The Iconfactory’s Twitterrific is my go-to Twitter client and has been for years. Version 6 of the Twitterrific iOS app launched this week, and I’ve been testing it for months now. While Twitterrific’s approach to Twitter is not for everyone—I always hear from the legion of Tweetbot fans every time I write about Twitter apps—it works perfectly with how I use Twitter and I’d be on Twitter a lot less if it ever went away.
The new version adds a bunch of clever features, some of which I use a lot, some of which will appeal to people who are not me. Videos and GIFs can now play (silently) in timelines, a feature that I immediately turned off. In general, Twitterrific displays images and videos better inline, showing them at their native aspect ratios and including both media and quoted tweets together for the first time.
This version adds support for Giphy, the search engine for animated GIFs, which makes Twitterrific a much better meme-propagation tool. I use Giphy a lot in Slack and it’s fun to be able to pluck an appropriate GIF without ever leaving Twitterrific’s composition window.
Twitterrific’s color scheme has also gotten an overhaul. Rather than offering just dark, light, and pure-black themes, Twitterrific now has three different light themes and five dark themes to choose from. Even more impressive is support for theme customization: You can build your own color themes and drop them in a Twitterrific sub-folder in iCloud Drive and they’ll automatically sync and appear in the app. Color themes are plain-text files in Property List (plist) format. Even better, the files are directly compatible with the theme files you can build in the Mac version of Twitterrific1.
I was able to export my desktop Twitterrific theme, change its name from “Desktop.plist” to “Desktop.twitterrifictheme”, drag it into the Night folder, and then switch to it on my iPad and iPhone, syncing up my color scheme across all my devices. (Turns out my Mac theme looks terrible on iOS—I’ve got some work to do there.)
This new version ships for free with banner ads and occasional interruptions to request that users support the product. To turn off the ads and interruptions (and support development of the app), you can subscribe to Twitterrific 6 on a monthly or annual basis, or spend a one-time fee to unlock everything for the duration of the lifetime of Twitterific 6. Some past supporters of Twitterrific will get some benefits even without paying for the new version—a page at the Iconfactory’s website has the details.
Twitterrific isn’t for every Twitter user, but I think it’s a dramatic upgrade over the company’s iOS offerings. I wouldn’t use Twitter nearly as much if I had to use the website or Twitter client. That’s why I’m glad that enough people use (and pay for) Twitterrific that the Iconfactory can continue to afford to develop it.
There’s only so much information one can digest in a single sitting. Even a week after Apple’s annual Worldwide Developers Conference wrapped up, we’re still sifting through the details of the company’s announcements. And that’s before the deluge of users even installing the public beta.
But beyond just the features that Apple has included (or hasn’t) in the next versions of its software platforms, there’s also a lot to glean from these announcements about the company’s future plans. In some cases they’re obvious; in others, you just need to read between the lines a little bit. As I pored over Apple’s website, I noticed a few things that made me think about what the folks in Cupertino might have in store.
My initial thought, when sitting in the audience at Apple’s WWDC keynote, was that iPadOS 13 was going to present me with a remarkable number of items from my iPad wish list. And that’s not wrong—it looks like this release is going to check a lot of boxes—but the keynote never tells the whole story. Some features are omitted from the keynote but end up being huge in my overall estimation of a new release. And of course, some wished-for features are never mentioned because, after scouring feature-list web pages and installing developer betas, you hit the inescapable realization that they just aren’t there.
In the bubble of the convention center, you only hear what Apple wants to communicate. Once you leave the bubble, you begin to process what’s real and what’s not. Reality begins to set in. It’s a good thing—reality is where we (well, most of us) live. And reality, not the stuff of wish lists, is where new software releases run.
This week, on the irreverent tech show where two out of three hosts still wear their Apple Watch, Dan and John catch Lex up on WWDC announcements. But we also discuss Dan’s CarPlay update, help John pick a new input device, and Lex’s parents’ new TV. Plus, working long hours, how we deal with storage, and whether or not a certain host might be toying with the idea of a new Apple Watch.
This week, on the 30-minute tech show that goes down the rabbit hole, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Joe Rosensteel and Lory Gil to discuss Apple’s new hearing health push, how we use technology in our morning routines, our use of CarPlay and Android Auto, and the latest debate over Apple’s App Store policies and procedures. Plus, a breakfast-themed bonus topic.
