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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

13 Features of iOS 13: Shortcuts

Formerly the third-party app Workflow, Shortcuts was bought by Apple and integrated with iOS last year—but it was a first step. Shortcuts has had a year to spread its roots throughout the operating system, and in iOS 13 it’s been improved and better integrated—with the promise of even more to come in the very near future.

Shortcuts is now included on every iOS 13 devices—it’s not an add-on you have to download from the App Store. Apple has also begun to integrate disparate automation features of iOS and place them all inside Shortcuts. Siri Shortcuts, very simple app-based automations introduced in iOS 12, now live inside the Shortcuts app. And beginning in iOS 13.1, the simple automations that you create in the Home app will also appear in Shortcuts—and can be modified and enhanced with additional features of the Shortcuts app.

As someone who is not a software developer, I’ve had to imagine the pain Swift developers went through in the early days as the language evolved and their they had to keep rewriting their code to conform to the latest version. With Shortcuts in iOS 13, I’ve gotten at least a taste of that feeling, because upgrading to iOS 13 required me to do some work to get my Shortcuts working again. That’s life on the cutting edge, and the changes are for the better, but be warned—you may have to do some work to get your Shortcuts functioning to your liking on iOS 13.

The biggest improvement in the Shortcuts format itself is the explicit passing of data from item to item. Shortcuts works in a linear flow, items executing one at a time from top to bottom. In previous versions of Shortcuts and Workflow, data generally passed from the previous step, so if you wanted to grab data from somewhere else in the shortcut and use it instead, you’d need to add a Get Variable item and then act on it.

Items in Shortcuts now read more like sentences, making it clear what’s being acted on in each step.

In iOS 13, items in Shortcuts explicitly label what data they’re acting on. By default, it’s the preceding item, but you can see it and change it right within the item, rather than adding additional items. It means that Shortcuts are a lot shorter than before—all those blocks that set and get variables are gone—and it’s clearer what each item is doing. Each item in a Shortcut is styled more like a sentence—“Set name of file file.txt to result.txt” rather than a stack of parameters.

Shortcuts just got a lot more useful if you use Siri, too. You can now create interactive Shortcuts that can ask questions and accept text input, especially useful if you’re not able to look at a screen because you’re using AirPods or CarPlay. And the redesigned Share Sheet in iOS 13 means that you can prominently place specific individual Shortcuts in the Share sheet, making it easy to access them with a single tap.

You can run Shortcuts with one tap from the Share sheet, and even position your favorites at the very top of the list.

Shortcuts will also become vastly more usable in iOS 13 because app developers can contribute much more detailed, useful actions into Shortcuts from their apps. In the past, data got passed between apps and Shortcuts either via the clipboard or by embedding lots of data in a passed URL. In iOS 13, apps can specify what actions and data can get passed back and forth, which should—once apps are revised to support this feature—make Shortcuts much more flexible and powerful.

As someone who does a lot of work on the iPad, I’ve found that Shortcuts benefits from the new iPadOS feature that allows you to pin widgets on the home screen. I keep the Shortcuts widget pinned to my home screen, letting me run Shortcuts right from the home screen with just one tap.

There’s more to come. In current beta versions of iOS 13, Apple has added an automation tab to Shortcuts, allowing Shortcuts to run on timers or when triggered by other actions, such as tapping an item containing a chip that’s readable by the same NFC reader that the iPhone uses for Apple Pay. It’s a shame that this isn’t available quite yet, but it’s another example of how integrating Shortcuts deeply into the operating system will pay dividends in all sorts of unexpected ways.

There’s still much more that Apple can do with Shortcuts. I’d like to see the ability to select items in a Shortcut and copy, paste, and duplicate them, for example. I’d also like Apple to continue minimizing the appearance of the Shortcuts app (and the visible scrolling through steps of a Shortcut) when Shortcuts are run. It’s visually distracting and, unless you’re actively building the Shortcut, unnecessary. But that work will have to wait until deferred improvements like automations are added in (hopefully) iOS 13.1.

Regardless of the existence of a few straggling features, Shortcuts in iOS 13 has progressed in exactly the way I had hoped it would. This is Apple’s vision of how user automation will work in iOS, and Shortcuts keeps gaining power, system integration, and app connectivity. The future is bright for Shortcuts users—but with iOS 13, so is the present.

