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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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Linked by Jason Snell

‘The Scientist Who Scrambled Darwin’s Tree of Life’

This story (actually a book excerpt) by David Quammen hits my sweet spot. It’s a magazine feature about science that mixes the personalities of the scientists, the excitement of discovery, and a solid explanation of some mind-blowing discoveries that really change how we look at the origins of life on this planet.

This is my favorite part:

The mechanics [to read ribosomal RNA] were intricate, laborious and a little spooky. They involved explosive liquids, high voltages, radioactive phosphorus, at least one form of pathogenic bacteria and a loosely improvised set of safety procedures. Courageous young grad students, postdocs and technical assistants, under a driven leader, were pushing their science toward points where no one had gone before. OSHA, though recently founded, was none the wiser….

The work was deceptively perilous. [Former grad student Mitchell] Sogin described to me the deliveries of radioactive phosphorus (an isotope designated as P32, with a half-life of 14 days), which amounted to a sizable quantity arriving every other Monday. The P32 came as liquid within a lead “pig,” a shipping container designed to protect the shipper, though not whoever opened it. Sogin would draw out a measured amount of the liquid and add it to whatever bacterial culture he intended to process next. “I was growing stuff with P32,” he said, tossing that off as a casual memory. “It was crazy. I don’t know why I’m alive today.”

I’ve heard of horizontal gene transfer before, but the ramifications of that discovery had never really hit me until I read this article. Life is wondrous and complicated and we are still struggling to understand all the biological mechanisms that drive its growth and change.


Podcast

Upgrade

Upgrade #206: The Rings in a Tree

This week Myke breaks his iPad, Jason visits the Microsoft Store and leaves with an Xbox, and we pick our favorite video games of all time.

Episode linkMP3 (1 hour, 45 minutes)


By Dan Moren

Group FaceTime delayed until later this fall

As first noticed by developer Guilherme Rambo, Apple has removed Group FaceTime from the versions of the iOS 12 and macOS Mojave betas released today, with release notes saying that the feature will instead “ship in a future software update later this fall.”

For those paying close attention, this is pretty similar to what happened last year to AirPlay 2, a feature that only officially arrived in May of this year—shortly before WWDC.

There’s no inherent problem with taking a little longer to make sure a feature is fully baked: a late feature that works as intended will trump an on-time feature that’s broken.

That said, this has become enough of a regular occurrence with Apple that the company’s burned through some of its trust with users. A promise of “later this fall” doesn’t necessarily inspire confidence that Apple will hit this (admittedly self-imposed) deadline.

It also raises some eyebrows about why the company can’t seem to deliver some of these features as originally promised. 1


  1. And hey, speaking of things going MIA, where exactly is the AirPower charging pad introduced at last September’s event?  ↩

[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.]


Jason Snell for Tom's Guide

Here’s How the iPhone X Plus Will Answer the Note 9 ↦

This week, Samsung unveiled the Galaxy Note 9, a high-end device that matches Apple’s iPhone X on the most notable item on any spec sheet: price. With the Note 9, Samsung has laid its cards on the table; in a few weeks, Apple will counter with new iPhones, including — if the rumors hold — an iPhone X Plus that properly matches up with the Galaxy Note 9.

Here’s a look at some of the key Galaxy Note 9 features and how they might compare to whatever Apple has up its sleeve for next month.

Continue reading on Tom's Guide ↦


Linked by Jason Snell

Patreon buys Memberful

Patreon, a company that lets people directly support creaters of stuff, just bought Memberful, a company that does the same thing in a different way. Ben Thompson of Stratechery has an exclusive interview with the founders of both companies. Here’s Patreon founder Jack Conte:

There’s a whole segment of the market that doesn’t want to build a membership business on someone else’s platform, they want full control of the branding, they want full control of the experience. Right now Patreon is unable to serve that market, if we were to build that, it would be a completely separate thing. Working with the Memberful team accelerates us into that market segment, so it gives us a very big head start. I would say mostly that’s where the value is.

I realize that this is a bit inside baseball, but I’ve been using Memberful for the membership programs for both Six Colors and The Incomparable for a couple of years. In fact, the above paragraph describes me perfectly: I didn’t want to use Patreon, I wanted to build two membership programs myself and integrate them directly with my two sites. Memberful let me do that.

