six colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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Dan Moren for Macworld

How Apple could make international travel easier ↦

For the last several weeks, I’ve been in India. Some of that time I’ve spent traveling around, seeing the sights, and some of it I’ve spent with my head down working, just as usual—albeit in a time zone where most of the people I know are asleep.

My devices have made the trip with me: MacBook Air, iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch. For the most part, my experience traveling with them has been pretty positive. I can get my email, and iMessage or FaceTime my family back home with little interruption, and run most of the apps that I’m used to having at my fingertips, day in and day out.

But for all of that, there are still some weak spots in Apple’s tech when it comes to being a global traveler. In many cases, Apple has the systems in place, they’re just not—as writer William Gibson once said—“evenly distributed yet.”

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Dan Moren for Macworld

What if the AirPort Extreme becomes the Siri Speaker? ↦

It’s been a weird year for Apple, product-wise. Not only were there a dearth of updates to the Mac, relatively modest changes to the Apple Watch and iPad, and very little movement on the Apple TV, but the company took the rare step of essentially discontinuing two of its product families: displays and its AirPort Wi-Fi routers.

General consensus seems to be that killing off those products is about streamlining the company to focus on other projects. We’re probably still a ways off from discovering what that streamlining is in favor of, but Apple fans are hopeful that it’ll be something totally new.

So here, let me tell you a fantastical tale of an Apple product that will probably never exist, but which makes a certain amount of sense in the company’s brave new lineup. A caveat: this stems from nothing more than my own imagination, not from any inside information or special knowledge.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


By Jason Snell

Transferring audio files from an SD card to an iOS device with FlashAir

There were some podcasters at the Úll conference in Ireland last month, and at one point when we were talking shop I complained again about how iOS doesn’t support files on external storage devices that aren’t photos or videos.

This means that if I travel to record a live podcast using a multi-track recorder like the Zoom H6, I have to bring a Mac with me to offload the files. Oh, sure, I can edit a podcast on iOS with ease, but how to get the files over there?

flashair

One of the people at Úll—I believe it was Elias—suggested I try the Toshiba FlashAir Wi-Fi SD card. There have been many Wi-Fi-enabled SD cards—I used an Eye-Fi for years—but this one has an iOS app that actually lets you select any file on the card and open it in any app.

There are a bunch of caveats, as you might expect. The FlashAir app isn’t particularly elegant, but it’s functional. The functionality to open a file in another app via the share sheet is off by default, so you have to turn it on. Wi-Fi cards can suck battery, though the FlashAir turns off its Wi-Fi functions after a few minutes if they’re not being used.

But the upside is tremendous! With this approach I can travel somewhere with only an iOS device and my portable recording set-up, record a live audio session, import those files to my iOS device, and then edit and post that audio session, all from iOS.

Now, this doesn’t get Apple off the hook—its card-reader accessory should really be able to read other file types, and more generally iOS should be able to connect to storage devices and let you see the files, whether they’re photos or Word documents. But it closes another gap for my own iOS-based podcast workflow, and so I’m excited about that.

[Don't miss all our podcasting articles.]


By Jason Snell

Recording a podcast locally on iOS without a Mac

One of my recent tech quests has been to find a way to record and edit podcasts when traveling with an iOS device and no Mac. The best approach I’ve found so far—and I’ve used it a few times—is to talk on Skype on an iPhone with a pair of earbuds while simultaneously recording myself on a good microphone on an iPad.

Look, I didn’t say it was a good approach. Just that it was the best one I’d found so far. Though I never travel without my iPhone and iPad, the two-device approach to recording is inelegant to say the least. In addition, the person I’m talking to on Skype hears me through a lousy microphone, and I can’t hear my own voice being returned to my ears. (That’s important, because if you can hear your own voice you can tell when you’re not talking into the microphone, and it makes your own impression of your voice sound less like you’re talking with your ears full of water.)

In testing the Audio-Technica ATR2100-USB for my story about the sub-$100 podcast studio, I realized that I had a better option for iOS-only recording. It’s still clunky, but the person on the other end of the Skype call can hear me clearly, and I can hear my own voice in my ears.