[Don't miss all our iOS 13 coverage.]


By Jason Snell

The U1 chip in the iPhone 11 is the beginning of an Ultra Wideband revolution

Apple likes talking about the awesome chips it designs for its iPhones, but it hates even hinting at products it hasn’t yet announced. The new U1 chip—introduced with the iPhone 11 but never mentioned on stage at Tuesday’s iPhone event—strikes at the heart of this conflict. Embedded in the U1 is new technology that may dramatically change how our various intelligent devices interact with each other, but Apple is only using it to make a small addition to AirDrop.

Of course, the story is more complicated. If you believe the reports that Apple is working on a tracking accessory that will let you locate just about any object with extreme precision, then the lack of a keynote mention starts to make sense. Apple will probably be ready to talk up Ultra Wideband (UWB), the wireless standard that powers the U1, the very moment that product is released. Until then, we’re left with a paragraph on Apple’s website:

The new Apple‑designed U1 chip uses Ultra Wideband technology for spatial awareness — allowing iPhone 11 Pro to understand its precise location relative to other nearby U1‑equipped Apple devices. It’s like adding another sense to iPhone, and it’s going to lead to amazing new capabilities.

Amazing new capabilities, eh? The Apple marketing copy has it right—UWB’s technological trick is allowing devices to pinpoint one another’s locations in the real world with great precision. From raw data alone, UWB devices can detect locations within 10 centimeters (4 inches), but depending on implementation that accuracy can be lowered to as much as 5 millimeters, according to Mickael Viot, VP of marketing at UWB chipmaker Decawave.

Security through precision

For now, an improved AirDrop interface in iOS 13.1 is the only sign of Apple’s adoption of Ultra Wideband.

The technology works by using a method that Apple’s already using in allowing Apple Watches to unlock Macs: using the total round-trip time of a radio signal (measured in nanoseconds—radio waves move at the speed of light) to calculate how far away a device is. This prevents your Apple Watch from unlocking a Mac unless it’s in close proximity.

This is an important security feature, because other wireless technologies such as Bluetooth tend to estimate distance by measuring the strength of a wireless signal, not the time it takes for it to be sent to a device and then returned back to the sender. Sneaky people could relay a signal and boost its power and fool a Bluetooth device into thinking you were nearby when you weren’t. That’s a security hole wide enough to break into a Mac or steal a car.

The speed of light and a roundtrip signal allows for a precise measuring of distance, but UWB can also determine the angle of arrival of the radio signals by measuring the phase shift that comes when receiving the signal from multiple antennas. Put the distance and angle together and you’ve got incredible precision—enough for, the rumors suggest, Apple to use an augmented-reality display to mark the precise location of another device.

Right now, the only feature Apple has announced involving the U1 is a modified version of AirDrop that uses that precision location to determine if another iPhone 11 is close (and, believe it or not, if it’s pointing at your phone), and pops that device to the very top of your AirDrop interface. UWB can be used to transfer data at up to 27 megabits per second, which is faster than Bluetooth LE, but slower than Wi-Fi. I don’t know if Apple’s using UWB to do the data transfer or just using it for location finding and then switching to a peer-to-peer Wi-Fi connection for fast file transfers, which is what usually happens when using AirDrop between devices.

Beyond AirDrop and tracking tags

But the possible applications of UWB go way beyond AirDrop and tracking tags. Decawave’s Viot says potential applications include smart home tech, augmented reality, mobile payments, the aforementioned keyless car entry, and even indoor navigation. (And it’s not a power hog, either—Viot says that Decawave’s latest UWB chip uses one-third of the power of a Bluetooth LE chip when in beacon mode, as a tracking tile would be.)

In terms of smart home tech, both security and functionality could be improved by devices knowing exactly where they are, and where the humans in the house are. (This is one reason why Viot thinks that Apple will add UWB support to the Apple Watch sooner rather than later: we aren’t always with our phones, but we bring our wrists with us wherever we go.) Imagine a whole-home audio system moving music playback through multiple rooms based on the location of an individual listener. Consider the peace of mind of knowing that your smart door lock won’t open unless you’re standing right in front of it—and can lock the moment it knows you’re inside.