Last week in San Jose I found myself considering something John Gruber wrote for Macworld at the beginning of this decade—about how Apple’s product design doesn’t happen in short bursts, contrary to popular belief. It is a marathon, not a sprint. And no other company in the tech industry has the track record at it that Apple has.
“It’s a slow and steady process of continuous iterative improvement—so slow, in fact, that the process is easy to overlook if you’re observing it in real time,” Gruber wrote. “Only in hindsight is it obvious just how remarkable Apple’s platform development process is.”
This is still true nine years later. And we’re right in the middle of it. It’s happening all around us—Apple continues playing its long game, dragging change-averse people through periods of transition so slowly that they often don’t even notice what’s happening until it’s all said and done.
When I bought my Volkswagen GTI in 2012, I loved everything about it—except the audio system. In fact, it was so bad that I even felt the need to pen a screed about its shortcomings, which included a terrible, unresponsive interface; unreliable playback displays; and a terrible voice control system which, in the intervening seven years, I have only triggered by accident. 1
Meanwhile, the state of the art of car audio has taken a major leap forward, as smartphone makers like Apple and Google have tried to supplant the traditional interface makers with initiatives like CarPlay and Android Auto. Which made sense! For one thing, we all now carry computers more powerful than your average car stereo; for another, shouldn’t technology interface design be left to the people who specialize in it?
But here I was, stuck in the old paradigm, not sure how to escape. In my previous car—my venerable 1997 Honda Accord—I eventually bought a new head unit with a USB port to replace the cassette-toting original radio. But I was a little more hesitant to take the same plunge in my GTI; CarPlay units seemed pricier, for one thing, and then I’d have to deal with either installing it myself or paying someone to do it. I had mostly resigned myself to the purgatory of my existence.
Then, a few months back, the topic of CarPlay came up in the Six Colors Member Slack 2. When I expressed disappointment that I’d missed the CarPlay train—as it were—some kind readers with similar model cars pointed out that there was an easier option: buy a newer Volkswagen stereo that did support CarPlay, and swap it in.
To back up a bit: car manufacturers generally don’t make their own electronics, instead relying on third-party original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) to build the units that they can pop in at assembly. (Which also makes it easy for the carmaker if there are multiple trim levels available—say, with or without in-dash navigation.)
Those OEM units have to come from somewhere, and, as with so many electronics these days, the answer to that is, of course, China. And, as it turns out, it’s actually pretty easy to buy one of those units new or almost-new from sites like eBay and AliExpress.
After some research 3 and further discussion with our very fine members, I was able to figure out the exact model I should be looking for: an RCD330G—specifically the 6RD 035 187B by Desay, which seemed to be the most stable model.
Last week at WWDC, I ended up discussing my CarPlay with Jason; his positivity about it tipped me over the edge. So I did some more searching and found the unit I was looking for on AliExpress for about $170 plus $40 in shipping. About a week later it arrived on my doorstep.
The main reason I chose the RCD 330 was, as I said, it’s essentially a standard VW head unit. That means that it both physically fits the existing molding in my car as well as working with pretty much all of the car’s existing interfaces with little additional work. 4
The most challenging part of the entire installation process was prying off the molding. 5 It’s clipped on quite tightly; most of the videos I watched about the installation—in particular, I recommend this one, which is simple and to the point—used some form of plastic pry bar to lever one side off, before using their fingers to pull the rest off. At first, I tried using the trusty spudgers from my computer repair kits, but they were too small and didn’t provide enough leverage. So I drove to my local auto parts store and bought a $10 kit with bigger, hopefully more robust tools. (I wasn’t actually that impressed with these; they got easily chewed up in the process; but hopefully I won’t need them again any time soon.)
Once the molding was off, it was a simple matter of unscrewing the four Torx screws securing the head unit. (Here my iFixit screwdriver kit did come in handy.) The whole unit then slid out, and I popped off the antenna connector—which had a slightly tricky clip—and the main wiring block, which has a little lever that you pop up.
I also had a third wire connected to my head unit, which I am pretty sure was for the Bluetooth support in the car. Bluetooth was a factory option when I bought the car, but in 2012 it was very much a bolt-on: there’s literally a separate unit under the front passenger seat with a wire that snakes underneath and up into the dash. Certainly not ideal from a fit and finish perspective, and also explains why Bluetooth support always seemed a bit wonky.
One of the amazing parts of pulling out the old unit was realizing how much bigger it was. Though both have the same size front, the rear of the original unit was double the height, because it also had to accommodate a CD changer; the new unit foregoes the CD player entirely, which isn’t a problem for me as I have literally never used it in the seven years that I’ve owned this car. 6
All of that done, I screwed the new unit in, popped the molding back on, and fired it up.
