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Jason Snell for Macworld

Why Photoshop on iOS is a huge win for the iPad Pro ↦

So it’s official. Photoshop — real Photoshop — is coming to the iPad next year. If you’re someone who uses Photoshop, uses the iPad to get work done, or both, this is big news. It’s a huge shot in the arm for the iPad Pro and another sign of where Apple’s platforms are going in the future. In 2019, iOS apps aren’t just coming to the Mac—one of the biggest and most important Mac apps is coming to iOS.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦



Clockwise #263: Down With the System, Man!

This week, on the 30-minute tech show that tells you what time it is, Dan is joined by host emeritus Jason Snell and special guests Lex Friedman and Megan Morrone to discuss third-party voice assistants on smartphones, brain-downloading software, our first programming experiences, and Palm’s new phone for your phone. Plus, a special bonus topic about TV theme songs.

Episode linkMP3 (29 minutes)

By Jason Snell

Vinpok Taptek review: Colors, clicks, and too much key confusion

It’s hard to find Bluetooth keyboards with mechanical switches. As someone who enjoys mechanical keyboards and frequently writes on an iPad, that’s extra frustrating. The new Vinpok Taptek is a compact Bluetooth mechanical keyboard with Apple-like styling. It’s a promising product, and I like an awful lot about it—but there’s one choice the company made that made it difficult for me to use.

Let’s start with the hardware. The keys themselves have a pleasant pop and click sound reminiscent of blue switches. (After a lot of shopping, I have ended up deciding that I prefer the feel of brown switches, but so much about keyboards is personal that your mileage will almost certainly vary. This is going to be recurring theme.) The hardware is low profile, with an aluminum frame and a glossy plastic bottom. The review model I got had black keys and space gray aluminum, but there also appears to be a version with white keys and silver aluminum.

By default the square keys are labeled with Apple modifier conventions, though there is also a hardware switch to put it in Windows mode and an add-on keycap set for PC users. There’s a micro-USB port on the back, for charging or non-Bluetooth use.

The keyboard is backlit, and when I say that, I need to emphasize that it is aggressively backlit. You can have a normal boring backlight, or you can cycle through 19 different color effects. Pick your colors. Pick your effects—you can have each key light up when you press one, or shoot out a strip of colors when you press one, or pulsate like it’s at a dance club. As amazing and hilarious as it is to watch colors dance under your fingers as you type, in the end I just wanted the backlight off or solid. But again, your mileage may vary. You certainly have every option imaginable.

In so many ways, this keyboard is exactly what I’ve been looking for—it fits with Apple’s current style, offers mechanical keys and Bluetooth, and is ultra compact while still offering arrow keys. These are the keyboards I like. I’m currently using a Vortex Race 3 after previously spending a couple of years with a Leopold FC660M.

Just as I was disappointed by the layout in the Lofree Bluetooth mechanical keyboard, the Taptek falls apart for me in its choice of key layouts. The Lofree had weird round keys and modifier keys that were too narrow, most notably the right shift key, which I use all the time. I don’t use a single keyboard all the time—I’ve got that Vortex at my desk and also frequently use the Brydge keyboard I use with my iPad Pro—and I’m not going to retrain my decades of typing muscle memory just to adapt to a single keyboard’s quirks.

Here’s the bad news about the Taptek: Its right shift key is a single key width, and it’s located to the right of the up arrow key. On every other keyboard I use, the right shift key is to the left of the arrow keys, but to save width Vinpok has tossed the shift key over to the far edge of the keyboard, above the right arrow key.

Will this matter to you? I have no idea. For all I know, most people use the left shift key and I’m alone in my use of the right shift! If you had asked me before I started using the Taptek which shift key I predominantly used, I couldn’t have told you. (It’s the right, turns out.) I did just pull out every keyboard I own, though, and none of them put the right shift key where the Taptek does.

When I tried to write on the Taptek keyboard, I would get going and be enjoying the look and feel and sound of the keyboard, and then I’d try to type a capital letter and my cursor would move up a line, because I hit the up arrow key instead. My right pinky finger doesn’t want to stretch that far.

Keyboard layouts are funny things. Even slight shifts in key position can completely ruin a touch typist. I’ve used mini keyboards on PC laptops that shifted every letter key so they were above one another, rather than staggered diagonally. They were disasters. The more a keyboard designer deviates from the standard key layout, the more they risk an I’m out moment from a user. Once you cross the I’m out threshold, you might as well hand me a Dvorak keyboard or a chording keyboard, because all of my muscle memory has been rendered useless.

