntax in the config file, I was presented with a QR code I could scan to add Homebridge to my HomeKit network. And just like that, my Nest thermostat appeared in HomeKit.

I later added in the Homebridge-LIFX plug-in for my old smart lights and the Homebridge-WeMo plug-in for my older smart switches, restarted the server, and I was in business. All my smart home devices are now manageable in a single interface—Apple’s Home app.

Now the next trick. I don’t want to launch Terminal and type homebridge every time I reboot my server. So I followed these instructions to set Homebridge to start automatically in the background.

Is this all easy? No, it’s not. It requires you to download a bunch of stuff and get dirty with configuration files and the Terminal. But if you’ve got a Mac that’s running 24/7 and a bunch of HomeKit-incompatible devices, it might just be worth your time to get it all working. It took me less than a half an hour to do it all, start to finish, and so far I’m quite glad that I did!


  1. The Ecobee is good, and I might buy it now if I was starting from scratch, but I’m not spending $249 on a new thermostat just to get HomeKit. ↩

  2. I’ve heard from several people that they set up a Raspberry Pi to run Homebridge, so that would be another option if you don’t have a Mac server. ↩

  3. You’ll need to install Xcode from the App Store, too.)  ↩


By Dan Moren

Quick Tip: Fix disappearing Login Items (mostly)

Another day, another bug to address. This morning I opened up my MacBook Air after having installed the 10.13.2 update yesterday1 and noticed that a bunch of the apps that usually load at startup were missing from my menu bar.

I’d actually noticed this yesterday on my iMac as well, but at the time I’d chalked it up to an isolated incident, shrugged, and re-launched the apps. The same thing happening on two machines, though, is a little suspicious, so I decided to get to the root of the problem.

First, I opened a few of the apps and made sure that their own preferences were set to start at login. Everything seemed to check out.

Empty Login Items

Next I opened up System Preferences, went to Users & Groups, and checked my Login Items.

Okay, well, I know it’s not supposed to be empty, so I resorted to Google and found that this seems to be a known problem with High Sierra.2

Appealing to Twitter, I got a link from our former Macworld colleague Rob Griffiths pointing me towards a post on Apple’s discussion boards, with a suggested fix:

Anyway, search out and destroy a file called backgrounditems.btm then reboot. The login panel should be cleared out.

So, I searched out and terminated said file (it’s in ~/Library/Application Support/com.apple.backgroundtaskmanagementagent/ but you can also find it by searching your Mac with system files included), rebooted, and sure enough, upon restarting, all of my startup applications launched as they should. Problem solved, right?

Well…mostly. Now when I go to my Login Items I see this:

Okay, that’s better, but it’s still not reflecting all the apps that are launching—I’ve got at least another four or five. Rob’s suggestion to fix this is to remove everything, logout, login, and then add everything manually.

I’m going to be honest: I haven’t tried that yet. To Rob’s point, it mostly matters if you’re dedicated to having a complete list of your login items and at this particular moment, I’m satisfied merely that the apps are launching as intended. But if I decide to take that next plunge, you can rest assured I’ll be back.


  1. Starting to think this is the unlucky .13 update indeed.  ↩

  2. Some folks have reported it happening the first time they installed High Sierra—I restart my machines infrequently, so I don’t recall. ↩

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


Dan Moren for Macworld

The once and future OS for Apple ↦

For Apple watchers, the company is always a bit like the proverbial duck: floating seemingly calm and placid above the water while paddling furiously just below it. Which is why it’s often hard to gauge exactly what the company is up to, especially when the current is changing.

In the last few weeks, both my colleague Jason Snell and I have looked ahead to what Apple might be envisioning for the future of its devices. I’ve opined on ARM-powered Macs; Jason’s wondered about the possibility of a laptop running iOS. In a recent conversation—on our secret podcast, which you should check out—we started to put some pieces together and conjectured that maybe these aren’t two different stories but rather one larger tale of what Apple’s future might hold.

What if, to paraphrase the late Steve Jobs himself, these aren’t two platforms, but one platform with a bunch of devices?

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Jason Snell for Macworld

What can Apple learn from its terrible week of bugs? ↦

What can you say about Apple’s terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week last week? A macOS security flaw and an iOS bug led to emergency security fixes, rapid OS releases, and the general sense that Apple’s software is having some serious safety and reliability problems.

But why is it happening, and what can be done about it? Unfortunately, Apple’s internal software-development processes are relatively secretive, not to mention incredibly complex. So beyond hoping that a week like this one doesn’t happen again, what can any of us say about it? (I’d certainly be interested in the perspective of someone like Steven Sinofsky, who managed Windows for Microsoft for many years, but unless someone has spent time working on developing an operating system with millions or billions of users, it’s unlikely they’ll understand the ridiculous complexity of these processes.)