The future according to CarPlay
After only a day with CarPlay in my life, my only disappointment is that I waited this long.
It’s not that CarPlay is perfect—it certainly has some quirks, like managing the volume levels of Siri versus the music—but it is so much better than what I had before. Even having a play progress bar for audio that accurately reflects where I am in a given track seems like witchcraft after seven years of what amounted to a shrug emoji.
The screen real estate is put to much better use, for everything from media playback to displaying navigation, and I’ve found both Apple Maps and Google Maps’s CarPlay offerings to be pretty darn solid. The touchscreen is snappier and more responsive than the old model—scrolling used to be something to be avoided at all costs, and now it’s actually usable, if not up to the level we expect from most of our touchscreen devices. And, best of all, because this is a unit meant for VWs, not only do all of the steering wheel controls for adjusting volume and playback work, but that annoying button that triggered the built-in voice control system? It now triggers Siri—on my iPhone XS, instantaneously.
As I said, there are a few limitations. For one, the need to plug in my phone all the time, which means a wire draped in unfortunate places. 7 (Wireless CarPlay does exist, but it’s not supported by as many models.) At least it means that my phone is charging while in use.
Another nitpick is that the head unit supports a rear-view camera, which I don’t have installed. When I shift into reverse, it tries to switch over to the camera mode and then warns me that no camera is installed; I have to manually dismiss a dialog before bringing up CarPlay again. My understanding is that this can be disabled with some tech modding tools, but that’s an expensive proposition to fix one thing; so either I’ll live with it or I’ll throw myself upon the mercy of the dealer next time I bring my car in.
Now that I’ve made the jump, I’m really looking forward to iOS 13’s CarPlay improvements, including a Do Not Disturb option, a new dashboard display, and more. And this perhaps is the great victory of this upgrade: my in-car experience will actually improve along with these regular updates, rather than ending up stagnant or left along the roadside. Given that I had to wait months for VW to fix a bug in my car’s radio after I bought it, this is a far more promising future. 8
All in all, for the $220 or so that this upgrade ended up costing me, it’s a steal. If you can find a similar path to replacing your head unit, I highly recommend it.
If you’ve ever driven past a man angrily screaming “CANCEL,” it me. ↩
A huge plug for the enthusiastic community of VW owners on places like VWVortex and Golf MK6. It was fascinating to dive into a tangential sub-culture that I know almost nothing about. ↩
The one exception is the radio antenna, which uses a slightly different plug on the 330. But most vendors, including mine, ship the head unit with an adapter cable that’s easy to plug in. ↩
Okay, also the part where I dropped my screwdriver bit down the side of my seat and had to spend a couple minutes fishing it out. ↩
The other things the new unit lacks are support for satellite radio, which I never used after the free six months of my Sirius XM subscription lapsed, and HD radio, which I did like, but was a worthwhile sacrifice—the difference is largely undetectable unless you are comparing them side-by-side, and you can always stream radio via your phone. ↩
It’s also a strategically brilliant move by Apple, as I mentioned in my Macworld column last week: every time someone logs in with Apple’s service as opposed to, say, Facebook’s or Google’s, those companies lose out on your valuable personal information. That’s a pretty big blow for them, especially if it starts to happen in large volumes.
In a note on the band’s Instagram, Radiohead guitarist Jonny Greenwood confirmed that the band had been hacked, writing “someone stole Thom [Yorke]’s minidisk archive from around the time of OK Computer, and reportedly demanded $150,000 on threat of releasing it. So instead of complaining — much — or ignoring it, we’re releasing all 18 hours on Bandcamp in aid of Extinction Rebellion… So for £18 you can find out if we should have paid that ransom.”
(All the proceeds for the songs go to a climate change advocacy group.)
Myke and Jason get over their WWDC hangover with a discussion of our favorite new iPadOS 13 features. Then we take a look at the future of Apple’s platforms with a discussion of Catalyst and SwiftUI and an exclusive interview with Apple’s Wiley Hodges and Josh Shaffer.
It’s hard to tell when Apple is listening. They speak concisely, infrequently, and only when they’re ready, saying absolutely nothing in the meantime, even when we’re all screaming about a product line as if it’s on fire. They make great progress, but often with courageous losses that never get reversed, so an extended silence because we’re stuck with a change forever is indistinguishable from an extended silence because the fix isn’t ready yet.