Again, your mileage will probably vary. Beyond the layout issue (and the need to set the backlighting to not be super aggressive) this keyboard is pretty great. I was hoping it would become my go-to keyboard for when I’m writing in my kitchen, but the key layout prevents me from doing that. Vinpok should’ve made the keyboard just a little wider and given the shift and arrow keys just a little more room.

Vinpok says the final price of the keyboard will be $199, but it’s offering discounts via its Indiegogo page as of today. So far as I can tell, this is a finished product and the product’s Indiegogo page seems to have launched fully funded, which suggests to me that Vinpok is taking advantage of crowdfunding psychology to drive sales. (They’re hardly alone on that score.)

In the end, this isn’t the keyboard for me. But if you aren’t as particular about the placement and size of the right shift key and are searching for an Apple-inspired mechanical Bluetooth keyboard, the Vinpok Taptek is worth your consideration.

Linked by Jason Snell

Apple fixes bagel emoji

Jeremy Burge of Emojipedia has the scoop, er, the schmear:

Apple has released a new version of its forthcoming bagel emoji. Now including cream cheese, this aims to address concerns raised about the previous design.

[image courtesy Emojipedia]

I wonder what people will choose to complain about regarding this revision. Is that cream cheese not accurate enough?

By Jason Snell

iPhone XS review: The future, as promised, is now

It’s hard to believe that it’s been nearly a month since I took possession of an iPhone XS and XS Max. In the intervening four weeks I’ve taken photos and video, traveled on a business trip, gotten stuck in hideous commute traffic. That’s life. And throughout, the iPhone XS has proven itself as a phone that’s got all the benefits of the excellent iPhone X, with some subtle tech upgrades, a massively improved camera, and—perhaps most significantly—a bigger screen if you want it.

Same as it ever was

After a year with the iPhone X, switching the iPhone XS was not much of a disruption. (I’ve been using the same case as the one I used with the iPhone X.) Apple hasn’t perfected the process of migrating from one phone to another, but it’s coming ever closer. Back in 2015, Myke Hurley and I spent 90 minutes detailing all the annoyances in migrating to our new iPhone 6S models. On what should be one of the most fun moments on any tech enthusiast’s calendar—iPhone upgrade day!—we ended up getting frustrated with a long chain of annoyances that soured the entire experience.

Things are much better now, starting from the moment where your old iPhone senses that a new iPhone is in setup mode nearby. That kicks off a whole local information-exchange experience that gets you most of the way to upgraded with a minimum of password re-entry. I’d love for it to be even more frictionless, but it feels very much like Apple has done everything it can while also keeping its security model intact. Restoring Apple Pay only requires re-entering of CVV codes. Even restoring apps from the App Store seems faster than it used to!

Since biometric data is not transferrable between devices, of course you have to set up Face ID when you move to the iPhone XS. I’m still flabbergasted about how easy it is to set up Face ID—you tilt your head a couple of times and that’s it. Apple says Face ID is faster on the iPhone XS than on the iPhone X due to the faster A12 processor, and after a month I guess I can see it. It’s hardly a shout-from-the-rooftops improvement, but it’s faster—and it was already pretty great. Face ID all the things! 1

So let’s deal with this up front: The iPhone XS is a better iPhone X. I’ll get into the details in the rest of this review, but if you spent $999 or more on an iPhone X last year, and you’re not on some sort of annual replacement plan (or don’t have a family member to roll your phone down to), you can probably hold off on upgrading this year.

That’s not a condemnation of the iPhone XS, but a compliment to just how far forward the iPhone X pushed the iPhone line. It was a truly great upgrade.

Staring into the sun

The defining feature of the iPhone XS upgrade is the camera. But these days when you talk about a camera, you’re really talking about the combination of an image sensor, a set of lenses, signal-processing hardware, and complicated (machine-learning assisted) software running on powerful processors. This is what smartphone cameras are now, and as long as the laws of physics require smartphones to only be a handful of millimeters thick, that’s not going to change.

(I assume that eventually, the back of every smartphone will either be one giant light-sensitive surface or an array of dozens of cameras, intelligently capturing the scene around you and using powerful algorithms to create a perfect representation of what you saw. Either that or the cameras will migrate into our smart glasses or smart hats or some other smart object not yet devised.)