Here’s the trick: The ATR2100-USB is a rarity, a microphone that offers both a USB port, for direct connection to a digital device, and an XLR port, for an analog connection to a mixing board or other audio interface. And you can use both connections simultaneously.

So I attach the ATR2100-USB to my iPad or iPhone with Apple’s Lighting-USB Adapter — the old model will work, my iPhone 7 was able to power the microphone itself, though it’s possible that some models might require a power assist from the newer Lightning-USB Camera Adapter. Once the microphone is attached to the iOS device, it becomes the audio input and output for all apps, including Skype.

I plug my headphones into the headphone jack on the microphone, so I’m getting zero-latency feedback from my own voice as well as hearing the audio from Skype, channeled back from my iOS device.

Then I attach an XLR cable to the microphone and to a portable audio recorder. I use the Zoom H6, but you might have the Tascam DR-40 or the Zoom H4N.

Once that’s hooked up, all I need to do is record my microphone audio on the recorder while conducting my podcast via Skype. In the end, I’ve had a clear conversation and been able to hear my own voice, and my recorder has a pristine copy of my microphone audio.

There’s one final step—transferring the audio file from my recorder back to the iOS device—which requires more hardware. And this setup still doesn’t let me walk away with a recording of the other side of the Skype conversation, which is useful as an insurance policy in case someone else’s recording fails.

If you don’t already have an ATR2100-USB and a portable recorder with XLR plugs, I don’t think I can recommend that you spend money on this option. But if you happen to have the component parts, like I do, you have a single-iOS-device podcast studio ready to go.

[Don't miss all our podcasting articles.]


Jason Snell for Macworld

The evolution of Apple’s laptops, from the PowerBook to the MacBook Pro ↦

In a moment of somewhat unexpected nostalgia at its most recent media event, Apple pointed out that it was the 25th anniversary of the PowerBook. (It’s good to know that, 27 years later, Apple still would rather nobody remember the Mac Portable.) I’ve been a Mac laptop user since the original PowerBook era. That ancient history is my history. Since 1991, Apple has gone through seven distinct eras when it comes to its laptop strategy and design.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Podcast

The Rebound 114: Nerds Are People

The Rebound

On this week’s show, we talk about rumors of a stationary tablet touchscreen-enabled Amazon Echo, the challenges of India’s demonetization scheme (and the benefits, at least for Apple!), and the slow decline of automation on the Mac. Then John regales Lex and Dan with tales of his new MacBook Pro, as we grill him mercilessly about the Touch Bar.


By Dan Moren

Distant is a “wondrous” platformer being published by Alto’s Adventure creators

I’m a sucker for atmospheric games, and the new trailer for Distant, an upcoming game published by Alto’s Adventure creators Built by Snowman, looks like it’s got more atmosphere than a gas giant.

There’s not much known about Distant yet, though Built by Snowman’s Ryan Cash did give an interview to Kill Screen, in which he described the game thusly:

DISTANT takes you on a wondrous voyage through pastel dreamscapes, to prevent a calamity from consuming the world you once knew. Along the way, you’ll confront an inescapable past, and learn how much you’re willing to sacrifice in your search for solace.

So, yeah. There’s that. Distant is actually developed by a new Australian studio, Slingshot and Satchel, with Built by Snowman acting as publisher and creative partner to the nascent, two-person shop. The game’s due to arrive next year for Windows, Mac, Apple TV, and consoles.

The Snowman folks are also working on another beautiful-looking game next year, Where Cards Fall, with studio The Game Band.

[Dan Moren is a freelance writer, podcaster, and former Macworld editor. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]


Linked by Jason Snell

‘Aqua and Bondi’

Aqua-Bondi

Stephen Hackett has published a book about the early days of OS X and the original iMac called “Aqua and Bondi.” It’s available in iBooks or as a PDF.

I got to read and comment on early drafts of this book, and I recommend it for anyone who’s looking to relive (or live for the first time!) a pivotal moment in Apple history. The return of Steve Jobs to Apple was big, but it’s bookended by two other major milestones. First, the purchase of NeXT wasn’t originally even about Jobs coming back to Apple—it was about buying a replacement for classic Mac OS. Second, the first major product release of Jobs’s tenure, the iMac, which really was the product that kept the lights on at Apple in a time of dire need.