Developing hardware is a lengthy process and Apple isn’t one to trot out half-baked promises—they’d rather underpromise and overdeliver than the opposite.
There’s a popular perception of the company as arrogant and know-it-all, and while it certainly does tend to operate in a top-down fashion, Apple has no interest in developing hardware that people aren’t going to buy. At the end of the day it’s a business, and when the trash-can Mac Pro did poorly, the company would have been foolish to double down on the design.
So, yes, Apple may not communicate its future plans, but that doesn’t mean it’s not paying attention to what’s being said. Or, as much smarter minds than mine have put it, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.
Fox Sports offered 4K streams for the 2018 FIFA World Cup last year, but in order to watch them, you had to own a HiSense TV. For the Women’s World Cup that begins Friday in France, those higher quality streams will be more readily available. The network told Engadget that for the first time 4K broadcasts will be available inside the Fox Sports and Fox Now apps. They’ll still be somewhat limited though: You’ll need an Apple TV or Roku device to watch the action on the pitch in 4K (2160p).
I just tried this out with the opening match on my Apple TV 4K and it looked great. Last year’s 4K feed being limited to a promotional deal with a TV maker was unfortunate, but it looks like U.S. viewers will be able to watch all the matches this year live in glorious 4K.
As Apple’s biggest event of the year winds down and the dust begins to settle, the shape of company’s future plans is starting to become clearer. And this time around it’s not a matter of digging up a mere smattering of hints about where Apple is taking its products, but of sifting through the metric ton of details that the company divulged. Most people were convinced that this would be a big event, and they were ultimately right—even if not for the reasons initially suspected.
Here are just a few of the big takeaways from the announcements, with an idea of what they might mean for the future of the company’s products.
The solution to that paradox, it turns out, is a trick that requires you to own at least two Apple devices. Each one emits a constantly changing key that nearby Apple devices use to encrypt and upload your geolocation data, such that only the other Apple device you own possesses the key to decrypt those locations.
Not explicitly mentioned in this story is another fact that makes this system feasible: the sheer volume of Apple devices that are out in the world, essentially creating a gigantic ad hoc mesh network. But Apple has clearly taken pains to prevent abuse of that power—or, in other words, they’re Lucius Fox at the end of The Dark Knight.
This week, on the 30-minute show that can barely contain all the news, Dan is joined by host emeritus/permanent villain Jason Snell and special guests Myke Hurley and Alex Cox to run down all the announcements from WWDC. We discuss our favorite iOS 13 features, the significance of iPadOS, what Project Catalyst means for the future of the Mac, and our thoughts on Apple’s new pro hardware. Plus, a special air-travel-themed bonus topic.
As someone who has been using the Mac for nearly three decades and someone who heavily uses an iPad Pro to get work done, I’m disappointed when I see people try to pit the two platforms against one another. There’s definitely a certain subset of Mac users who seem offended that anyone would dare to use an iPad rather than a Mac.
I hope those people are ready for what’s about to happen, because as of this year, the Mac and iPad are marching in lockstep. They are partners, buddies, siblings. They are co-tenants of Apple’s newest app platform. They need each other in a way that has never been true before. If the iPad and the Mac succeed, it’s going to be as a team.
It’s all WWDC all the time this week, as Dan and John welcome special guest James Thomson to help them break down Apple’s announcements. We discuss James getting mildly sherlocked, whether or not you can plug in your legacy SCSI drives to an iPad Pro, Apple’s…questionable…gesture names, and, of course, what this all means for Dan’s Mac mini.
It’s not an Apple event without strong opinions all around, and there were no shortage of those at WWDC this year. Apple showed off updates to all of its major platforms—yes, even tvOS!—and there are very few, if any, products that won’t be affected by these changes.
With all that to sift through, here’s my personal rundown of the best and worst of Apple’s major platform announcements.
The best: Multiuser support
Finally, an indication that Apple realizes that households share devices. Individualized queues and recommendations are great, but I’m curious how deeply this goes into the OS. Does each user use a different Apple ID? How are purchases handled? What about third-party apps—can they “see” who is logged in and provide their own linked profile support? This may be more a starting point than anything else, but I’m glad that Apple’s at least starting.
The worst: Auto-play on home screen
Ugh. There’s a taste of this in the latest tvOS update, where the TV app now auto-plays trailers in the background. I hope there’s a way to turn this off, because it’s annoying and distracting. If I’ve decided I want to watch something, I don’t need to see the trailer; if I’ve decided I don’t want to watch something, I don’t need to see the trailer. If I’m on the fence, just let me choose whether or not I want to see the trailer.