For now, though, we’ve got a camera so good that you can shoot straight into the sun and it kind of doesn’t matter, other than the risks of J.J. Abrams-style lens flare. A lesson anyone using a camera learns early on is that you don’t want to shoot backlit subjects, because the light from behind them will wash out the rest of the picture, and you’ll be left with silhouettes or a completely useless, blown-out image.

Using the iPhone XS camera has required me to retrain myself. You’re always going to be better off not shooting directly into the sun, but it matters a lot less when every shot you take is actually a combination of multiple shots and exposures capturing different portions of the image at different light levels, and sticking them all together on the fly into a single image that can show the sun, the sky, and the faces of the people who are feeling that sun on their backs. This is a technique Apple calls Smart HDR, and it is a remarkable step toward making iPhone photos match what your eye actually sees.

(Our eyes—and the powerful neural engine that processes the image signals coming from them—can see simultaneously in bright light and dark shadow in a way that our cameras just can’t. But the cameras are getting better all the time.)

Is the ultimate goal to make every photo out of an iPhone camera exactly match what you see in your mind’s eye when you look at the scene? Not necessarily, no. Part of the power of an experienced photographer is using the technology at their disposal to capture a specific image, one that doesn’t necessarily copy reality but represents some aspect of it. Photography is the art of finding a still image with very specific bounds in a dynamic, 360-degree world.

That said… when it comes to snapshots? Yeah, the ultimate goal is to save what you saw with your own eyes so you can remember it later. There are lots of apps that will let advanced photographers take advantage of the power of the iPhone XS camera to take amazing pictures—but by default, in the Camera app, the goal is rightly to capture that scene you want to keep forever. And if it involves two kids playing in the sand at the beach with the sun inconveniently setting behind them, then it needs to do everything it can to represent that moment despite the less-than-ideal conditions. That moment won’t come again and can’t be restaged.

This animation may give you some idea of the difference in detail between Smart HDR and non-HDR shooting on the iPhone XS.

In the past month I have taken a huge number of photos pointing more or less straight at the sun. I’ve taken shots on the side of a mountain with bright sunlight in the foreground and deep, deep shadow in the background. The iPhone XS did a great job rendering those scenes—in fact, in one shot on the mountain, I was standing in the sun and couldn’t see anything in the shadows, but the iPhone managed to reveal some of it. Comparing a Smart HDR photo and its single-exposure equivalent, I found that Smart HDR exposed detail in sunlit spots that would’ve otherwise been blown out. In a shot up from within a dark forest canopy, Smart HDR images were able to render the sky through the trees as blue with puffy clouds, as opposed to just a bright white.

I’m similarly impressed with the video-capture ability that Apple’s calling “extended HDR.” In essence, if you’re taking video at 30 frames per second or less, the iPhone actually captures pairs of frames, one stepped up in exposure, one stepped down, and then combines them on the fly into a single frame that includes more image information from both the bright and dark spaces in an image. Think about that for a minute—it’s capturing 4K video at 60 frames per second, analyzing two 4K frames, and merging them into a single frame every thirtieth of a second. It’s a staggering amount of processing power, but in the end all that matters is that now your video shows the details of light and shadow better than it did before.

And that’s all that really should matter. It’s nice that when it rolls out new products, Apple shows some of its work—tech nerds like me want to know what’s going on behind the scenes. But for just about everyone else, the point is that photos and videos look better and more like what we saw with our own eyes.

Is there more to be done on this front? Always. Google continues to push its computational photography forward in the Pixel line, with the latest model offering its own tricks to improve image resolution, low-light photography, and finding just the right fraction of a second to take the perfect image even if you pressed the shutter button at a slightly less optimal time. Our cameras are getting smarter and smarter. Eventually all we’ll have to do is point them at a scene and let them work their magic.

Large and in charge

The other notable thing about the iPhone XS is, of course, that it comes in two sizes. The iPhone XS Max is a return to the big-and-small buddy iPhone movie Apple’s been running for the past few years, but this time rebooted for the iPhone X. The XS Max is, in fact, so much like the standard iPhone XS that it’s uncanny how your perspective shifts when you use one of the models for a while.

An hour with the iPhone XS Max and the iPhone XS and iPhone X suddenly look like little toy phones. A day with the XS, and suddenly the XS Max seems like a monster.