It’s a smart move by Patreon, then, to recognize that this is a part of the market they couldn’t serve, and they chose to buy a team that knows how to do it rather than building a duplicate in-house. I’m cautiously optimistic that this will mean good things for all of us who rely on Memberful for an important portion of our incomes as content creators.

(Here’s Stephen Hackett, another Memberful customer twice over, with his thoughts.)


Jason Snell for Macworld

Digesting the rumors: Where’s the iPad Pro going next? ↦

If the rumors are true—and they are often, if not always—Apple is preparing to release a new generation of iPad Pro models this fall. I bought the first-generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro back in 2015 and still use it as my primary portable computer, so I’m excited at the rumors of a major iPad Pro redesign. Let’s sift through the rumors and reports and see if we can figure out where the iPad Pro is headed next.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Podcast

Clockwise

Clockwise #253: Creepy Beating Heart

This week on the 30-minute show that’s all about R-E-S-P-E-C-T, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Lory Gil and Justin Michael to discuss our complicated feelings about iOS’s Low Power mode, how much we would pay for a calendar app, Microsoft walking back classic Skype’s demise, and indie games we’ve played. Plus, a space-themed bonus question.

Episode linkMP3 (29 minutes)


Linked by Dan Moren

Skype 7 gets a reprieve

Microsoft had intended to end support for the desktop version of Skype 7—aka “classic” Skype—in September, but a backlash has prompted the company to reconsider that decision

Based on customer feedback, we are extending support for Skype 7 (Skype classic) for some time. Our customers can continue to use Skype classic until then.

For many, including podcasters, Skype is an essential tool in our workflow. Skype 8 not only introduced jarring interface changes—bringing it into line with the mobile app—but also lacked features from the earlier version of Skype, including, at one point, the ability to specify an audio input inside the application.

Despite the limitations in classic Skype, we continue to rely on it at The Incomparable and Relay FM. Alternatives have arisen in the past few years, but Skype remains one of the most commonly used audio chat tools. Especially when you run a podcast that has different guests every week, Skype is still the VoIP client you can count on everybody to have installed. Or, to paraphrase the old Winston Churchill saw, “Skype is the worst piece of VoIP software, except for all the others.” 1


  1. I recently had to configure the SIP client Linphone for a radio interview and wow, if you think Skype is bad, try that sometime.  ↩


By Jason Snell

Podcast player Castro adds sideloading and pre-selected chapter skips

Sideloaded files sync from iCloud Drive (1), then appear in the Inbox (2), where you can play them as if they were podcast episodes (3).

iOS Podcast app Castro has been updated to version 3.1, and it’s got a couple of cool new features for subscribers to the Castro Plus tier of the product.

Castro now supports sideloading audio files that aren’t a part of a podcast feed, so if you’ve got a random MP3 or M4A file that you want to listen to as a part of your podcast playlist, you can add it to Castro by placing it in the Castro folder inside iCloud Drive, whether you’re on a Mac or an iOS device. Castro spots audio files placed in that folder and automatically ads them to the Inbox or Queue, depending on which you prefer.

I used this feature to preview a future episode of a podcast that had come in from an outside editor, listen to a DRM-free audiobook, and even listen to the audio of a special episode of a podcast that I pulled off of YouTube.

castro-31-select-chapters
You can choose which chapters of a podcast you want to listen to—in advance.

The other big new feature is what Castro’s creators are calling “Chapter Pre-Selection.” Lots of podcasts these days have chapter markers that break a single episode up into individual segments; with Castro 3.1, you can select which chapters you want to play—and which ones you don’t—in advance. One way to view this feature is as an easy way to skip podcast ads entirely (so long as they’re properly chaptered). That’s probably going to happen, but I like the idea that before you start a long drive you can opt out of specific topics in a podcast that you don’t consider interesting.

As a podcast creator, I build my podcasts to be listened to straight through and at 1x speed, but I know that listeners are going to want to fit my stuff into their lives in ways that I just can’t anticipate. They’ll listen at 1.5x and skip stuff and who knows what else, and that’s fine. If someone wants to skip over the Upstream segment in Upgrade every week, they can do that—though in my opinion, they’ll really be missing out.