The best: Activity trends
With this long-term view, Apple’s shifting its health perspective from the tactical to the strategic. Now that the Watch is motivating people to get up and get moving, it’s time to analyze the data that’s being collected and make more proactive decisions based on it. This feels like a real shift in terms of the digital health initiatives Apple has been pushing. (Also health related, and worth a mention: Cycle Tracking for menstruation, a feature that has been missing for far too long, which is also available on iOS.)
The current Reminders app on macOS is, frankly, a travesty. It’s the one app that never quite hit escape velocity from the skeuomorphism black hole, even though whatever it’s mimicking isn’t actually a real thing? It’s clunky, frustrating, and yet I somehow use it every day anyway, because it’s built-in to the OS. But it’s in need of a top-to-bottom refresh, and that is exactly what Apple is delivering here. This is one of those small moves that will make a huge improvement to my everyday life.
The worst: Project Catalyst
Wait, wait, hear me out. It’s not that I’m against the idea of bringing any iOS apps to the Mac. However, I am specifically against bringing the Twitter app to the Mac because a) I think it’s a terrible app and b) there’s a good chance it will reinforce the social network’s attempt to shut down third-party apps, which have long thrived on the Mac and provide overall better experiences, except where they have been hamstrung by Twitter itself.
The best: USB external storage access
One of those glaring omissions that existed only because Apple was trying to disrupt all of the existing computing paradigms, only to realize that some of those paradigms existed for reasons. This is one of the last holdouts in that category, and it will significantly streamline some workflows on the iPad that were technically possible, but required cumbersome workarounds. 1
The worst: New text selection model
Okay, maybe “the worst” is overselling it, but the onstage demo, which involved dragging the cursor where you want it to go, seemed awkward and a little janky. Frankly, though, text selection and manipulation on iOS devices has always been a little janky. I’m not sold on the three-finger gestures for cut/copy/paste either 2, but an Undo gesture seems like a great idea.
The best: Sign In with Apple
Streamlining signing up for new services? Excellent. Giving you more control over what information is shared with third parties? Even better. Providing disposable email addresses that can be used to figure out which service is spamming you and then allow you to revoke just that address? Hallelujah. The feature will apparently be mandatory if an app offers any other third-party sign-on service (i.e. Sign In With Google or Facebook), which ought to help adoption, but no doubt there are some companies that won’t be thrilled with it.
The worst: …Maps?
Uh, I guess with enhanced geographical data and the new Look Around 3 feature, we won’t have Maps to kick around anymore, and that’s a…shame?
Honestly, I got nothing.
The Mac Pro
The best: Easy modularity and upgrading
People clamored for an easily upgradable, insanely powerful Mac, and they got it in spades. The pull-off case hearkens back to the heyday of the PowerMac G3/G4 towers and their flip-down doors, and the amount of internal expandability is truly amazing. Hard to imagine there’s anything more that a professional user might want.
The worst: It’s not for you
All of us prosumers and enthusiasts who used to insist we needed a pro desktop are gasping at the $5999 price tag (not to mention the equally expensive Pro Display), but that’s because this isn’t a machine designed for even “average” power tasks. This is a workstation, emphasis on work. If you’re not a creative professional, the Mac Pro is likely overkill, and at that cost, it’s not a machine that a lot of individual users are probably going to be buying anyway. We’ll have to make do with iMacs and iMac Pros, poor us. 4
Multiuser support for HomePod, full display of Siri search results on Apple Watch, macOS Mail’s ability to unsubscribe from marketing lists, widgets on the iPad Home screen and multiple windows per app(!), name/avatar sharing in Messages on iOS, the Mac Pro’s 28-core processor, and so much more.
Too much to count
Even at more than two hours, this Apple keynote felt jam-packed. There was a lot to like, and not really that much to disappoint, though as always, we’ll have to wait to get our hands on all of these updates to see how they really perform.
Now if you could add the ability to record and transmit audio simultaneously, we podcasters would be in business. ↩
And “three-finger spread”, Craig? No. Please, no. ↩
Don’t call it “Street View” unless you want to get kidnapped in an Apple Maps van. ↩
Also the Mac Pro’s two-tone silver and black keyboard, mouse, and trackpad are the new prestige accessories, for when you want people to know this isn’t just any old iMac Pro. ↩