The fact is, the two models are identical other than their screen size (and a little bit of extra battery thanks to the extra volume of the device). So you don’t need to shop for an iPhone based on features, as some people did with the iPhone Plus models—namely buying a larger phone to get access to a better zoom lens.

I’ve never been a fan of larger phones, but since the iPhone X was itself larger than the iPhone 6/7/8 series that preceded it, that means that it’s less of a size jump from the iPhone XS to the XS Max. I’d argue that the iPhone XS’s screen is plenty large and fits better in my hand, so the extra pixels of the XS Max aren’t worth the awkwardness of holding a larger phone. If you have larger hands than I do, you might feel very differently. There’s a phone for both of us!

If you have hands that are smaller than mine, though, you may not be as pleased. Certainly, many people are lamenting the death of the iPhone SE and the lack of an update to the (larger, but not as large as the XS) iPhone 8. The iPhone XS is the smallest 2018-vintage iPhone, and it ain’t small.

I get it. One size does not fit all. And I’m hopeful that at some point—perhaps next spring, midway between this year’s revisions and next year’s—Apple will roll out another phone model or two that are a little bit smaller.

But these phones, as well as the forthcoming iPhone XR, are a reminder that in terms of the global smartphone market, bigger is better. It’s never any fun to be a fan of something that is a niche of a much larger market, but here we are. If you don’t like chocolate or vanilla ice cream, it’s good that there are more flavors. Right now there aren’t very many flavors of iPhone. I hope that changes in 2019.

Leaving aside the issue of smaller phones, there’s also the issue of a larger phone—the iPhone XR. I got a chance to try one out for a few minutes after the iPhone launch event in September, and I’ve got to be honest: It seemed pretty great. The screen’s not an OLED like the iPhone XS Max, and it only has the one rear camera—but it costs $350 less than the Max, and it comes in a bunch of bright, pretty colors that the XS models don’t.

It’s an interesting gambit on Apple’s part, to expect some percentage of users to opt for the more expensive, higher-end phone when the lower-end model is largely just as well equipped, comes in fun colors, and is a big cost saving. But then again, at $749, it’s not like the iPhone XR is a bargain-basement model. Apple wins either way. Isn’t that just like them?

Well, here we are in the future

In 2017, Apple said that the iPhone X was the future of smartphones.

Now it’s 2018, and… the iPhone X is still great. Story checks out. After a year with my iPhone X, I can’t imagine going back to Touch ID or a phone with big bezels on the face.

The iPhone XS, then, is today’s phone, today. Yes, it’s a small step forward for the iPhone X, but the iPhone X itself was a big step forward. If you haven’t joined the X family yet, this is a great time to jump on. If you want a larger phone, the XS Max will suffice—as will the XR, probably.

Is this an incremental update? Sure, but most of Apple’s updates are incremental. It’s only after a few years that you really notice all the major changes that have been happening, bit by bit. Last year’s jump to the iPhone X was unusually dramatic, but this year’s iterative step is not without its own kind of appeal. I’ll miss the iPhone X, which led a mere year-long existence, but the iPhone XS is the same phone—only better.

  1. I’m looking at you, iPad Pro. ↩



Upgrade #215: The Future of TV is the TV App

If watch faces are the main interface of the Apple Watch, why are they so inconsistent? And why are developers suddenly showing off what faces they’d design if they had the ability? It’s complicated. Also: Photoshop is coming to the iPad for real, and Apple may be offering some of its new TV shows for free.

Episode linkMP3 (1 hour, 14 minutes)

By Dan Moren

Photoshop CC heads for the iPad

Ahead of its Adobe MAX trade show, the company announced that its premiere product, Photoshop, is bound for the iPad. The company stresses that this is “real” Photoshop, not a watered down iOS-only product:

The app is being unveiled to the public for the first time at the Adobe Max conference today, but it won’t actually be available until next year. It’ll be part of the Creative Cloud subscription, so if you’re already paying for Photoshop on desktop, you’ll be able to use it on an iPad. There’s no word on standalone pricing, and Adobe hasn’t made a decision yet on whether Photoshop for the iPad will have a one-time purchase fee or require a subscription of some kind.

