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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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Jason Snell for Macworld

Is It a Good Idea for Apple to Buy Exclusive Rights to Podcasts? ↦

The podcast industry has been flooded with big money over the last few years, as businesses and investors seek to get in on a rapidly growing media business that’s got a lot of room for audience and revenue growth. (Spotify alone is spending $500 million on podcast companies and exclusive content.)

And yet over all this time, the industry’s biggest player hasn’t made any big podcast business moves.

That player is Apple—its Podcasts app is the top podcast player, with 50 to 70 percent of the app market—and its time as a neutral supporter of the industry may be coming to an end. Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman and Lucas Shaw report that Apple is talking to media companies about buying exclusive rights to podcasts.

This isn’t a surprising revelation. Podcasting is an area in which Apple currently exerts a huge amount of influence. This is not to say that any new Apple podcast endeavor would be a sure thing.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Podcast

Clockwise #303: Early Morning Grotesquerie

This week, on the 30-minute show that’s got a whole lot of heart, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Florence Ion and Jeff Carlson to discuss the best photo-sharing site for group events, how we use the multiple lenses on our smartphones, Apple potentially getting into the production side of podcasts, and the modern-day moonshots that inspire us. Plus, a museum-themed bonus topic.

Episode linkMP3 (29 minutes)


Linked by Dan Moren

FaceApp: Threat or menace?

FaceApp is a piece of software that lets you transform photos of people to show them as older or younger; it’s making the rounds once again, as are privacy and data security concerns related to it. TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino, once again, has a reasoned take on the situation:

In this current wave of virality, some new questions are floating about FaceApp. The first is whether it uploads your camera roll in the background. We found no evidence of this and neither did security researcher and Guardian App CEO Will Strafach or researcher Baptiste Robert.

Panzarino also points out that though you can select a picture in FaceApp from your photo library without giving the app access, that is actually due to a feature introduced in iOS 11, which lets an app access a single photo selected by a user.

That said, FaceApp does upload your photo to the cloud in order to transform the image, and there are concerns about whether or not the photos have retained and what rights you are granting to the company. And, as some have pointed out, this data could be used for things like training AI-based facial recognition software, which may or may not be a consequence you intend when you just want to see what your friend looks like as a baby.

As always, it’s wise to tread carefully. Me, I skipped installing FaceApp just because I don’t care to see what I look like as wizened old man. I’d rather be surprised.


Podcast

Liftoff #103: Apollo 11

50 years ago, humans first set foot on the moon. The work of the crew of Apollo 11 has inspired people for five decades, and their legacy continues to shine on today. In this episode, Stephen and Jason discuss three aspects of the mission that aren’t as well known, including Neil Armstrong’s brush with death in a training exercise, the science performed by the crew during their lunar EVA, and the astronauts’ less-than-glamorous welcome back to Earth.

Episode linkMP3 (37 minutes)


Linked by Jason Snell

Is Apple planning exclusive podcasts?

A lot of money is pouring into podcasting, most notably from Spotify, which is buying podcast companies and funding the creation of original, Spotify-only audio programming. But the industry’s biggest player, Apple, has refrained from making any moves in this area, despite its renewed focus on paid services—at least so far.

But here comes a report from Bloomberg suggesting that may be about to change:

Executives at the company have reached out to media companies and their representatives to discuss buying exclusive rights to podcasts, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the conversations are preliminary. Apple has yet to outline a clear strategy, but has said it plans to pursue the kind of deals it didn’t make before….

“You are nowhere in podcasting if you don’t have shows listed in Apple podcasts,” said Lex Friedman, the chief revenue officer of Art19, which provides services to podcast producers such as Wondery Media and Tribune. But given all of the recent activity by its competition, “it would surprise me if Apple didn’t do anything with exclusives.”

Given Apple’s deep pockets and its focus on services, I can’t see how the company wouldn’t at least investigate the possibility of adding original audio content to its portfolio, both to strengthen the pull of the Podcasts app and increase the value of one of its existing services or a forthcoming services bundle.

As I wrote back in February: “With Spotify on the move, I have to wonder if Apple is going to need to take a more active approach in this area. The economics driving Apple Music and Spotify are quite similar; I’m a bit surprised Apple hasn’t invested in premium, subscriber-only audio content (because if it’s subscriber-only it’s not really a podcast) for subscribers of Apple Music. We hear about Apple spending billions on video content for its new streaming service, but not a peep about Apple using its power in podcasting to boost Apple Music or at least keep Spotify’s expansion at bay…. Perhaps Apple’s light touch on the world of podcasting will continue, at least until a competitor does something to get its attention.”