As a podcast listener, I’m always happy to get new tools to help make my podcast listening be as customized to my desires as possible. The ability to tailor your audio experience to be exactly what you want it to be is a big reason podcasting is so much better than radio.


By Jason Snell

Applications Folder: iExit Interstate Exit Guide

[Applications Folder is a column where we pick an obscure app in our Mac’s Applications folder, or somewhere on our iOS devices, and talk about why we use it. It appears in the monthly newsletter that goes to all Six Colors members. This post appeared in the May 2018 newsletter.]

I use Apple Maps and Google Maps and Yelp and they’re all helpful in finding places to go and how to get to them. But when I’m on a long drive on a freeway—where you’re from you might call them highways or turnpikes or motorways or who knows what else, we seem to have accumulated a bunch of different names for enormous expressways with limited exits and entrances separate from street traffic—the usual apps become less helpful.

Driving on the freeway is all about exits. If I’m driving on freeways for a few hours, I don’t want to search for what restaurants or gas stations or whatever are around me—I want to search for what points of interest are near the various exits along my route. And that’s what iExit provides. I’ve been using it for years, and it’s always been a vital aid when I’m sitting in the passenger seat trying to figure out when we’re going to break for lunch. We used iExit a lot as we drove from home through Nevada, Utah, Idaho, and back on our family road trip, and I just used it a couple of weeks ago to find lunch during a four-hour drive through California’s Central Valley.

iExit

iExit organizes its listings of restaurants, coffee shops, gas stations, and other items of interest entirely around freeway exits—and tells you which side of the exit each establishment is on, and how far away from the off-ramp it is. The app automatically detects the road you’re on and which direction you’re going, and shows you what’s coming up. If you’re driving through sparse countryside, you can make decisions like if you want to stop for Subway in 20 miles or if you’re willing to wait an hour to get a better sandwich at Port of Subs. (When in Winnemucca, Nevada, visit the Port of Subs. That’s my single Winnemucca, Nevada travel tip.)

You can also set favorites in iExit. So on my phone, I’ve marked Starbucks, Subway, In N Out, Five Guys, and a few other stops that are acceptable to all members of my family. I can quickly toggle to view by favorites to see if any of our favorites are coming up soon, or if we’re out of luck.

I have to admit, I’m baffled why none of the mainstream Maps apps offer data structured around freeway exits, especially if they know what route you’re taking. It seems to be that it’s just a bit too different of a world view for those apps to truly understand. That’s fine—because there’s iExit, and it’s the app you want in your pocket if you know you need to stop for lunch in an hour or so, and want to know which exit is going to offer something to make every passenger in your car happy. Be sure to pack it for your summer road trip.


Podcast

Upgrade

Upgrade #205: Monolithic Entertainment Console

It was a huge week: Apple broke a trillion dollars in market cap and Jason bought a new TV. And since money is on everyone’s minds, Myke and Jason take Apple’s $243B and go on a corporate shopping spree as a part of the ongoing Upgrade Summer of Fun.

Episode linkMP3 (1 hour, 53 minutes)



Dan Moren for Macworld

3 small-but-important details from Apple’s Q4 2018 financials call ↦

Apple’s quarterly financial calls are usually a time for big numbers: record revenue, billions in income, millions of iPhones sold, etc. But what I always find more interesting are the smaller tidbits that make their way through, like tiny rowboats at risk of being crushed by the monstrous rocks that are Apple’s blockbuster financial results.

This quarter was no different. There were more than a few breadcrumbs dropped by Apple CEO Tim Cook in-between fielding questions about gross margins and talking about tariffs, some of which zipped by so fast that they were all too easy to miss. I’ve picked out three that perked up my ears, along with the larger significance that I think they import.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Podcast

The Rebound

The Rebound 198: Troubleshooting with Doctors Moltz and Moren

It’s our quarterly show where we try to predict Apple financial results before the results happen, but don’t release the show until after they come out, and thus generally look a little foolish. FOR YOUR ENTERTAINMENT. Plus, Lex has a puzzling Safari bug, Dan compares notes on the Sonos One, and a secret about John is revealed after 198 episodes.

Episode linkMP3 (44 minutes)


Linked by Jason Snell

So you wanted an Eddy Award but we never gave you one…

eddy
This guy.