Augmented reality is also an enormous area of interest for Apple, and UWB can help there, too, by providing location precision for devices and accessories. And then there’s boring stuff like UWB-enabled badges that could unlock doors and even enable office buildings to provide “turn by turn” directions to their destinations.

And the stolen car thing—that seems to have been enough of a security hole to help spur car manufacturers to get off of Bluetooth LE and on to something more secure. The Car Connectivity Consortium, of which both Apple and Google are members, should enable UWB-enabled devices to replace car keyfobs securely.

Apple is first out of the gate

Of course, that’s only if most smartphones are UWB enabled. As of today, the total number of smartphones shipping with UWB onboard is zero. In fact the iPhone 11 family, when it arrives next week, will be the first consumer smartphones to support UWB. A glance at the various trade groups coalescing around this technology suggests that Google, Samsung, HTC, and other major players plan to get in the game.

“It’s huge,” Viot says, that Apple has taken this step. He likens the move to Apple adopting Wi-Fi in the first iBook, which was the push the technology needed to start rolling out everywhere. Apple might not be talking a lot about it now, but that U1 chip may be our first step into a world where all of our devices know where they are in relation to one another at a precision measured in millimeters.

The implications are enormous. As Apple’s innocuous final marketing sentence about the U1 reads, “that’s just the beginning.”


Dan Moren for Macworld

Apple is making its iPhones last longer. That’s a good thing ↦

A cynic might argue that prolonging the lifetime of its smartphones runs counter to Apple’s interests. After all, the sooner iPhones break down, the sooner customers have to pony up the cash for a new one. For years, conspiracy theories of “planned obsolescence” have run rampant, full of anecdata of iPhones breaking down just as they run out of warranty.

But that argument flies in the face of reality. For one thing, if your expensive new phone breaks after a year, are you really going to immediately replace it with another phone from the same unreliable manufacturer?

More to the point, Apple has demonstrated that it is dedicated to getting the most life possible out of its smartphones, such as with last year’s iOS 12 update, which promised better performance on older devices. And the company has continued the trend this year with the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro, offering a number of features that should keep them reliably ticking away longer than ever.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


By Jason Snell

Will free Apple TV+ subscriptions count as Services revenue?

So Apple is going to give a free year of Apple TV+ to anyone who buys new a Apple device capable of playing it. It’s a smart move to build a subscriber list while its offerings are limited, and all of those free family subscriptions will convert to $4.99/month subscriptions when the year is up.

But if the popular narrative is that Apple is launching Apple TV+ to boost its Services revenue line, does giving away all of these free subscriptions mean that Apple won’t see that benefit for a year?

I am not an accountant, but I want to point to something Apple did late last year, namely change how it accounts for services bundled with its hardware:

Starting in 2019, in connection with the adoption of the new revenue accounting standard, Apple will classify the amortization of the deferred value of Maps, Siri and free iCloud services, which are bundled in the sales price of iPhone, iPad, Mac and certain other products, in Services net sales. Historically, Apple classified the amortization of these amounts in Product net sales consistent with its management reporting framework. As a result, the 2018 net sales information has been reclassified to conform to the 2019 presentation.

What this means is that Apple now considers Maps, Siri, and the meager 5GB of free iCloud storage everyone gets with their devices as services, and takes a small amount of money from the sales of Apple hardware and allocates them into the services revenue line.

While the Apple TV+ bundle is not entirely analogous—you will have to sign up for the free year, while these other services are used without any intervention—it seems likely to me that Apple will pull a little revenue out of the hardware sales figures and toss it into the Services pile every time someone signs up for a free year of Apple TV+.


Jason Snell for Tom's Guide

The real star of the Apple event? Apple Watch 5 ↦

Something strange happened at Apple’s iPhone 11 event on Tuesday: the Apple Watch stole the show. With the iPhone facing a year of incremental feature updates, there was opportunity for some other product to step forward and take the spotlight.

But who would have thought that the Apple Watch 5, of which so little was expected that I speculated it might not even get an update, ended up finally getting the upgrade that we’ve been waiting for since Apple first announced the smartwatch five years ago?

Continue reading on Tom's Guide ↦


Podcast

The Rebound 255: Frogger With a Giant Baby

Hey, there was an Apple event! We discuss the company’s big announcements, from new iPhones (Dan’s getting one), to new Apple Watches (John’s getting one), to Apple Arcade and Apple TV+. Plus, we discuss the wackiness of Apple’s software releases, and James makes a surprising discovery about this show.