Maybe Spotify finally has Apple’s attention.


Podcast

Upgrade #254: Downgrade

We answer a lot of your #askupgrade questions, then break down how Apple’s changing its laptop line and retail stores. Also, Warner Media makes a big bet on the HBO brand name, and Apple News+ is unsurprisingly not succeeding. Then we start the show with #snelltalk! This week with Jason and Myke.

Episode linkMP3 (1 hour, 16 minutes)


Jason Snell for Tom's Guide

7 Ways Apple Can Make Messages Better ↦

That blue bubble. Apple works to tie its customers to its ecosystem in many different ways, but there’s no better symbol of the power of platform lock-in than the blue-bubble users of Apple’s Messages app see when they’re talking to a fellow member of the Apple tribe. On Android or a feature phone? You get a green bubble. It’s just not as good.

And yet for all the importance the Messages app has to Apple’s platform, it could be a lot better than it is today. Over the past few years, Apple has introduced features that haven’t gone anywhere, while leaving some other potentially powerful features unaddressed.

Continue reading on Tom's Guide ↦


Dan Moren for Macworld

Does Apple’s simplified Mac lineup have a hole in it? ↦

When Steve Jobs came back to Apple, one of his early moves was to vastly simplify what had become a bloated line-up of Mac hardware. Jobs famously showed off a two-by-two product grid: pro and consumer, desktop and portable. Filling the grid were four products—iMac, PowerMac, iBook, PowerBook—each addressing one of those combinations.

The two-by-two grid lasted for several years, until the debut of the category-busting Mac mini in 2005. Since then, there’s been an almost magnetic impulse to cite the grid as the holy grail of Apple product design aspirations. Every time Apple releases something a new Mac, pundits try desperately to figure out how to shove the latest addition into the already bulging grid.

With this week’s rearrangement of its portable lineup, Apple has gotten both closer to and farther away from that product grid ideal—if indeed it’s even an ideal that Apple should be striving for anymore. But what the new lineup does point out is that there’s a puzzling imbalance in the company’s Mac offerings.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Linked by Jason Snell

John Siracusa on Jony Ive

Because he dared to post it on July 4 (and while I was on an airplane returning from vacation, no less), I missed that John Siracusa blogged about Jony Ive’s departure:

While the iPhone is obviously the most important product in Ive’s portfolio, his most significant and lasting contribution to Apple and the tech industry in general is embodied by a product that he worked on much more directly, and with far less help: the original iMac.

Aside from dramatically reversing Apple’s slide into obscurity, the iMac finally pushed the industry over the hill it had been climbing for decades. Nearly overnight, it went from an industry primarily concerned with technical specifications to one that more closely matches every other mainstream consumer business—one where fashion and aesthetics are not just a part of the appeal of a product, they are often the dominant factor. As much as any individual product design, this is Ive’s legacy.

John’s right about the iMac. You should read the whole thing, of course.


Podcast

Clockwise #302: Unsettling, Weird, and Kind of Gross

This week, on the 30-minute show that has absolutely no time to spare, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Jason Howell and Heidi Helen Pilypas to discuss FaceTime Attention Correction and the future of AR, how we imagined future tech as kids and what’s available now, our thoughts on the Nintendo Switch Lite, and a look back at the first Apple products we owned.

Episode linkMP3 (29 minutes)


By Jason Snell

Zoom saved you a click—by giving you a security hole

Zoom is a presentation of WGBH Boston.

So a security reacher noticed that business videoconferencing app Zoom was doing a bunch of bad stuff that left Mac users potentially vulnerable to privacy and security breaches.

My guess is that Zoom’s original sin comes out of its corporate culture, which is focused on competing in a pretty cutthroat industry with demanding clients (IT managers) and not particularly technically literate customers (the individual business users). There’s probably a great fear of losing business to other businesses who can boast about running video meetings with ever less friction to the user.

And then Apple comes along and introduces a security feature to Safari that requires a confirmation click when any link in a web browser attempts to open an external app. Zoom, which likes to pass around web links as a way of driving users into conference calls, didn’t look at this security measure as something to help keep their customers secure—it viewed it as an addition of friction by the platform owner.