The Eddy Award was once the Oscar of the Apple world. For a couple of decades, MacUser (and later Macworld) magazine gave actual, heavy statuettes out to winners in many categories every year. People loved getting them. We loved giving them out. I kept an extra one in my office for years at Macworld and it just might be sitting behind me right now.

If you’re in the market for one, a nice lady named Carolyn has one up for sale on eBay for $499 “or best offer.” She found it in a thrift shop in Portland, Oregon! We tried to figure out its back story and my best guess is that this was a Now Utilities Eddy given out in February 1993, but there are a lot of other possibilities, too. (The statue base doesn’t have anything on it—these were given out with engraved plates, but it has none—so there’s no way to trace its origins. Mysterious)

In any event, if you ever wanted an Oscar-like statue that’s holding a Mac SE above its head, engraved with the logo of the late, lamented MacUser magazine, make Carolyn an offer.

Update: It’s sold! To a good home.


Podcast

Clockwise

Clockwise #252: I’m Not Alone in My Monsterdom

This week, on the 30-minute tech podcast that time never forgets, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests John Moltz and Allison Sheridan to discuss our file organization strategies (or lack thereof), whether it’s time to dive into the 3D printing pool, the tech accessories that impress us, and the portable batteries we carry. Plus, a bonus smattering of embarrassing podcast recording stories.

Episode linkMP3 (29 minutes)


Jason Snell for Macworld

4 top takeaways from Apple’s boringly brilliant record results ↦

It’s gotten to the point where even some of my colleagues who write about Apple are bored by the company’s quarterly results. Granted, this is the good kind of boring—the best third-quarter results ever, led by overall revenue of $53.3 billion, a 17 percent growth rate. But it does seem like Apple does the same thing almost every quarter: growth, billions, the works. There’s not a lot of drama in being one of the most valuable companies in the world continuing to churn away at huge profits and product growth.

Still, I’m not going to call this boring. Every three months, Apple has to reveal things about itself that it would probably want to keep secret, and these disclosures can help us understand the company and its products better than we otherwise would. Here are the four most interesting things I gleaned from Tim Cook’s performance on his quarterly conference call with analysts.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


By Jason Snell

Diving into the details of Apple’s (boring?) record quarter

The Apple financial numbers are out, and the company set a new record for its financial third—wait, where are you going? Don’t you want to hear the same old story about how Apple is a company that continues to generate billions in revenues and profits, quarter after quarter, and seemingly will do so for many years to come?

I know, even this kind of success can get boring, but I think if you look closer you might notice some interesting indications about where Apple’s product lines are going…

The iPhone: Remember “peak iPhone”?

The release of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus was so huge that Apple spent a year living it down when its follow-up sales couldn’t possibly match it. And yet here we are a few years later and iPhone sales have surpassed that peak. A lot of that has to do with the slow march of iPhone growth—without the iPhone 6 aberration the numbers show pretty clearly that these sales figures were inevitable.

Now, iPhone unit sales are still down from the days of the iPhone 6. What’s changed is that the average selling price of an iPhone is up—way up. That’s mostly thanks to the iPhone X, which has a record-breaking price tag that hasn’t seemed to matter one whit in terms of consumer acceptance. (And for those who don’t want to spend $1000 on an iPhone X, apparently the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus hits the spot.)

The rumors suggest that this fall Apple is going to make some more interesting tweaks to the iPhone product line. But at this point, would anyone bet against Apple succeeding at whatever they try? Ha ha ha! That’s a trick question! Of course someone will. That’s what keeps The Macalope in business. But they’ll probably be very obviously wrong, is what I’m saying. You can’t stop the iPhone, and you apparently can’t even hope to contain it. It rolls on.

The iPad: Meh

The math is pretty straightforward: Apple sold 11.6 million iPads, which is slightly more than they sold in the year-ago quarter, but iPad revenue was down 5 percent, which means the average selling price of an iPad dipped. This isn’t surprising, because the more pricey iPad Pro models are long in the tooth and the cheap iPad is relatively new. What it suggests is that the iPad sales price will rise once new iPad Pros arrive (presumably this fall), but in the meantime the release of the low-cost iPad is keeping things afloat.

When you eliminate seasonality, it’s starting to feel like the iPad is a remarkably stable product. Maybe Apple’s just going to keeps selling 44 million iPads a year. It’s not the heights of 2014 when it looked like that number was more like 74 million, but it’s still a pretty good market. And there’s nobody else even playing it when it comes to tablet devices.

