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Special appearance by Lex Friedman.
How we deal with spam calls and texts, whether we’ll be subscribing to Apple TV+, the dongles we do and don’t use, and our thoughts on tech recycling and ecology.
By Jason Snell for Macworld
The Apple rumor mill has been churning lately with reports that Apple is readying a new consumer laptop that’s thinner than the MacBook Air, available in various colors, and possibly has the next generation of Apple silicon. Of course, it could very well be an update to the MacBook Air, but it seems to me like Apple is taking another crack at replacing its iconic notebook.
Apple has tried to replace the MacBook Air before—a disastrous attempt that ended up with both of its potential replacements being cancelled and the Air revived. If Apple is indeed trying again, will this time be different? Will Apple’s customers, who appear to adore the MacBook Air, follow the company’s lead? It all depends on how Apple approaches the transition—and whether it’s willing to make a clean break.
This week Myke and Jason debate the form of future Mac laptops, discuss Apple and Epic’s first week in court (complete with angry emails!), and then imagine what’s next for iOS and iPadOS.
By Dan Moren for Macworld
With a blockbuster quarter in its rear-view mirror, Apple seems like it’s sitting pretty right now. But the problem with results as astounding as those Apple recently posted is that it can be challenging when it comes time to follow up on them. Can you keep beating expectations forever? For years, the company had trouble living up to the “tough compare” set by its blockbuster sales of the iPhone 6.
More to the point: As big, successful, and rich as Apple is, it isn’t without challenges, many of which seem to be rearing their heads at this exact moment. The company faces threats that are outside of its control, as well as those that are mainly of its own making. Despite the huge war chest on which the company sits, not all of those problems are ones that it can easily fix by the liberal application of money.
While the company as a whole will almost certainly weather the storm ahead, there’s a good chance that it won’t be without some dings, some dents, and perhaps even some casualties along the way.
By Jason Snell
May 7, 2021 11:49 AM PT
This past year I’ve been spending more time reading books on a Kobo ereader, rather than on my Kindle. The Kobo, a 2016-vintage Aura One, offered a few features that the Kindle didn’t, and I liked the idea of putting a mostly-unloved device to work at something it was good at.
At some point I noticed a big gouge in the screen, probably a legacy of a school trip my daughter took a few years ago. I kept staring at it. And that was when—as you do—I popped over to Kobo’s website to see what their current crop of ereaders looked like. It was just idle checking, I swear, and that’s why it took a couple of weeks for me to buy a Kobo Libra H2O.
After reading a few books on the Kobo, I’m prepared to declare that I actually prefer the Kobo to the Kindle. And while the Libra H2O is made of less premium materials than my old favorite, the Kindle Oasis, it also costs $100 less.
Kindle vs Kobo
I’ve been using Kindles since the beginning, and the pace of Kindle software innovation is quite slow, though it’s actually shown a bit of improvement over the last few years. Still, how is it possible that the Kindle didn’t let you use the cover of the book you’re currently reading as the screen saver image until April 2021?!
The software on the Kobo is, as you might expect, quite similar to that on the Kindle. But in a few areas, it’s clearly superior. Many libraries will let you borrow ebooks using Overdrive, a service that’s a part of the same company that owns Kobo. Unsurprisingly, Kobo connects well with Overdrive, allowing me to browse and check out books directly on the device. If I’ve checked out a book elsewhere—say, via the excellent Libby app, the book will download automatically the next time the device syncs to the network. You can see your Overdrive queue and return books, all from the device itself.
While Kindles will work with Overdrive, it’s a circuitous process. You need to check out a book on the web or in Libby, then click to send the book to Amazon.com, then click on Amazon.com to send the book to your Kindle. There’s no Overdrive interface on the Kindle itself. If you check out ebooks from the library, or might consider doing so, the Kobo’s simply better. Using Libby got me using library ebooks once in a while, but using a Kobo has made it a regular habit.
The other superior feature of the Kobo is typography. I can’t tell how much of the Kindle’s poor text handling is its operating system and how much is its selection of typefaces, but type just looks better on the Kobo. Kindle fonts seem jagged compared to Kobo fonts. Amazon has improved a lot of its maddening typography features over the years—forced justification being perhaps its greatest sin—but Kobo’s still ahead.
