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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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The New York Times buys The Wirecutter

Peter Kafka at Recode:

The Times will pay more than $30 million, including retention bonuses and other payouts, for the startup, according to people familiar with the transaction. Brian Lam, a former editor at Gawker Media’s Gizmodo, founded The Wirecutter in 2011, and has self-funded the company’s growth.

Brian Lam had a vision and built The Wirecutter to meet his vision. He did a fantastic job, and hired some amazing people to build it with him. Having written a couple of Wirecutter projects, I have seen how the organization has tried very hard to build a new kind of editorial process that isn’t indebted to old assumptions. It’s tough stuff—systematic product reviews in dozens of product categories is about as high a degree of difficulty as it gets.

Sometimes I disagree with what I read at Wirecutter, but I’ll tell you this: I always visit it before I buy pretty much anything. And my house is full of products bought on The Wirecutter’s recommendation.

Congratulations to Brian and the entire Wirecutter team, and congratulations to the New York Times for snapping up a gem of a digital media brand.

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The Incomparable #323: Abe Vigoda Knows All the Toilets

The Incomparable

Leave the gun and take the cannoli— this week The Incomparable discusses 1972’s “The Godfather,” with guests John Gruber, John Siracusa, Joe Rosensteel, and David J. Loehr.

By Jason Snell

Go Play: Mini Metro

It was an innocuous tweet. “Hey, have y’all played Mini Metro?” he asked. “It just got ported to mobile this week and it’s great.”

Oh, no, I had not played Mini Metro. It’s $5 on the App Store. And it is amazing.

Developed by Dinosaur Polo Club and available as a $10 Mac/PC download on Steam since last fall, Mini Metro is a game inspired by the classic style of Harry Beck, creator of the famous London Underground map. And now it’s available for iOS and Android.

In Mini Metro, your job is to connect stations on a map—represented by circles, triangles, squares, and the occasional special shape (I like to imagine they represent things like hospitals, stadiums, and Superman’s Fortress of Solitude)—in an efficient way to keep people moving around your city. You set up the lines and equip them with trains. After every week of simulated commutes, you get more resources, like additional subway lines, more trains and train cars, and station upgrades. Oh, and all the while, the commute traffic in your simulated city increases.

Your commuters are represented by shapes waiting at each station, indicating their destination. The app simulates all of their commutes, and the game ends if one of your stations gets too crowded for too long. You can see the little shapes riding around in the train cars—and see them get deposited at their destinations. It’s pretty amazing.

The touch interface of iOS and Android seems perfect for this game—it’s just so easy to draw out transit lines with your fingers. But there’s enough complexity here that it takes a little time to learn some of the most important gestures. You have to tap on a line and then hold on a station to disconnect the station from that line, and sometimes selecting the right line can be tricky. But once you get the hang of it, the tactile interface is great fun.

All the while, there’s an adorable, minimalist soundtrack playing in the background. It’s soothing, which is good because once the map gets complicated you can get pretty stressed out. But of course, the sound gets more complicated as the maps get complicated. You can’t win.

No, seriously: you can’t win. Losing is inevitable. You lose when a station gets too crowded—because you’ve failed in your job as a transit planner. Now, on the Steam version, once you lose the game you’re offered a chance to play in “endless” mode, where you can just keep building your transit lines as your city grows. That option doesn’t exist yet on iOS, though Dinosaur Polo Club says they’ll add it in an update. This is good, because I miss my cities once they’re gone and sometime you just want to watch the trains run and not stress out, you know?

Mini metro reminds me a whole lot of SimCity, and in the best way. You can appreciate it on a very simple level, but if you really get into it you’ll discover all sorts of layers of strategy. Don’t connect too many circles together, for instance—they’re commuter stations, and the people who arrive there want to go to squares and triangles, not other circles. The list goes on.

Based on my description, I think you probably already know if Mini Metro is for you. It’s definitely for me! You can get it for $5 on the App Store and Play Store.

Now if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for a new extension on the Blue Line.

Dan Moren for Macworld

What the new MacBook Pro might have learned from iPhones and iPads ↦

As we wait with bated breath for the announcement of new Macs next Thursday, it’s worth thinking about the future of Apple’s PC line. I don’t mean its future in the grand scale of things—I’ve already said I’m bullish on the Mac, and that hasn’t changed—but the technologies that are going to propel the Mac into the next stage of its life.

With the Mac as mature as it is, we are no longer in the era of huge fundamental changes, but rather refinements and enhancements. There’s still plenty of excitement to be had over these new features and technologies, because they have the possibility to improve and update the way we interact with our computers. And though it might be scary to hear it, a lot of these decisions and additions are informed by what Apple has learned from its other major product lines, iPhones and iPads.>

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


The Rebound 108: The ROKR of Cars

The Rebound

Is Apple even making a car anymore? We’re unclear on the concept. But we do talk about Apple’s rumored plans of making an E Ink keyboard, more exploding Samsung phones, the Echo’s new powers, and whether Siri really listens.

By Jason Snell

Apple event confirmed for October 27

Well, there it is: Apple will say “hello again” on Thursday, October 27, at 10 a.m. Pacific. I’ll be covering the event from the Apple campus in Cupertino, which means we may be getting one final event at Town Hall.