The Mac: Guh

Mac sales were down 13 percent year over year, and revenue was down five percent. It’s understandable given the environment—the year-ago’s quarter saw new MacBook Pros being released in June, while this year they didn’t release until July, after Apple’s third quarter ended.

Apple keeps talking about new growth in the Mac in various markets and uses that seasonality as an excuse, but it’s been three straight quarters of sales and revenue flops. At what point do we say that Apple has a Mac problem? The optimist would probably answer that last year’s “Mac roundtable” was an indication that Apple realized it had made some poor Mac decisions, and that the new features in macOS Mojave are another sign of the company’s recommitment to the platform.

I hope so. But still, the Mac has currently replaced the iPad as the product line that makes me cringe every three months when sales figures are released. That’s not great.

Apple Watch: Good, I guess?

Apple doesn’t quote Apple Watch sales numbers, but speaks about them in relative terms—a trait that’s more common coming from one of Cook’s fellow titans of tech, Jeff Bezos. (Bezos is famous for putting up bar charts that lack any numbers, a phenomenon known as a “Bezos Chart”.)

In any event, during the conference call with analysts on Tuesday, Cook said the watch had “record June quarter performance, with growth in the mid-40-percent range… the Apple Watch has hit an air pocket and has gone to a whole different level.”

Is that how air pockets work? You hit them and then fly… upward?

The future is… Services?

For several years now Apple has been talking about how its Services revenue line is going to provide massive growth for the company, and they haven’t been wrong. The amalgamation of the App Store, Apple Music, AppleCare, and cloud services is growing faster than any other part of Apple. It’s the kind of thing that makes financial analysts very excited. And knowing that there’s more on the way—like a video streaming service—makes those analysts very happy.

As someone who’s interested in products, I find the focus on Services revenue to be a bit dispiriting. I get excited at the prospect of new products and seeing how consumers are accepting or rejecting products in the market. But the discussion of Services, especially in a financial context, is essentially a conversation about how Apple can grind more money out of every single person who uses an iPhone, iPad, and Mac. (At least the Other Products line, which is also growing rapidly, contains real products like AirPods and the HomePod and the Apple Watch.)

It’s not even that the individual products aren’t good—in point of fact, I’m a happy Apple Music user, I sync my photos with iCloud, and I’ll get in line to give Apple my money for the new video service when it arrives. But to me, in its soul Apple is a company that makes products—the amalgamation of hardware and software—and it will rise or fall based on its competency in those areas.

Apple needs to keep growing Services revenue because this is the world we live in. You’ve got to play that game, and if you had told me a decade ago how well Apple would seem to be doing at it, I wouldn’t have believed you. (To be fair, a huge portion of the Services line is the App Store itself, and that’s not just to Apple’s credit, but to the credit of everyone who sells apps.) But Services revenue is the add-on, not the core. Let’s never forget that—and hope Apple never does either.


By Jason Snell

This is Tim: Apple Q3 2018 financial call with analysts, transcribed

Here’s a complete transcript of today’s Apple conference call with financial analysts.

Tim Cook: Today we’re proud to report our best June Quarter revenue and earnings ever, thanks to the strong performance of iPhone services and wearables. We generated 53.3 billion dollars in revenue, a new Q3 record. That’s an increase of 17 percent over last year’s results, making it our seventh consecutive quarter of accelerating growth, our fourth consecutive quarter of double digit growth, and our strongest rate of growth in the past 11 quarters. Our team generated record Q3 earnings per share of $2.34, an increase of 40 percent over last year. We are extremely proud of these results, and I’d like to share some highlights with you.

Continue Reading "This is Tim: Apple Q3 2018 financial call with analysts, transcribed"


By Jason Snell

Apple results: $53.3B revenue sets a fiscal Q3 record

Apple announced the results of its third financial quarter of 2018 on Tuesday, and it was a record for a June quarter, with revenue of $53.3 billion, up 17 percent from the same quarter in 2017. The company also provided guidance that it will generate between $60B and $62B in revenue next quarter.

This post has a bunch of charts! You can also read our complete transcript of Apple’s conference call with analysts today.

Continue Reading "Apple results: $53.3B revenue sets a fiscal Q3 record"