Episode linkMP3 (46 minutes)


Podcast

Clockwise #311: A Ten Buck Case on a Thousand Dollar Phone

This week, on the 30-minute show where time is a flat circle—and so is a donut?—Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Paul Kafasis and Scholle McFarland to discuss whether smartphone updates are hitting diminishing returns, how interested we are in Apple Arcade, the importance of color on iPhones, and our most (and least) anticipated features in macOS Catalina. Plus, that donut comment was relevant.

Episode linkMP3 (29 minutes)


Linked by Jason Snell

What’s the ultimate Apple TV+ goal?

Natalie Jarvey and Lesley Goldberg of The Hollywood Reporter have an analysis of Apple’s TV+ announcements Tuesday:

Despite its low price — which includes access for up to six family members — Apple’s biggest challenge may be in convincing users that it has enough content to justify a subscription, even if the first year is free. While the iPhone maker has been competitive, shelling out billions for originals from top producers and casting them with a roster of A-listers, TV insiders say Apple is relying on its known brand rather than the appeal of any one star or show to help drive sign-ups. “This is trading on Apple’s good name,” says one veteran executive. “The thinking is that you already have a phone and you already like them, so you’ll pay the $4.99.”

I’m sure Apple’s long-term plan is for Apple TV+ to be a revenue generator, but the move to offer everyone with new Apple hardware a year for free suggests that Apple is willing to be patient and spend time getting its users accustomed to the service before trying to convert some percentage to paying.

It’s accurate, though, to say that Apple TV+ is more like Prime Video than its other competitors, because it’s a video-streaming service that is part of something larger. In Amazon’s case, it’s the entire Prime ecosystem; in Apple’s case, it’s the Apple ecosystem of devices and services. Neither company needs to make decisions based solely on the health of the streaming service—it’s a much larger, messier, more complicated approach.


By Jason Snell

The 2019 iPhone event: Hits and misses

The 2019 iPhone event is in the books. Before I pass out, I thought I’d do a quick run-through of some (but by no means all!) of my post-event thoughts, organized through the narrow, cruel lens of hits and misses. There will be more, I’m sure, later this week.

Event hits

The Apple Watch display. As Myke Hurley and I mentioned on Upgrade last week, for a few years we’ve been dreaming of an Apple Watch with an always-on display. The truth is, if you think back five years to the original launch of the Apple Watch, the features that were most obviously missing that would one day need to be addressed were: cellular connectivity, standalone apps, and an always-on display.

After the last couple of years, I guess I figured that Apple didn’t really care so much about doing what it would take to make sure the Apple Watch display doesn’t require a mildly aggressive wrist flip to see the current time. Maybe I assumed they’d rationalized the need away?

Boy, was I wrong. The slides accompanying the announcement of the feature pretty much nailed all the situations in which having an always-on display would be preferable to the current state of affairs. And it turns out we were waiting for a redesigned Apple Watch display that could seriously save power by doing things like ratchet down to a single update per second and dynamically adjust brightness. Apple also appears to have adjusted watch faces to reduce motion when in an inactive state—for example, it seems that the second hand just disappears when you’re in this mode, which makes sense.

This feature might be my favorite item in the entire event. It’s a major upgrade in Apple Watch functionality. And to think, I didn’t see why Apple needed to bother this year. I guess the rumor mill failed us on this one, but what a delightful surprise.

Apple Arcade. This feels like the winner out of all of Apple’s recently announced services. More than a hundred games, no sleazy grinding for in-app purchases, new games on a regular basis, and all for $4.99 a month? If you ever play games on iOS, or Mac, or Apple TV, this just seems like a great deal. I can’t wait.

iPad. It’s not exciting, but Apple’s upgrade to the cheap iPad—which is, Apple pointed out, also the best-selling iPad model—is a necessary thing going into the holidays. This low-end iPad now has all the features that, four years ago, were the traits of the high-end iPad Pro—support for Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard. By slightly adjusting its size, Apple has allowed the low-end iPad to work with the same Smart Keyboard used by the iPad Air. I’m not quite sure why there still needs to be an iPad Air between this iPad and the iPad Pro, but that’s an issue for another time.