Verge reporter and artist Dami Lee took it for a spin:

I’ve been using Photoshop for the iPad for the past week, and it feels distinctly like Photoshop with a few design choices optimized for a touchscreen. It doesn’t have every tool available in desktop Photoshop; in fact, it’s missing the entire upper task bar with the drop-down menu. Instead, you’ll find tools like adjustment layers in the collapsible right-side toolbar.

One of the biggest aspects of this new version is the addition of “Cloud PSD”, an online-based version of Photoshop’s longstanding PSD format. The company likens it to a Google Docs-esque experience, where the truth of your file is stored in the cloud, and loaded into Photoshop wherever you open it. (Naturally, changes are also cached on your local device so you can work offline.)

Photoshop on the platform is certainly a big coup for iOS; in the big debate over whether the iPad can be used for “real work,” it’s long been one of the apps that’s been pointed to as missing. It’ll be interesting to see if and how this will change the workflows of creative professionals who rely on the program. Certainly the ability to directly interact with photos using the Apple Pencil would open up a lot of power for them.

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

Dan Moren for Macworld

3 features Apple should borrow from Google’s latest hardware ↦

For obvious reasons, we spend a lot of time focusing on Apple here, but let’s take a moment to turn our attention to another tech company (yes, there are others!) that competes in many of the same spaces as Apple.

This week, Google introduced a slew of new devices, from new smartphones to a tablet to a smart home speaker with a screen. And while there will always be those who prefer one company’s products to another, it’s important to have competition in this space in order to drive all companies—including Apple—forward.

To that end, here’s a look at a few features that Google announced in its products this week that many users of Apple devices—including yours truly—would welcome with open arms on Cupertino’s own platforms.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

Jason Snell for Macworld

USB-C on the iPad Pro: What it could mean for users ↦

The rumors of new iPad Pros keep swirling. Most recently we got a report from 9to5Mac saying that the new iPads would break with past models in several ways, including support for a new Apple Pencil, removing a physical home button in favor of Face ID, replacing the Smart Connector with a new magnetic connector, and replacing Lightning with USB-C.

Would this the beginning of a transition away from Lightning? Or is it another way for Apple to reinforce that the iPad Pro is more like a computer and less like an iPhone? Moving the iPad Pro to USB-C is potentially a huge move—though it’s also potentially a whole lot of nothing. Let’s take a look at the possibilities.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

By Dan Moren

Apple makes deal with semiconductor firm Dialog

Just in case there were any doubt that Apple is serious about control of all the hardware inside its devices (and there really shouldn’t be, given its recent spats with Qualcomm and ditching of third-party graphics chip maker Imagination), Cupertino’s made a significant partnership with UK-based Dialog Semiconductor.

The partnership between Dialog and Apple is long-lived, with Dialog being the exclusive provider of power management chips in the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. There were some indications that Apple might start building its own power management chips, but the answer seems to be more complex than that. Under this agreement, Apple licenses some of Dialog’s intellectual property relating to said power management technology, as well as acquiring some assets and 300 of Dialog’s employees (who have already worked closely with Apple). Dialog, meanwhile, gets not only $600 million, but also expands to building not only power management chips for Apple products, but also audio and charging chips as well. 1

It’s an interesting move, and most immediately brings to mind Apple’s acquisition of chip firm P.A. Semi, back in 2008. But in that case, Apple bought P.A. Semi lock, stock, and barrel. There’s no doubt Apple could afford to do the same to Dialog, and reports say that Apple sales make up 70 percent of Dialog’s business. But Dialog employs 1500 people, roughly 10 times the number P.A. Semi did at its acquisition, and perhaps Apple didn’t want to take on that much personnel (or lay them off). It seems like Cupertino probably took exactly what it wanted from Dialog and paid handsomely for it.

Even if Apple doesn’t own Dialog outright, this does bring a lot more critical technology in house, further solidifying the company’s control of its entire product. That means even tighter integration throughout the phones, and potentially wins in terms of power management, device size, and efficiency. It continues to be a major competitive advantage for Apple over its competitors, which typically don’t exert this degree of control on its components.

It also continues speculation about the company bringing more of these hardware resources to bear on the Mac line, which has become the odd one out of Apple’s products, the only one still relying heavily on third-party hardware. The Dialog deal doesn’t point directly to any changes in the Mac line, but it does deepen Cupertino’s hardware bench, making it ever more plausible that the company will change the way it thinks about its PC devices.