Zoom’s response was to build a secret local web server, which allowed Zoom to rewrite its hyperlinks to connect to a web server instead of an app—so the web server could bypass Safari’s security and launch the app without a second click.

I use Zoom because it’s a superior product to Skype for the large-panel podcasting that I do 1, but this issue gives me pause—and not because of the specific details of this event. No, it’s for what this says about Zoom’s priorities as a company. When the platform owner decides that web links shouldn’t open other apps without an approval click—a pretty sensible security measure—the corporate response shouldn’t be to bypass that click by invisibly installing a hidden server that’s a potential security hole.

Perhaps Zoom got a call from someone at Apple yesterday, indicating that the click-to-confirm Safari feature is intended to be used and that bypassing it is not cool. Zoom’s app is not in the App Store, so Apple’s control over the company is a somewhat limited… but Apple does have built-in malware protection it could bring to bear. And in the future, Apple will have the power to kill specific versions of specific apps by default on macOS. Third-party software developers circumvent the Mac’s platform security features at great risk to their own businesses.

In any event, Zoom has rolled out an update that removes the local web server, adds a de-install feature, and allows users to permanently set a setting that turns video off by default. (Zoom had months to address these issues after being alerted to them by a security researcher, and didn’t. I have a hard time believing they will make the right choices in the future without a pretty major cultural shift.)

You can read the details about the updates on a rather amazing Zoom blog post which has been updated four times as of this writing. The initial response, at the bottom, is an arrogant shoulder shrug that attempts to portray the security researcher as a silly busybody. Scroll up from there to see the increasing realization inside Zoom that their successive responses just keep failing to measure up.

[Update: Did someone mention “built-in malware protection”? TechCrunch reports that Apple has killed Zoom’s invisible web server across all versions, so even users who haven’t update to the latest version will no longer have that server running in the background.]


  1. Zoom lets me automatically record discrete audio tracks for each person on a call, something Skype still can’t do. This feature has saved me four times already this year. Few cross-platform tools with this feature can handle large groups. I’ll keep looking, though. ↩


Jason Snell for Macworld

Macbook Air: Why Didn’t It Die? ↦

Sixteen months ago I wrote a eulogy, of a sort for the MacBook Air. My all-time favorite Apple laptop was a living fossil, a non-Retina USB-A laptop in a sea of shiny new Apple tech. Apple had done a minor processor update to keep it on life support and there were rumors that another one was in the offing. The long goodbye was becoming endless.

But something funny happened on the way to the abattoir: The MacBook Air not only got a reprieve and a Retina upgrade, but with Tuesday’s update to the Apple laptop line, it’s killed off both of its putative replacements.

You come at the king, you best not miss.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


By Six Colors Staff

Apple tweaks laptop lineup with cheaper Air; MacBook disappears

Time for a game of laptop musical chairs. Apple made some adjustments to its portable line-up this morning, with a cheaper price point for the MacBook Air and improvements to the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro. But the 12-inch MacBook? It’s gone, baby, gone.

In addition to its new $1,099 ($999 for college students) price tag—which cuts $100 off the old price, and $150 off for college students—the MacBook Air now features True Tone capability on its display and the new keyboard materials introduced in other MacBook Pro models back in May. Other than that, the model is basically unchanged from the one we declared the best Mac to buy for a student.

The entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro, which was originally the one MacBook Pro model without a Touch Bar, is no longer quite so much of an outlier. It’s also gained new quad-core processors to replace its old dual-core options, True Tone, the T2 chip, and Touch ID, meaning we can bid adieu to the “MacBook Escape” sobriquet given to it when it was the only MacBook Pro model to have a physical escape key. It does, however, retain its status as the only MacBook Pro model with only two Thunderbolt 3 ports. Its price point is unchanged at $1,299, but college students can get $100 off.

(This update was timed to coincide with Apple’s annual Back to School promotion, which offers a pair of Beats Studio 3 headphones with purchase of a qualifying Mac.)

But it’s not all about give—the 12-inch MacBook has been removed from Apple’s website (though refurbished versions are still available). That device was always a contentious one, with some loving its small footprint and weight, while others were frustrated by its underpowered nature and lack of more than one USB-C port. There’s always the possibility that Apple might design another ultralight laptop, of course, especially if a rumored transition to ARM processors is in the wings, but for now it seems clear that the MacBook Air is the consumer-focused Mac laptop in Apple’s line-up.