The Apple TV+ bundle that isn’t a bundle. I’ve been hoping for a while now that Apple would grant a year’s worth of service to buyers of new Apple hardware, but I was thinking about expanded iCloud storage space. That didn’t happen, but Apple hardware buyers will get a year of Apple TV+ free. In the long run, I’m not sure what happens here, but it’s a way for Apple to expose its new video service to a whole bunch of people, and anyone in the services business will tell you that acquiring customers is the most important thing. To get the free year of Apple TV+, you’ll need to sign up for the service—with a auto-renewing payment at the end of the year. Apple hopes you’ll fall in love with some of its shows and decide you can’t live without it, and let’s be honest here, eventually the content will determine Apple TV+’s success or failure.

The Camera app. I wrote a thousand words about this over at Macworld today, but suffice it to say that Apple is doing some pretty clever things with the new ultra wide camera on the iPhone 11 models. And while the jury’s out on Night Mode until we can actually use the thing under real conditions, it’s a feature that Apple really needed to offer, given its smartphone competition. It’s one thing to add cameras—it’s another thing to add all sorts of smart software and very polished user-interface design to make the many cameras come together and feel like a cohesive product.

Event misses

See

The “See” trailer. Yes, this is one of the most expensive TV shows ever and all of that money was on display on screen. It looked great, is full of impressive actors, and apparently there’s a lot of action. But the more I learn about the high-concept premise of the show, the less I want to watch it. As my podcast pal Tim Goodman says, you can never judge a show from the trailer—but the job of a trailer is to make me excited to watch a show, and by that measure, I think the “See” trailer didn’t do its job.

Software release timing. What a weird, staggered schedule Apple has set up for itself. iOS releases one time, iPadOS releasing later, macOS in October, watchOS releasing sooner for some models but later for others. The Deep Fusion “computational photography mad science” feature got a lot of time on stage and a lot of love from Phil Schiller, but it’s just a promise for a feature that will appear “later this year.” It’s all understandable, perhaps, but it’s still messier than Apple would like.

Jobs’s Law. I made up this thing I call “Jobs’s Law,” which is that Apple products (especially the iPhone) strive to get thinner every year. This year, it looks like Jobs’s Law took a pounding, as both iPhone 11 Pro models are thicker and heavier than their iPhone XS equivalents. On the bright side, this is probably why the battery life on these models improved by four and five hours—and based on the iPhone users I know, a lot of people would trade a few fractions of a millimeter of thickness and a few fractions of an ounce of weight for hours of extra battery.

Sleepy West Coasters. The west coast is the best coast, but on Friday we’ll have to wake up at 5am to order new iPhones, while east coasters will be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed at 8am. It’s only fair, I suppose, since Apple used to make east coasters get up at 3am to order their phones. And to be honest, I’m not sure getting up at 5am is dramatically worse than staying up until midnight to place an order. California will survive the early wake-up call.

Slofies. No. Please, no.

Stop trying to make Slofies happen.


Jason Snell for Macworld

Hands on with the iPhone 11 cameras ↦

When it comes to smartphone features, photography reigns supreme. The iPhone 11’s camera was the main focus of the most prominent product images in Apple’s iPhone event Tuesday, and consumed the most overall time on stage. The iPhone 11 features major upgrades to the iPhone camera system across the product line, which is good, because the perception among smartphone-market watchers is that Apple’s photography game had fallen behind competitors like Google, Samsung, and Huawei.

After the event I got to spend some time with an iPhone 11 Pro and its Camera and Photos apps, both of which have been modified to support the new features of the iPhone 11 line. Here’s a look at what’s new and how it all fits together.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Podcast

Upgrade #262: The Skyscrapers of Camera Bump City

Jason has returned from Cupertino, where he watched Apple unveil the new iPhone 11 models, a new Apple Watch that adds a feature we had given up hope of ever seeing, and details about when we’ll see Apple Arcade and Apple TV+. We break down the product marketing, new camera features, surprises, and the shocking results of the 2019 Apple iPhone Event Draft.

Episode linkMP3 (1 hour, 41 minutes)


By Dan Moren

iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches, oh my: Initial impressions of Apple’s announcements

While Jason is out getting his hands on all these fancy new devices, I’ve been sitting at home, quietly mulling over Apple’s announcements of the day. 1

So, with the understanding that I only saw what everybody else did on the stream, and have been skimming through Apple’s press releases and marketing sites for a few minutes when I can, here’s a quick overview of what I think are the most significant elements of Apple’s product announcements.