By Jason Snell

Wish List: Easier Alexa Skills

I have a weather station on my roof. I have an Amazon Echo in my house. I should be able to get these two things together, somehow, right? “Alexa, what’s the temperature at my house?” is something I’d like to ask.

But here’s the thing: Right now it’s extremely hard to build any add-ons to Alexa unless you’re an accomplished developer, which I’m not. You have to set up a web service—ideally via Amazon’s AWS Lambda—and jump through a whole lot of hoops, no matter how simple your add-on “skill” is.

So here’s a rare Six Colors Wish List item that’s not for Apple, but for Amazon: Wouldn’t it be nice if Echo users could fairly easily connect data from web services to the service? My Weather Station offers the current outdoor temperature in a text file that’s accessible via the web, but there’s no way for me to configure the Echo to respond to a specific voice command by reading the contents of that web address out loud.

Services like IFTTT offer Alexa integration, but it’s one-way — I can give Alexa a command, and it will trigger an IFTTT action. But grabbing information from the Internet and then speaking it to me? That’s another trick altogether.

So that’s what I want. I want a tool that will let me build simple Alexa skills, using content pulled from the Web. The more parsing that Amazon can provide, the better. I realize that most users won’t want a feature like this, but one of the joys of using cutting-edge technology like this is being able to extend its capabilities in interesting ways. Amazon should allow users to build custom responses in some way that doesn’t require setting up an AWS server and building a complete web app.

Jason Snell for Macworld

What’s next for Project Titan and the Apple Car? ↦

For more than a year we’ve seen reports about Apple investing lots of money, time, and personnel into designing an Apple-branded car. From the very beginning it seemed strange, yet somehow plausible. Rather than weeping because there were no more worlds to conquer, the tech giant was doing what its competition does-investigate what other kinds of product categories could be conquered by tech industry cash and talent.

Earlier this year, I argued that Apple was wise to not become complacent and continue seeking new product categories that could help the company grow and diversify. But this week, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman and Alex Webb reported that Apple has made major changes to its car program, and “has drastically scaled back its automotive ambitions.”

So, what to make of this report?

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

Linked by Jason Snell

Mac event coming next week?

Recode reports that Thursday, October 27 is the date for the next Apple event, a small gathering on or near Apple’s Cupertino campus. Mark Gurman at Bloomberg agrees.

Mactober! It’s happening!

Reports suggest we’ll see a new MacBook Pro take center stage, one with no traditional USB ports, which will make some people unhappy. The question is, what other Macs will be updated? Will there be a new MacBook Air, as previously rumored? What about updates to the iMac, Mac Mini, and Mac Pro? Stay tuned.

By Jason Snell

Go Play: Really Bad Chess

I have been playing chess since I was a kid. But I’m terrible at it, so I rarely play anymore. This past week, though, I’ve been really enjoying Zach Gage’s Really Bad Chess, an iOS game that puts a clever spin on Chess by seeding the board with a totally random collection of pieces.

What if you had three queens and four knights? What if you had eight bishops? All of these crazy scenarios can occur in Really Bad Chess. And it makes the game different. If you know how to play chess, your knowledge will come in handy—but you will find yourself confronting problems radically different from the ones you’d find in a normal game.

Really Bad Chess comes with a few different ways to play. There’s a Ranked mode that lets you play increasingly difficult boards—you start with a huge power advantage over your computer opponent, and the advantage slowly shifts until you’re trying to defend while underpowered. There are daily and weekly challenges, where you compete with other players to perform the best on a single board configuration.

This is a surprisingly fun game that’s worth a download and the $2.99 in-app purchase to turn off ads and unlock the full game. (If you become addicted, Gage sells packs of 100 move undos for 99 cents each. It’s nickel-and-diming, App Store style, but of the gentlest variety.)

Whether you’re a veteran chess player or just a frustrated fraud like me, Really Bad Chess will rekindle the fun of the game.

By Dan Moren

Rockstar Games officially announces Red Dead Redemption 2

After a couple days of teasing Twitter followers with mysterious images, Rockstar Games has officially announced what everyone had come to expect: Red Dead Redemption 2, a sequel to its hit Western-themed title from way back in 2010 (which shall forever be known among my friends as “Grand Theft Horse”). A trailer is scheduled to launch this Thursday.

Details are so far sparse, though the announcement confirms that the new game follows in the footsteps of the original in being “an epic tale of life in America’s unforgiving heartland.” The first RDR game was…unforgiving, to say the least, in its portrayal of the dying days of the Wild West, and it earned Game of the Year accolades from several publications. Personally, it remains one of my favorite video game experiences to date—I spent countless hours just enjoying riding a horse through the scenery.1

Rockstar also says the new game will feature “a brand new online multiplayer experience,” which will likely be music to the ears of those who played the original, which featured a somewhat limited and lackluster multiplayer experience that contrasted sharply with the single-player world. Certainly, the art so far used for RDR2, which features seven characters against a blood red backdrop, seems to point towards an experience that’s about a team—it’s hard not to draw a direct line to The Magnificent Seven. It’s worth noting, though, that none of the characters depicted in the initial image are women; Rockstar doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to the portrayal of women in its games. None of its popular Grand Theft Auto series have let you play as women, and its portrayal of female NPCs has often been reductive.