Linked by Dan Moren

Zoom videoconferencing app contains major vulnerability

By now you’ve probably seen mention of this security hole, but it’s worth checking out the blog post from Jonathan Leitschuh, the researcher who uncovered it. It’s a fairly technical piece, but here’s the crux:

The local client Zoom web server is running as a background process, so to exploit this, a user doesn’t even need to be “running” (in the traditional sense) the Zoom app to be vulnerable.

All a website would need to do is embed the above in their website and any Zoom user will be instantly connected with their video running. This is still true today!

Yeah, this is pretty bad. It’s a classic example of Malcolm’s Maxim. There’s always a balance between convenience and security, but this has dipped over the line to the former, which has compromised the latter.

Any time your answer to removing obstacles for users involves installing a silent webserver with an undocumented API that persists even if users uninstall the app in question, well, maybe rethink that.

In the meantime, if you’re looking to mitigate the possibility for this loophole being exploited, the above post has a couple of solutions, ranging from the simple to the more technical. Zoom, for its part, has defended its behavior saying that it’s “a legitimate solution to a poor user experience problem.”

Updated at 9:08am Eastern to add info about fixing the hole and Zoom’s response.


Podcast

Upgrade #253: Steal The Ball

Guest Marco Arment joins Jason and Myke to discuss the possibility of new Apple laptop keyboards at last, his Overcast priorities over the next year, and the future of podcasting. There are also some mild opinions about Jony Ive, the streaming-video wars, and cappuccino.

Episode linkMP3 (1 hour, 38 minutes)


By Dan Moren

Know when to Hold’em

Apple’s Texas Hold’em game is so old it was originally developed for the iPod. While it eventually made the jump to iOS, it eventually folded in 2011. But now it’s back! With updated gameplay, graphics, and “new characters.” 1 You can even play against up to eight of your friends via Wi-Fi. (What, no Game Center support?)

Amusingly, it’s built on the same App Store entry as it used to be, so you can still see the version history and reviews from a decade ago. I guess this counts as retro now, huh?

Texas Hold’em is a free download for iPhone and iPod touch—sorry, iPad fans.


  1. I’m guessing Jony Ive ain’t one of them. ↩

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


Dan Moren for Macworld

Jony Ive is gone, but he won’t take Apple with him ↦

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Here we are, once again debating whether or not the departure of a single prominent Apple employee signals doom for the company. This time it’s designer extraordinaire Jony Ive who’s leaving the company, though the reception to his exit is decidedly mixed. Some feel Ive is the embodiment of an Apple that’s placed too high a value on form over function; others worry that the company won’t be able to keep delivering world-class design without him. Neither of these is precisely true—and they’re definitely not both true.

Apple’s lost plenty of key personnel before, and though Ive’s profile may be higher than some, the situation is, in the end, not different significantly different than some of the others who have left in the past. Allow me to remind you of a few faces from years gone by who are no longer with Apple and yet, amazingly, did not leave the company in flames behind them.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Podcast

Upgrade #252: The Hippie Gets a Haircut

This week the Summer of Fun goes old school, as two of Jason’s colleagues from back in the 1990s compare Apple’s many transitions over the years to the ones Apple and its developers and users face today. Also, we wonder what happens to the movies and TV shows that aren’t available via streaming, and if that means that important cultural works are in danger of fading away.

Episode linkMP3 (1 hour, 32 minutes)


Podcast

Clockwise #301: My Vulcan Mind

This week, on the 30-minute show that puts the “stop” and “watch” in “stopwatch,” Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Lory Gil and Casey Liss to discuss Jony Ive’s departure from Apple, whether or not we really unplug for vacations, how well gamification works for us, and the outdoor/summer tech that we love or want. Plus, a cookout-themed bonus question!

Episode linkMP3 (29 minutes)


Podcast

The Rebound 245: I Can’t Deal with Humanity

This week, on the irreverent tech show where we’re all staying put, we discuss Jony Ive’s departure from Apple and what it all means, an interview with Eddy Cue and what he means, Dan’s new Synology NAS, and James’s new app.

Episode linkMP3 (47 minutes)