Stephen’s book is full of photos from his collection of classic Mac products, including all the iMac colors. I recommend it. I hope he’ll consider doing a print-on-demand version, because “Aqua and Bondi” would make a great little paper book—and presumably it would be a lot cheaper than Apple’s!


Podcast

Clockwise #165: Orgy of Consumer Spending

Clockwise

The holidays (and holiday sales) are in full swing, but do we partake? This week on Clockwise we also consider detoxing from social media, ponder the contradictions of cord-cutting, and get a visit from a Mysterious Benefactor. Our guests are Macworld’s Caitlin McGarry and podcaster and ad-sales phenomenon Lex Friedman.


By Dan Moren

Quick Tip: Print to PDF in iOS

A while back, I covered the Save to PDF feature that debuted in the iOS 9 beta, and which is now part of iOS. But, as I remarked at the time, it’s not quite equal to the Print to PDF feature that the Mac has long had.

ios-print-to-pdf

However, there’s been another hidden version of the Print to PDF feature on iOS that’s been floating around for some time—I most recently saw it on Devon Technologies blog. It’s still not quite as convenient as it is on the Mac, but it gives you a little more flexibility than simply saving a PDF to iBooks.

Tap the Share button in any app that has it, then tap the Print button. You’ll get a print preview window, with a thumbnail. Now, here’s the fun part: pinch to zoom on the preview image and it’ll pop into fullscreen mode. (Note: If you’ve got a 3D Touch-enabled iPhone, you can also pop the image into fullscreen mode.) You’re now essentially viewing a PDF that’s been generated as a preview—but that document has its own Share menu. Using that, you can share the PDF via iMessage, email, AirDrop, or anything else that the Share sheet allows.

There you go. Maybe some day Apple will bake in a real Print to PDF feature, but for the moment, the alternatives are pretty good if you just need to get it done.

[Dan Moren is a freelance writer, podcaster, and former Macworld editor. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]


Linked by Dan Moren

Apple ranks highest in Wi-Fi router customer satisfaction

J.D. Power:

Apple Ranks Highest in Overall Satisfaction among Wireless Router Manufacturers

Awkward.


By Dan Moren

Netflix will finally—finally!—let you download content to watch offline

There have been a lot of technological revolutions during my lifetime: the personal computer. The internet. The smartphone. But none have affected my life in quite as meaningful a way as the ability to stream all the movies and TV shows I want from Netflix. Only one obstacle stood in the way of true happiness: the ability to watch those shows when you’re offline too.

Today, that era comes to an end.

Netflix has officially announced that it will support downloading of certain content to watch when you’re on a plane, out in the boonies, or perhaps even in space.

Of course, there are limitations. Not all titles are supported, though it sounds like Netflix’s own original content is at the top of the list, along with a selection of other titles. More movies and shows will be made available in the future, says the company.

So far, it seems like this will only be supported for iOS and Android devices, whose apps will receive an update that provides a download button for compatible content. PC and Mac users are out of luck, at least for the time being.

Amazon Video has offered this ability for a while in its mobile apps, but Netflix had in the past staunchly denied that it planned on adding this feature, calling it “very unlikely,” but something clearly kicked things into gear—I’d guess a combination of wanting to compete with the likes of Amazon, plus the clout it has in being able to immediately put its own (mostly highly regard) content up for download.

Someday we’ll look back on the quaint era when you had to be tethered to an Internet connection to watch Netflix. Or maybe we’ll all be streaming on supersonic planes with broadband-level speeds and 4K virtual reality displays. But I think we can all agree: it will probably be one of those.

[Dan Moren is a freelance writer, podcaster, and former Macworld editor. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]


Linked by Dan Moren

Demonetization bumped iPhone sales in India

The Indian government’s demonetization scheme, which rendered 500 and 1000 rupee notes invalid, actually may have helped Apple, according to The Economic Times:

iPhone sales shot up in India in the three days immediately following demonetisation as consumers rushed to buy these devices with their phasedout high-denomination notes and stores booked sales through back-dated receipts. As per trade estimates, over 1 lakh [100,000] iPhones were sold in these three days, which is around three-fourth of this handset’s average monthly sales.