  1. The press release also cites other “mixed-signal integrated circuits” as being part of the deal, which covers a wide variety of technologies.  ↩

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

Linked by Dan Moren

Dropbox adding OCR capabilities to scans

Detailed blog post by Dropbox’s Brad Neuberg about the addition of optical character recognition (OCR) to Dropbox’s scanning feature. This will allow Dropbox to recognize text in scans you make with its apps, meaning you can search for text that appears inside a scan or copy and paste text out of it. It’s something that seems like it should be simple, but this post shines a lot on what makes this such a hard problem.

I’d love to see this information exposed to Shortcuts somehow. I scan my expense receipts into Dropbox for logging later, and if it could pull out information like the date and amount of the expense, that would be incredibly powerful for the way I log that information. It’d also be great to see Apple add this kind of capability to Notes’s document scanning too.


The Rebound

The Rebound 208: Lexit

We have to take this opportunity while Lex is away to cover a lot of ground including hardware announcements from Google and Facebook, the deaths of Minecraft for Apple TV and Google +, and game streaming announcements from Google and Microsoft. Plus there’s probably some discussion of Apple tech in there somewhere. And if you haven’t gone back and listened to the archives recently, we’ve finally fixed all the problems with earlier episodes.

Episode linkMP3 (45 minutes)



Clockwise #262: What If It’s a Tiger?

This week, on the 30-minute show where we try to keep it to just half an hour, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Anže Tomić and Kathy Campbell to discuss USB-C adoption, Google’s latest hardware, whether we use walkie-talkie features, and the small technologies that have changed our lives. Plus a special bonus topic about movies we can’t not watch.

Episode linkMP3 (29 minutes)

Linked by Jason Snell

Jason on the Emoji Wrap podcast 👋🏻

If you’d like to hear me talk about Emojis on a podcast, you’re in luck. I was on the Emoji Wrap podcast with Emojipedia’s own Jeremy Burge to talk about new emojis and Apple’s strategy to get people to upgrade their iOS devices because of FOMO.



Upgrade #214: Nobody Seems to Know Anything

What is going on with Businessweek’s report that servers (including Apple’s) got hacked by China? Apple, Amazon, and U.S. and UK agencies flat-out say it didn’t happen. Jason uses his decades of experience in journalism to make some guesses about what might be going on. We also tackle a 9to5 Mac report with more exciting details about new iPad Pro models, which may come with their own special ticket to Dongletown. And in Upstream news, everyone’s looking for the next Game of Thrones, which is really good news if you’re the author of a series of fantasy novels.

Episode linkMP3 (1 hour, 23 minutes)

Linked by Jason Snell

More on the limitations of Apple Watch faces

I like the Apple Watch Series 4 but the watch faces are a mess. It’s nice to hear from watch fan (but not Apple Watch fan) Marco Arment with more specifics about the mess:

By now, we’ve seen Apple’s design range that they’re willing to ship as Watch faces, and while it seems broad at first glance, it’s actually pretty narrow….

The Apple Watch is an amazing feat of technology. It’s a computer. It can display anything. With no mechanical or physical limitations to hold us back, any watch-face design from anyone could plausibly be built, enabling a range of creativity, style, and usefulness that no single company could ever design on its own.

But they won’t let us. In a time when personal expression and innovation in watch fashion should be booming, they’re instead being eroded, as everyone in the room is increasingly wearing the same watch with the same two faces.

As I wrote last week, it’s time for Apple to either rethink its entire approach and give users plenty of options—or it’s time for it to give up its monopoly on face design. But something needs to change.

Linked by Dan Moren

Microsoft’s Project xCloud will stream game to mobile devices

In a blog post, Microsoft VP Kareem Choudhry discusses the company’s new game-streaming venture, xCloud:

We are testing Project xCloud today. The test runs on devices (mobile phones, tablets) paired with an Xbox Wireless Controller through Bluetooth, and it is also playable using touch input. The immersive nature of console and PC games often requires controls that are mapped to multiple keys, buttons, sticks and triggers. We are developing a new, game-specific touch input overlay that provides maximum response in a minimal footprint for players who choose to play without a controller.

Some of the commentary I’ve seen on this points to similar services like the defunct OnLive or Sony’s PlayStation Now, but it’s pretty clear to me that the major target here is the Nintendo Switch. The Switch may not be the most graphically powerful game system out there, but its ability to let you pick up and take your games with you wherever you go is a huge advantage.