The magnificent seventh-generation iPad

Seventh-generation iPad

Apple bills the low-end model as its “most popular” iPad, and it’s not hard to see why. There is a ton of bang for your buck in the seventh-generation iPad, which not only gets a bigger 10.2-inch screen, but also, at long last, a Smart Connector for the iPad Smart Keyboard. At $329, the seventh-gen iPad is a compelling device for anybody looking to dip their toe into the tablet market—it’s pretty darn close to impulse-buy territory.

Sure, it’s still “only” an A10 chip, but that’s pretty respectable for many uses, and it makes a great first iPad, especially for kids. Plus, at the rate that Apple has been moving features from higher-end iPads down to its entry-level model, I think that it will only become a better and better deal with each passing year.

Series 5 is alive

There was some debate over whether or not Apple would roll out a true successor to the Apple Watch Series 4. I was not alone in wondering what, after all, the company could possibly add to a new Apple Watch to make it a worthwhile upgrade?

Apple Watch Series 5

I just had to go and wonder, huh?

Well, Apple answered adroitly with what I’m sure has been the number-one request for the wearable: an always-on screen. That’s right, getting back to what all other watches have had since the era of the pocket watch took us only five years. Eat it, copy and paste!

In true Apple fashion, the company didn’t simply enable this feature and shrug their shoulders about the impact on battery life—no, it redesigned the entire display to make it work intelligently. 2 I’m curious to see just how well it works in practice. (Granted, Apple is only offering me a $100 trade-in for my Series 4, which isn’t exactly enticing. Why so little? Is it because the Series 4 isn’t available anymore? Seems counterintuitive.)

The additional features like the compass app and international emergency calling are nice to have, but those are the kind of incremental features that were not going to sell a Series 5 on their own.

The other announcement that will be welcomed by customers is the ability to pair any Apple Watch model with any band. Stratifying the bands always felt like it took the worst bits of the fashion experience to me: “Oh, you want to wear that band with this aluminum Watch?” It may be a status symbol, but this is still a consumer electronics product at heart: don’t tell us our money’s no good here—let us buy whatever band we want.

Going to 11

The iPhone 11

And then, of course, there are the new iPhones. The 11 looks like a worthy XR successor for $50 less in the U.S. 3—though, it’s important to note, the XR is still in the line-up, holding down the $600 price point. Cameras are still what drives phone sales, though, so it was a no-brainer that Apple decided to add another to its “main” model. I am a little surprised that it was the new ultra-wide lens rather than the telephoto, but perhaps they felt like it was easier to sell?

I’m really eager to see the new Night mode, especially in terms of how it stacks up to the Pixel. That’s been one of Google’s biggest advantages in the smartphone market, and I’ve been waiting for Apple to address it somehow.

I still don’t think Slofies is going to be a thing, but hey, I’m old and out of touch. Maybe this time next year, we’ll all be sending slow-motion selfies to each other.

Apple spent a lot of time on the camera, unsurprisingly, but that meant a whole bunch of stuff only got briefly mentioned (if at all), including faster LTE and WI-Fi, the U1 Ultra Wideband chip 4, and better Face ID. And I’m still not sure how to think about Dolby Atmos on a phone.

Also, those colors on the Apple press invitation? Yep, they were the iPhone colors. Winners all around.

The iPhone turns Pro

iPhone 11 Pro

Everything the iPhone 11 is and more. Four hours more battery life than the XS certainly has my attention. Better waterproofing is a plus. Haptic Touch means adieu to 3D Touch, and I say good riddance.

The triple camera system looks great, though I’m not sure how much mileage I’ll really get out of the video features. You know, they keep improving the cameras but I’m not sure how much of a better photographer I’m actually getting to be.

But Apple really reeled me in with that Midnight Green phone. I’m not sure why they landed on green as the first non-metallic color for the top-of-the-line iPhone, but as it’s my favorite color, I’m not complaining. Come this Friday, I’ll be ordering my first non-black phone in years.

Oh, and speaking of ordering, all you West Coast folks complaining about having to get up at 5am Pacific to order your phones? From us East Coasters who had to wake up in the dead of night the past several years, here’s a little message of support.