Obviously, if you don’t want to deposit your cash in the bank—at which point you’ll have to pay taxes on it—what’s the next best option? Fungible goods. So gold and iPhones were apparently flying off the shelves as the best bang for your no-longer-legal-tender buck. It’s probably not repeatable, though, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see Apple’s India results up next quarter, and down the following.


By Jason Snell

What’s the best way to migrate?

I have spent an awful lot of time migrating my data to various Macs over the years. (If you want to review a product, you need to use it, and that means bringing over enough of your stuff to do that.) Recently with the release of the new MacBook Pro models, I got to do two more data migrations, which led to a string of conversations on Twitter about the “right way” to move from one Mac to another.

Truth is, there’s no one right way to migrate. I’ve tried them all, and they all have their issues. Let’s walk through the options and consider their strengths and weaknesses.

Clone your old Mac hard drive

This is a classic. In this scenario, you connect your new Mac to your old Mac via Target mode (hold down T at boot to engage Target mode, then—using the right cables and adapters if you have them!—connect one to the other via either Thunderbolt or USB) and then use a utility like Carbon Copy Cloner or SuperDuper to copy every byte of data from the old computer to the new one.

The advantages of this approach are clear: This is a straight-up brain transplant. The new computer is basically the old computer, every single file of it.

But there are complications. Brand-new Mac models often come with special builds of macOS that are device specific. Eventually a software update will come out that puts all Macs on an even footing again, but if you’re buying a brand-new Mac, it won’t necessarily be able to run the OS version you’re copying from your old Mac.

Apple has also moved beyond the concept of a single disk partition containing all your Mac data. There’s been an invisible Recovery partition on Macs for some time now, and the Touch Bar apparently complicates matters further.

Migrate files at first boot

The first time you boot a new Mac, it launches a version of the Migration Assistant utility, which allows you copy files to your new Mac from a few different locations, including another Mac, a Time Machine backup, or a Windows PC.

At first boot, your new Mac is essentially formless—it’s got the system software installed, but there are no user accounts. It’s ripe for a migration.

The simplest way to migrate is via a Time Machine backup, if you’ve got one. Plug in your Time Machine drive (or connect via the network, if it’s a remote drive, but it’ll be a lot slower!), choose a snapshot to use (ideally the backup you just completed before starting up your new Mac!) and begin the migration. You can choose to copy apps, documents, and settings from the Time Machine backup.

You can also choose to migrate directly from your other Mac. The transfer itself is pretty much the same, but you’ll need to find a way to connect the two Macs—a cable directly attached with the old Mac in Target mode is the best approach—and your old Mac will be inoperable in the meantime.

This is the official, Apple-supported method of migrating files, and it’s usually pretty solid. Your files come over, but the new Mac keeps its own system software in place. You can choose a less complete data transfer if you don’t want to bring over everything.

Unfortunately, I haven’t found Migration Assistant to be as reliable as it should be. In migrating to the 13-inch MacBook Pro without Touch Bar from my MacBook Air, I encountered an unexplained failure. That was it—the migration failed, Migration Assistant couldn’t explain why, and I was left to pick up the pieces.

Migrate files later with Migration Assistant

You can always launch Migration Assistant later—it’s an app in the Utilities folder. When it runs, it quits out of all other apps so that they won’t mess up your data during migration. You can migrate from a Time Machine backup or another Mac, same as on boot.

Unfortunately, this approach does add complications. Since you’re already up and running on the new Mac, that means you’ve created a new user account. If a user on your old Mac shares that account name—this happens to me all the time, since I use the same account name on all my Macs—you can’t transfer that user without changing its account name. I still haven’t learned my lesson, and frequently find myself creating another new user, logging in to that account, deleting the previous user, and then using Migration Assistant to move over my regular user account from my old Mac.

This approach has the advantage of being available at any time, but if you get the chance to start fresh by migrating at first boot, I think it’s preferable.

Just use iCloud

This is a new one. If you’re using macOS Sierra’s iCloud Desktop and Documents syncing, most of your files will come along for the ride when you log into a new Mac with your iCloud credentials.