In an era where many franchises seem to pump out sequel after uninspired sequel every couple years, it’s kind of refreshing to see a company take its time—especially when it has such a tough act to follow. By the time RDR2 debuts in fall of next year, it’ll have been around seven years since the original game came out. Rockstar is known for taking time to develop its titles, and with a world as big and sprawling as RDR2 is likely to have, that’s important.

  1. Yes. I just rode around on a horse for hours—and it was glorious. Sometimes it rained!  ↩

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

Linked by Jason Snell

Jason talks Photos on MacVoices

Today I’m on the MacVoices podcast, talking with Chuck Joiner about what’s new in Photos for macOS Sierra and iOS 10, the magic of Memories, and how Apple’s approach to privacy affects its cloud services.

Linked by Dan Moren

Keep it secret: Apple files a lot of trademarks in Jamaica first

Joon Ian Wong and Christopher Groskopf of Quartz explain why Apple files so many of its trademarks for new products in Jamaica first:

It did this for Siri, the Apple Watch, macOS, and dozens of its major products months before the equivalent paperwork was lodged in the United States. Likewise, Google, Amazon, and Microsoft routinely file trademarks for their most important products in locales far flung from Silicon Valley and Seattle. These include Jamaica, Tonga, Iceland, South Africa, and Trinidad and Tobago—places where trademark authorities don’t maintain easily searchable databases.

In some ways it’s gotten harder and harder for Apple to maintain secrecy around many of its product launches—especially the ones that entail hardware, since the supply chain often makes sieves look watertight. Three people may be able to keep a secret if two of them are dead, but what about the hundreds if not thousands of people involved in the production of a new device?

Legal and regulatory hurdles make this more challenging as well: between the patent office and the FCC, there are a lot of government agencies who often need to be apprised of a new product in some fashion.

I doubt any tech news organization is quite at the point of bringing on a dedicated correspondent in Jamaica to check the trademark filings on a regular basis, but hey, there’s a nice little job niche.

Linked by Jason Snell

Bloomberg: Apple scales back car plans

Mark Gurman and Alex Webb, reporting for Bloomberg on Apple’s hard left turn in its car project:

New leadership of the initiative, known internally as Project Titan, has re-focused on developing an autonomous driving system that gives Apple flexibility to either partner with existing carmakers, or return to designing its own vehicle in the future, the people also said. Apple has kept staff numbers in the team steady by hiring people to help with the new focus, according to another person.

I think it’s only right for Apple to investigate all sorts of areas that might fuel its future projects. Some of them aren’t going to pan out, but because of Apple’s size and notoriety, it’s going to leak out into in public view. In this case, it looks like someone decided that the best thing to do was step back from the idea of manufacturing an entire car and focus on the underlying hardware, software, and sensors—in other words, the stuff that’s closest to what Apple knows best.

In this scenario, Apple’s still free to buy or partner with an automaker, or even put a car of their own into production—but only after the company decides that it’s got something worth bringing to market. I don’t see Apple has being an OEM for car manufacturers, though—it’s far more likely that they’d buy or strategically invest in an automaker as a partner for building a car based on their technology.

But let’s keep in mind—this may also amount to nothing at all. Part of what Apple’s done already is take a step back and decide not to chase its sunk costs in a car-building project that it determined wasn’t the right direction. Choosing not to move forward on a project in which you’ve invested time and money and personnel is incredibly difficult. But it can be necessary.

It’s fun to speculate about what Apple might do in the car business, and I think Apple’s right to investigate this, but in the end the right answer might be “nothing”—and full credit to Apple if it eventually realizes that and kills the whole thing.

Linked by Jason Snell

U.S. journalist faces charges for covering a protest

Speaking of the First Amendment, here’s a story about a prosecutor in North Dakota charging a journalist with “participating in a riot” because he was unhappy with her coverage of that event.

Linked by Jason Snell

‘It is the First Amendment.’

Mi-Ai Parrish, president of the Arizona Republic newspaper, with some important words about the importance of a free, vibrant press in our democracy.

Linked by Jason Snell

‘Welcome to Macintosh’ Kickstarter

Welcome to Macintosh — Mark Bramhill’s excellent, well-produced podcast about Apple and the Apple community — is using Kickstarter to fund a third season. I recommend listening to the podcast if you haven’t, and I recommend backing the project. Bramhill does great work, even if he’s so young that I needed to explain to him what MacWEEK was for his episode about Apple rumors.


Upgrade #111: I Keep Moving the Goalposts


This week on Upgrade, Myke visits Apple’s latest flagship store, Jason takes a trip with both a Mac and an iPad, and Apple scales back its automotive ambitions.

Linked by Jason Snell

Six Colors fall sponsorships available

I’ve got a bunch of openings for Six Colors weekly sponsorships this fall. If you’ve got a product or service that you’d like to market to a bunch of engaged and technically savvy people, get in touch.