All the rest

Apple Arcade’s $4.99/month cost was expected—Apple TV+’s less so, though I believe the company had to undercut Disney+’s price, given that the two are launching within weeks of each other, and the latter has a much deeper bench of content.

The bundling of a free year with a new iPhone, iPad, Mac, iPod touch, or Apple TV was likewise unexpected, but it perfectly leverages one of Apple’s competitive advantage of a very broad ecosystem. Cupertino’s taking a long-term play here, hoping to get its most loyal customers attached to its shows before they have to start paying. Just keep that in mind when the company starts talking subscriber figures in the next few months.

Apple TV+

As for shows, See got all the attention today. It looks, as my friend James Thomson put it, “expensive”, but I’m not sure I have much to say about it beyond that and the fact that what little dialogue and writing they showed did not blow me away. I suppose we will…find out.

iOS 13’s ship date wasn’t even mentioned on stage, but it looks like it will arrive on the 19th and, in a rare move, Apple has announced that 13.1—which will contain some features that were originally expected to be part of 13.0—will arrive on September 30th, alongside iPadOS. (No news on shipping dates for HomePod and Apple TV software updates.)

There was zero mention of the Mac or Catalina, which is now simply coming some time in October. Which, based on what I’ve heard of the shape the betas are in, is not terribly surprising.

All in all, it might not have been the biggest iPhone event Apple has ever held—and there were a touch too many videos for my tastes this time—but there was a reasonably solid balance of expected announcements and surprises. The returns on new iPhones feel like they’re diminishing, but if you feel underwhelmed, don’t worry: rumors have already started flying about what to expect at next year’s event.


  1. Well, aside from recording a podcast and two radio segments and generally running around like I’m on fire. ↩

  2. Knowing the amount of prep work and rehearsals that go into this keynote, I am shocked that nobody told the Apple Watch presenter that 1Hz is still “one Hertz” and not “one Hert.” Heinrich Hertz is rolling over in his grave. Once per second.  ↩

  3. Not so, from what I’ve heard, in the UK, and perhaps other markets.  ↩

  4. For those Tile competitors that did not get announced ↩

[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.]


By Jason Snell

Live from Cupertino: Apple’s 2019 iPhone event

Jason is in attendance at the Steve Jobs Theater! We’ll post updates at our Twitter account, @sixcolorsevent, as the event goes on.


Linked by Jason Snell

Kuo: Apple tracker, iPhones will feature precision wireless tech

I missed this story on Friday, but it seems particualrly relevant. Joe Rossignol of MacRumors covers how usually-accurate Apple analyst MingChi Kuo says Apple’s rumored tracker device will use Ultra-Wideband (UWB) technology:

The distance between two UWB devices — such as an upcoming iPhone and Apple Tag — can be measured precisely by calculating the time that it takes for a radio wave to pass between the two devices, according to Electronic Design, which notes that UWB is up to 100× more accurate than Bluetooth LE and Wi-Fi: “In practice, UWB signals are able to effectively measure distance between two devicesNo with 5- to 10-cm accuracy, compared to roughly 5-m accuracy for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. When implemented in a system of fixed beacons tracking tag locations, the locations can be calculated to within 10-cm accuracy.”

This dovetails with an earlier Kuo report from back in February which suggested that this year’s new iPhones would feature built-in UWB.

I’d imagine that any new Apple tracking device would also offer Bluetooth LE, but if you think about it, using UWB would conform with the rumors that Apple is adding an augmented-reality version of Find My that will show you (via the image of a balloon!) exactly where your tracker or other UWB-capable Apple device is located. If UWB really can provide accuracy with an error margin of four inches, that would be entirely possible.

Update: Also worth reading, if you didn’t do so in June (or don’t remember it) is WIRED’s piece about Find My cryptography.


The lobby outside the Steve Jobs Theater, post event.

By Jason Snell

Apple event, you’re only a day away

The sun will probably come out in Cupertino tomorrow, whether you bet your bottom dollar or not. It’s fall in the Bay Area and it’s forecast to be sunny and warm. Hmm, the Bay Area warm in September? That’s almost as predictable as Apple announcing new iPhones.

Tomorrow, beginning at 10 a.m. Pacific at the Steve Jobs Theater, we’ll get a look at the latest iPhone models, presumably what’s next with the Apple Watch, and possibly some clarity on a few of Apple’s new services, most notable Apple Arcade and Apple TV+.