It’s sort of true, but… first, you’ll need to re-download all your files from iCloud, which will take much longer than copying those files from a device that’s within a few feet of you. iCloud also doesn’t migrate apps or settings, so you’ll need to reinstall apps (either from the Mac App Store or from third-party app sellers) and either tweak your settings or dig around in your preferences folder to find the app settings you want to move.

It wouldn’t surprise me if Apple’s long game is to also sync app preferences across iCloud, and maybe even keep track of what apps you’ve got installed and automatically restore those from the Mac App Store, but all the pieces aren’t here yet. If you mostly use stock Apple apps and haven’t really messed with the default settings of those apps, this approach will probably work just fine.

Nothing. Or almost nothing.

A popular approach among some friends of mine (like Casey Liss) is to simply “start fresh” every time they move to a new Mac.

This approach can take two forms. In one, you load all your key files up on an external drive and then just copy them over by hand. In the other, you add stuff as you need it. Every time you need an app, install it. If you keep your key files on Dropbox, install that and get access to the files you need. If you need to transfer over some key files, do that—but no more.

There’s a lot to be said for this approach, in terms of letting you get rid of what you don’t need and keep only what you do. But personally, I like my migration experience to be as short as possible. I’d rather move house once, in a big truck, rather than shuttle boxes back and forth as needed for several weeks. Your mileage may vary, but I want to get to the part where my new Mac feels like home as quickly as possible.

So what do I do?

These days I’m mostly relying on Migration Assistant, sometimes via a Time Machine backup and sometimes via direct transfer. Unfortunately, my recent bad experiences with Migration Assistant have got me wondering if I’d be better off with a different approach.

If I only moved Macs once every few years, I think I might approach things as Casey Liss does, and start fresh—but then immediately attempt to install all of my key apps and copy over all of my key files via the network or an external drive. It seems like the right thing to do, but it takes a lot of time.

That’s why the appeal of Migration Assistant is strong. There is nothing better—when it works—than clicking a button, walking away, and returning a while later to discover a brand-new Mac with all your old stuff in its right place. If you can migrate from a Time Machine drive fresh from your old Mac, just as you’re booting your new Mac for the first time, that’s probably the first thing you should try. With any luck, it’ll be the last thing you’ll need to try, too.


Linked by Dan Moren

Report: Amazon working on an Alexa-speaker with a screen

Scoopster Mark Gurman at Bloomberg:

The new device will have a touchscreen measuring about seven inches, a major departure from Amazon’s existing cylindrical home devices that are controlled and respond mostly through the company’s voice-based Alexa digital assistant, according to two people familiar with the matter. This will make it easier to access content such as weather forecasts, calendar appointments, and news, the people said. They asked not to be identified speaking about a product that has yet to be announced.

Wacky. Gurman also says it will probably be more expensive than the Echo, have better speakers, and will run a version of Amazon’s Android fork, Fire OS. Oh, and as opposed to the Echo/Dot, which are apparently used mostly in the bedroom or living room, this new device is targeted at the kitchen. (Hey, that’s where I have my Echo!)

So, interesting choice. I can definitely see the appeal, although I can also see the argument that at some point it’s basically a stationary tablet.1 But, there are certainly times when Alexa could more easily deliver information for people to read than to listen to, and times when it would be easier to interact with a touchscreen. So, call me cautiously optimistic.


  1. Indeed, the company already connects Fire tablets with the Echo, letting the tablet display information cards requested via Alexa.  ↩


Linked by Dan Moren

David Sparks on dodging Calendar spam

Been seeing spam invites in your iCloud calendar over the last few weeks? I know I’ve gotten a couple. Our pal David Sparks lays out how to combat the problem:

If the problem continues, the best solution is to go into the Calendar screen of your iCloud.com account and throw the lever to move calendar invitations from the calendar app to email. Then you can delete emails before these things ever hit your calendar. The below gallery walks you through the steps to do so.

The crappy part about this is that the next time my daughter sends me an invite to drive her somewhere, I won’t see it until I get to email. Like I said, Apple needs to give us a better way to deal with this.