Both services let you buy books from their online stores. Really, Amazon’s greatest advantage over Kobo is that I’ve got years of book purchases locked up in Amazon’s proprietary, DRM-encoded format. However, I’m planning on keeping a Kindle around—and Calibre and its associated DeDRM plugin make it relatively easy for me to download old Kindle purchases and load them on a Kobo.
Down to the hardware
Like the high-end Kindle Oasis, the Kobo Libra H2O is a waterproof ereader with a sidelit seven-inch diagonal E Ink screen and a grippable edge with two physical page-turn buttons. The big difference between them is that the Kobo has a plastic back, while the Kindle’s is aluminum. There’s no doubt that the Kindle is nicer to hold—but it’s also $100 more. (You might notice the Kobo logo screened onto the front of the plastic; I wish it wasn’t there, but the truth is that I never notice it when I’m reading.)
I haven’t tried the $120 Kobo Clara, but I’d imagine it’s more or less comparable to the Kindle Paperwhite. And the truth is, for most people a low-end reader like the Paperwhite or Clara is a better deal. But I don’t really read paper books anymore, and so for me, getting a nicer ereader is worth it.
I’ve bought a couple of Kindle Oasis models over the years—the physical page-turn buttons are a must for me—and I’m really impressed that with the Libra H2O Kobo has made a credible competitor for $170. $270 is too much for most people to spend for a very fancy kindle, but $170 is a reasonable splurge for improved ergonomics.
Should you dump Kindle for Kobo? If you’ve got a huge investment in the Kindle ecosystem, it’s going to be a tough decision. (How often do you reread books? Will you keep your old Kindle around? Are you comfortable using Calibre and DeDRM to migrate your purchases?) Amazon has made a great effort to connect Kindle with Audible, and if you switch between ebooks and audiobooks, Amazon offers a superior experience.
But if you frequently check out ebooks from your local library, or think you might want to, Kobo has an advantage. The typography’s better. Support for the Pocket reading service is built in. And if you’ve always wanted a Kindle Oasis but couldn’t stomach the price tag, the Kobo Libra H2O is an awfully nice alternative.
And after all that, I’ll be honest: While I am still a big user of Amazon, I am increasingly uncomfortable with the company, its policies, and its impact on the world. Ebooks are a teeny part of the Amazon juggernaut, but it’s an area where it has very little competition—and having tried this particular competition, I find it superior. All things being equal, I think I’d like to throw my support behind the competitor. And things are not equal—the Kobo really does feel better.
So for now, I’m reading all my books on a Kobo. I can’t guarantee that the next Kindle won’t dazzle me into returning to the fold—remember, a slight screen gouge on a perfectly good Kobo sent me down this path—but I’m enjoying being out of the Amazon ecosystem for the time being.
By Jason Snell
May 6, 2021 9:31 AM PT
I’m getting a lot of tweets and emails saying the same thing: the latest episode of (some podcast I’m involved with) hasn’t shown up in Apple Podcasts.
Unfortunately, right now my only answer is to say, “It’s displaying properly in every other podcast app around, so if you’ve ever thought of using Overcast or Castro or Pocket Casts or any other alternative podcast app, now might be a good time to try.”
This is an issue on Apple’s side. Apple is aware of it and presumably is working on a fix.
I do have a theory about what’s happening, though. This is just informed speculation, but:
- The new version of Podcasts shifts from the model where each individual copy of the app talks to the RSS feed directly, to the model held by most podcast apps—a central server that monitors all the RSS feeds, pings them on a regular basis, and then updates the metadata in the individual app when needed. So the app phones home once to Apple rather than to every different server of every subscribed feed.
Separately, Apple’s had a “crawler” for years that goes out and grabs the RSS content of podcasts in its database to use in updating web pages and previews of podcasts. It’s not what the app displayed when you were subscribed to a feed, but it was what it used as a preview when you weren’t subscribed. The problem with this crawler is that it was very, very slow, at least for my podcasts. People used to complain to me all the time that the latest episode of my podcast that I was promoting wasn’t appearing in Apple Podcasts or in Apple’s web preview of the podcast; my standard reply was “Try subscribing to the podcast.” It always worked.
I assume that the new version of Apple Podcasts, which is reliant on an Apple crawler to update podcast RSS feeds, has forced Apple to drastically improve the speed and reliability of that crawler.
Possibly related, Apple is currently migrating a bunch of old podcasts that use its old Site Manager dashboard to the new and shinier Podcasts Publisher dashboard. That’s due by the end of the month.