Who knows, maybe there will even be a surprise product announcement. It’s unlikely to be as big a buzz as the one the Apple Watch got when it was introduced five years ago today. That event, held at the Flint Center in Cupertino, was the last one for me and several of my colleagues at Macworld, so it’s memorable in a lot of ways. It’s hard to believe it’s been five years.

In any event, time marches on. Who knows what will leap out of tomorrow’s event that will end up sticking in our memories for five years? Or will we lucky enough for it to be a day we’ll never forget?

I’ll be at Apple Park Tuesday for the event, and then we’ll do a special episode of Upgrade right after I return home. Get a good night’s sleep, everyone!


Linked by Dan Moren

Apple rejiggers App Store algorithm to feature its apps less

Apple has changed up the search algorithm for its App Store in order to feature fewer of its own apps—especially unrelated ones. Over at The New York Times, Jack Nicas and Keith Collins have a story about the changes, including a chat with Apple execs Phil Schiller and Eddy Cue:

Over the past several months, Apple engineers said, they began noticing how the algorithm was packing results with Apple apps. First, they stopped the algorithm from doing that for certain searches. In July, they turned it off for all Apple apps.

There’s long been frustration about this algorithm voiced by third-party App Store developers, and with good reason. When your app is buried ten or twenty deep in the search results, it’s often likely that customers won’t even scroll that far—especially when the top results are from Apple.

Schiller and Cue maintain that this wasn’t a case of the system being rigged in favor of Apple’s apps, but more a case of an algorithmic reinforcement loop: Apple’s apps are popular, and the more people click on them, the more they tend to dominate the tops of the listings. This won’t necessarily change, but what will change is unrelated apps from Apple showing up in search results: i.e., the Compass app appearing in search results for “podcasts.”

I never particularly believed that Apple rigged the system in its favor: in the end, it benefits very little from pushing its own apps, most of which are free to users. And it behooves the company to bolster its developers, who help raise the profile of the entire platform, something it’s not shy of pointing out.

That’s not to say that the company doesn’t have fault here, but if anything, this was a case of one of Cupertino’s far more common sins: it just didn’t care, until it did. Rumblings about this had increased over the past year or so, which possibly played a part in prompting the company to act.

Still, if you need a better microcosm of the company’s attitude, you couldn’t do much worse than this exchange:

Still, the executives denied that there had been a problem that needed fixing.

“It’s not corrected,” Mr. Schiller said.

“It’s improved,” said Mr. Cue.



Jason Snell for Tom's Guide

Can Apple still surprise in an age of leaks? ↦

There was a time when Steve Jobs could stand on stage at a Macworld Expo and blow people away with surprise product announcements. Apple CEO Tim Cook once famously said he was “doubling down on secrecy.” And yet for the last few years, there’s been precious little at Apple media events that was a surprise.

With Cook and company set to take the stage again on Tuesday for Apple’s Sept. 10 press event, there’s no doubt that Apple can captivate the world with its product announcements — but can it still provide surprises?

Continue reading on Tom's Guide ↦


Podcast

The Rebound 254: The Tennis Mini

This week, on the irreverent tech show whose crystal ball is cracked, we delve into what might be on tap for next week’s Apple event, rumors of an iPhone SE resurrection, Apple’s cancellation of a TV show, and the exciting world of captioning. Plus, the beta mess that is iOS 13 and iCloud.

Episode linkMP3 (45 minutes)


Dan Moren for Macworld

Three things that probably won’t show up at next week’s Apple event ↦

Welcome to the calm before the storm. Apple is readying its announcements for its annual fall event next week and the rumors and whispers have started to coalesce around what we’ll likely see trotted out: new iPhones, including better camera features, new Apple Watch case materials, and a Tile competitor that will let you track your wallet, keys, and so on.

There are, of course, plenty of things that likely won’t get announced at this particular event, because they’re nowhere near shipping and Apple doesn’t usually talk about products when they aren’t ready to go. And yet, people will still take to the internet to register their disappointment and frustration that all their wishes and fondest desires weren’t met by what Apple did show.

With the hopes of forestalling some of that, here’s a look at three things that you really shouldn’t be expecting to see at next week’s event.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