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Podcast

The Rebound 165: They Don’t Call Me Lox

The Rebound

It’s been a rough week for those who don’t like Apple software bugs. We run down the snafus alongside a few other frustrations, plus the continuing saga of Dan’s Face ID…challenges. We also talk about Lex’s new smart speaker and John weighs in on whether it’s time to get Dan a new Apple Watch. FILET MIGNON!


By Jason Snell

Kindle Oasis Review: Is bigger better?

I loved the first-generation Kindle Oasis. Though nobody needed to buy a $290 ebook reader, it was the best Kindle you could buy. Without its mandatory battery case, it was impossibly thin and light, and brought back the hardware page-turn buttons that Amazon seemingly abandoned several generations of Kindle ago.

The second-generation Kindle Oasis still holds down the top of Amazon’s Kindle product line, but it’s a very different product than the original model. The mandatory case is gone, the price has dropped $40 to $250, and the hardware itself has bulked up.

The second-generation Oasis is still shaped like the original model—it’s got a thicker side (8.3mm) that’s easier to grip and features the two page-turn buttons, and a thinner side (3.4mm) that helps the devices weigh less. But about that weight: Free of its case, the old Oasis weighed only 4.6 ounces, making it the lightest Kindle by quite a bit. This new one weighs 6.8 ounces, slightly heavier than the Kindle Voyage and slightly lighter than the Kindle Paperwhite.

The fact is, the second-generation Oasis is scaled up in all dimensions. It’s thicker, heavier, wider, and taller—but at least the increased width and height means that the screen is large. It’s a seven-inch diagonal, up from the six-inch screen size Amazon uses on all its other current Kindles. I’m not sure I’ve ever picked up the second-generation Oasis and marveled at the screen size, but if you’re someone who needs to use large type to read, you’ll get a real benefit. (My friend and fellow Kindle aficionado Scott McNulty says he thinks the larger screen is fantastic—so perhaps I’m an outlier here.)

To be fair, the first-generation Oasis only managed to be small and light because of the battery case, which came with the Kindle and extended the rather skimpy battery life of the core device. And I’ve never been a fan of Amazon’s cases for Kindles, so I’d have to say that the new Oasis is an improvement in that department. If you’re a fan of Amazon’s Origami case design, you’ll also be happy, because this Oasis will work with them again.

wet-oasis
Amazon is very excited that this Kindle is waterproof.

The second-generation Oasis is the highest quality hardware I’ve ever seen from Amazon, courtesy of its aluminum back and sides. I’d gotten so used to the Kindle being a plastic gadget, it was surprising to open the box and see the metallic sheen. It definitely makes the device feel more “premium”, which is appropriate, given that you could buy two Paperwhites for the cost of one Oasis.

The second-generation Oasis is also waterproof, the first time Amazon has offered that feature in a Kindle. I’m not someone who takes baths and I don’t own a hot tub or a swimming pool, but if you’re someone who (like Jeff Bezos) has been keeping their Kindle in a zip-top bag in order to read it in the water, it’s time to rejoice.

Another feature this Kindle offers that I don’t use: Bluetooth connectivity. You can attach a Bluetooth audio device and use screen-reading software or play back Audible audiobooks. Again, this is a feature I’m never going to use, but if you’re someone who frequently switches back and forth between Kindle books and their Audible equivalents, it might be convenient to have them both available in one place.

For me, though, Kindles are all about price and ergonomics. The second-generation Oasis is a nice piece of hardware, but I really appreciated the light weight of the first-generation model and I had hoped Amazon would push a little bit more in that direction. The larger screen is good, but it’s not like I’m reading a hardcover book—it’s just a slightly larger paperback size, which is fine but not revelatory. Waterproofing will be an important distinction for some people, to be sure.

New (left) and old Kindle Oasis models.

As with the first-generation model, this new Oasis model is for people who love reading ebooks and don’t mind spending more money for a nicer experience. I’d prefer if the second-generation model were lighter and smaller, but regardless, the Oasis remains the best Kindle you can buy, and is appreciably nicer than the Paperwhite on almost every front.

Still, for most people, the $120 Paperwhite is the right choice. The Kindle Oasis is a splurge for people who simply want the best ebook reading experience around and don’t really mind that it costs twice as much as a perfectly serviceable alternative.

See more Kindle coverage.


Podcast

Clockwise #218: The World is Our Oyster

Clockwise

This week on the show that acts as a reliable 30-minute timer, Dan and Mikah are joined by John Voorhees and Kathy Campbell to discuss our experiences with Apple Pay Cash, Google and Amazon’s tiff over YouTube, whether future emoji features will make it too complicated, and how we’ll look back on the iPhone another decade into the future.