I confess, I’ve just been declining the invites which, as David says, isn’t the right answer, since it just tells spammers that address is active. I’d switch to email notifications, but also like David, I appreciate the convenience of the Calendar notifications. So far it hasn’t been so bad as to make my account unusable, but yeah, it’s totally on Apple to provide a “Mark as Junk” option or other solution.


Linked by Jason Snell

TWIT #590: The Lady in the Canister

Yesterday I was a guest on Leo Laporte’s This Week in Tech and we talked about a lot of interesting stuff, including the potential threats to the workforce caused by automation and a whole lot of people being angry about what Apple’s doing. It was an interesting experience, criticizing Apple for some things while also repelling some of the more questionable arguments about what Apple’s been up to lately.


Podcast

Upgrade #117: Sugar Christmas

Upgrade

Is Apple a big business trapped in the body of a startup? This week on Upgrade, Jason and Myke Hurley discuss that issue, say lots of things that might be quoted out of context later, and then settle in to watch 1984’s “Gremlins.”


By Dan Moren

Go Play: Gunpoint

I’m not quite sure how to describe Gunpoint. Wikipedia calls the indie game by Tom Francis a “stealth-based puzzle-platform” title, which I guess is accurate, even if it does sound a bit like “everything but the kitchen sink.” I’ll just call it a lot of fun.

The game’s a bit on the old side, since it came out for Windows back in 2013, but it’s been on sale for $5 on Steam, so I picked it up in advance of my travels, and found it a delightful way to spend a few hours. (Fortunately it ran like a charm on my 2014 MacBook Air.)

Gunpoint

The basic premise is this: you’re a freelance spy1 who becomes embroiled in a murder case involving rival companies. You get hired to do jobs that involve breaking into secured buildings and stealing information. At the start, your only tool is a pair of Bullfrog hypertrousers that let you jump really high, and then fall from the same height without hurting yourself.

As the game goes on, you get hired to do additional jobs in brief text message conversations where you can choose your (often hilarious) responses from a menu. Gunpoint handles its entire plot with a wry tone that both embraces the noir tropes while poking plenty of fun at the hard-boiled narrative.

Much of the game involves you sneaking between rooms and figuring out how to avoid guards and get to your end goal, and that’s where the puzzle mechanic comes into play. By pressing a key, you switch into the “Crosslink” mode that shows the building as a schematic, detailing all the devices installed in it. From there, you can point and click to rewire elements in the buildings, everything from light switches to motion sensors. So instead of having a camera set off an alarm, you can instead have it open a door. Sometimes you just use this to get into a room, other times it’s a handy way to distract guards so you can sneak around them.2

Gunpoint
Crosslink mode, where you can see what devices are connected to each other, and then rewire them.

There are plenty of options to be had as you figure out how to rewire the electronics to best serve your mission, and Gunpoint has more than a few of those satisfying “ah-ha” moments when you discover a particularly clever approach, or realize something you hadn’t thought of before.

At the end of each mission, you’ll get a report card saying how well you did (how many casualties you inflicted if any, how loud you were, how much time you took, etc.), as well as a payout of money and upgrade points, which can be used to acquire new gear—the ability to jump through glass windows silently, or rewire bad guys’ guns—as time goes on.

One minor complaint I had about the game is that since it requires using both the keyboard and cursor for the interface, it can occasionally be a little confusing as you switch between them. (In particular panning around the map, which uses the arrow keys in “normal” mode, but follows the mouse cursor in Crosslink mode.) It takes a little time to get used to, but it’s hardly a showstopper.

Gunpoint’s not a particularly deep game—as I said, you can probably finish it off in a few hours—but it’s a lot of fun, from the snarky writing to the slick score. If you’re a fan of puzzle games and/or hard-boiled detective novels, it’s definitely worth your time and the $5 it’ll cost you.


  1. I mean, to be honest, you’re basically just a hard-boiled private detective, so I’m not sure why they even bother calling you a spy, really.  ↩

  2. I didn’t realize until fairly late in the game that you could knock guys out by opening doors on them. Doors, truly our greatest enemy.  ↩

[Dan Moren is a freelance writer, podcaster, and former Macworld editor. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]