So here’s my theory: Since Apple is migrating all podcasts to its more modern publishing system, perhaps the new, improved crawler only crawls the podcasts that are in this system? In that scenario, the podcasts that have not yet migrated would still use the old, slow crawler. The result: long delays for listeners.
Regardless of the cause, I hope this issue is resolved soon. And either way, I’m looking forward to my podcasts being migrated to a more modern set of tools within Apple’s system.
Courtroom drama’s more fun with no actual lawyers.
How we feel about sideloading apps on our iOS devices, thoughts on AirTags and privacy, the importance of email to our daily workflow, and what software changes the iPad desperately needs to match up with its pro hardware.
By Jason Snell for Macworld
Apple does what it wants to do, and nothing else. At least, that’s the company’s preference…but sometimes courts and laws and governments get in the way. And at the moment, as some Apple executives sit in court while others ponder the European Commission’s finding that it engaged in anticompetitive behavior, it seems like Apple is reaching a point where it’s going to have to do some things that it doesn’t really want to do.
The big question is, will Apple be able to bargain with the powers that be, offering smaller changes that will take pressure and scrutiny off of the rest of the company’s practices? Or will it be forced to change in ways it absolutely doesn’t want by judges and regulators who have decided that its behavior is in violation of the law?
This is complicated stuff. There’s no way to tell how it’ll turn out. But it’s worth considering some of the possibilities, which I’ll rank from most likely to happen (and generally, least catastrophic to Apple) to least likely (and most catastrophic).
By Stephen Hackett
May 4, 2021 11:00 AM PT
Three years ago, I wrote about how far Apple has strayed from its once-iconic Grid of Four product strategy:
To quickly recap, this is what Jobs and company came up with after his return to Apple and the Great Purge of many, many Macintosh models. It was so obviously simple: a user could find where they were on the grid and purchase the right machine for them.
Apple has moved way beyond this strategy, blurring the lines between consumer and professional Macs, even as notebooks have taken over the industry.
On the mobile front, there have been some clarifications over the last few years, with the resurgence of the MacBook Air and the death of the 12-inch MacBook and its one lonely USB-C port. Sure, having two models of the 13-inch MacBook Pro is still a bit awkward, but maybe that will get sorted out with time as well.
Over in Desktop Land, I think things could be shaping up to make a lot more sense than they used to, especially when it comes to the iMac.…
This is a post limited to Six Colors members.
Apple had a record-breaking quarter that showed strong growth in all areas of its business, but clouds loom on the horizon. A global semiconductor shortage threatens Mac and iPad sales, the EU ruled that the App Store is anticompetitive, and Apple’s court case with Epic Games is about to kick off. Did Tim Cook suggest that Apple is ready to change its policies to avoid even harsher sanctions? And upon further consideration, does Apple Podcasts Subscriptions create another barrier to competition in the App Store?
By Dan Moren
May 3, 2021 8:50 AM PT
Over in the Six Colors Member Slack1, reader Matthew wondered:
Does anyone know where I can get a decent icon file of a MacBook Air (Space Grey)? I want to replace the hard disk icon of Macintosh HD.
Good news: I am precisely the right person for this task. I’ve been changing the desktop icon of my Macintosh HD2 for as long as I can remember—once upon a time to custom icons, but more recently to reflect whichever Mac I’m using.
Where do you get those great Mac icons? Good news: you’ve already got them, buried deep within macOS’s labyrinthine folder structure. From the Finder, just hit command-shift-G to bring up the Go to Folder window and enter the following path:
In that folder you’ll find a bunch of macOS’s icons, from System Preferences panes to menu bar icons to, yes, pretty much every Mac model Apple has ever made in the last twenty years or so. (The oldest I could find were from the G4 era.)
Now, to get these icons onto your Macintosh HD is a little more challenging than it once was. You used to be able to copy and paste, but because this directory is locked down, the easiest option is to copy the .icns file you want out of the directory and onto your desktop.
Then select your Macintosh HD and hit command-i or choose Get Info from the File menu. Drag and drop the icon file you just copied onto the icon in the top left corner of the Get Info window, enter your administrator password, and voilà, you’re done!
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at email@example.com. His latest novel, The Aleph Extraction, is out now and available in fine book stores everywhere, so be sure to pick up a copy.]