Microsoft’s not going to be able to squeeze the horsepower of an Xbox One into a portable device, so in a fascinating move it’s kind of gone in the other direction entirely, turning Xbox One hardware into a blade server running in a data center. As such Redmond gets to leverage its own advantages in cloud services, using its Azure system to deliver robust performance in gaming across the net.

Or so it says. How this will work in the real world is a real question, especially since the greatest enemy of online gaming is latency.

Microsoft is also making a move to solve one of the lingering problems of mobile gaming: control schemes. While the company suggests that it will provide onscreen controls for touchscreen devices, Microsoft also says you’ll be able to pair one of its Xbox One controllers—the latest model of which now supports Bluetooth—with any mobile device and use that. (Granted, now you have to carry a controller with you, which isn’t exactly great for subway play, but might be fine if you’re traveling.)

I’ve been looking forward to the release of Red Dead Redemption 2 on the Xbox One just a couple weeks from now, and the idea that I could take the game with me when I travel is definitely appealing. Unfortunately, though xCloud is in testing now, we average folks won’t get a chance to try it out until next year at the earliest.

In related news, Google has also announced its own Project Stream which it’s been demoing with the latest Assassin’s Creed title, but it appears to be limited (at least at present) to running in a browser on a PC or a Mac.

Linked by Jason Snell

Google+ leaks data; service to be sent into the west

According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, the Google+ social network exposed the personal data of up to half a million users. As CNET reports:

Google said it found the bug as part of an internal review called Project Strobe, an audit started earlier this year that examines access to user data from Google accounts by third-party software developers. The bug gave apps access to information on a person’s Google+ profile that can be marked as private. That includes details like email addresses, gender, age, images, relationship statuses, places lived and occupations. Up to 438 applications on Google Plus had access to this API, though Google said it has no evidence any developers were aware of the vulnerability.

The good news is, not a lot of people use Google+, which was Google’s attempt to wedge itself into a social-media space occupied by Facebook and Twitter. It didn’t work, and Google admitted as much today, when it announced that it has “decided to sunset the consumer version of Google+.”

Sunset as a verb means what you might think it means. It’s moving to a farm upstate. It’s going to a better place. It’s following Frodo to Valinor, the Undying Lands across the sea to the west. Where does the sun set? Where Frodo is, probably happy and playing with your childhood pets every day. 1 It is an ex-service.

Google+ will survive as an enterprise product, apparently.

  1. Remember when they sunset Joe Pesci in “GoodFellas”? Oh, n— ↩

Dan Moren for Macworld

The HomePod’s growing pains ↦

Nearly six months into having a HomePod, I made a decision to have it stop listening to me.

If you’re thinking to yourself “Well, that sounds like a fairly central feature of the device?” you’d be right. I now essentially have a very nice but rather expensive AirPlay 2 speaker. But this decision came after a steady and measured observation of how I used Apple’s smart speaker, what it does right, and what it does…less than right.

A month or so after I made the decision to disable the “Hey Siri” feature, I flirted with turning it back on, but ended up doing so for only a few days before I switched it off again. The juice, as they say, simply wasn’t worth the squeeze.

Overall, my experience of the HomePod, more than half a year after its debut, has reminded me largely of the early days of the Apple Watch where the company didn’t seem to have a clear idea of what the device actually was.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

Linked by Dan Moren

Apple’s made two-factor authentication too easy, but not more secure

Nice piece over at TidBITS from our friend Glenn Fleishman details the handy autofill feature for two-factor authentication codes in iOS 12 and Mojave, but points out—more importantly—that we shouldn’t be using SMS for those codes in the first place:

Many Web sites and apps now offer two-factor authentication (2FA), which requires you to enter a short numeric code—the so-called second factor—in addition to your username and password. These temporary codes are either sent to you via text message or are generated by an authentication app. In iOS 12 and macOS 10.14 Mojave, Apple has streamlined entering such codes when sent via an SMS text message, reducing multiple steps and keyboard entry to a single tap or click.

I explain just below how this new feature works, but I also want to raise a caution flag. SMS is no longer a reliable way to send a second factor because it’s too easy for even small-time attackers to intercept those messages (see “Facebook Shows Why SMS Isn’t Ideal for Two-Factor Authentication,” 19 February 2018). It’s time for Web sites that use 2FA to move away from SMS.