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Jason Snell for Macworld
June 22, 2017 7:17 AM PT
If there’s a defining quality to the iPad Pro, it’s that the device seeks to go beyond the traditional touch interface of iOS to seek out additional ways of getting work done. For people who are comfortable with pencil, pen, and paper, the Apple Pencil brings a new dimension to using an iPad. And for those of us who are most comfortable with a keyboard beneath our fingers, the iPad Pro—with its Smart Keyboard, the first Apple keyboard designed for iOS—was a sign that Apple realizes that sometimes, even an iPad needs to behave a bit more like a laptop.
There are probably innumerable reasons why Apple decided to expand the size of the second-generation iPad Pro, replacing the old 9.7-inch model with a new 10.5 one. But one benefit of the slight expansion—the 10.5-inch iPad Pro is 10.6 millimeters wider than the old model—is more room for typing, whether it’s physical keys on the Smart Keyboard or the virtual keys of the built-in software keyboard.
June 22, 2017 • 39 minutes
Unfortunately, the confidential information leaked on this podcast was coming from INSIDE THE PODCAST. We discuss other ways to store your Apple Pencil, scratch our heads over weird external keyboards and cases, and Dan makes a (perhaps unwise?) wager about the HomePod. Plus, John steals something precious from Dan.
June 21, 2017 • 29 minutes
This week on our 30-minute tech roundtable, we discuss the watchOS 4 features that we’d hoped would be announced (and weren’t), Lenovo’s push to turn PCs into a service, improvements to Live Photos, and Apple’s attempt to stops those darned leakers. With special guests Lisa Schmeiser and James Thomson.
By Jason Snell
June 19, 2017 5:08 PM PT
Many years ago, when I worked at Macworld, I was contacted by an Apple recruiter about a job as an editor for the Mac App Store. Apple, recruiting editorial talent for the App Store? That seemed unusual.
The fact is, while the App Store has indeed had an editorial team for quite a while, Apple’s approach to App Store editorial has been nearly invisible. Editors select apps to highlight and might write short bits of text for use in collections, but for the most part the job has seemed to be more about curation than words1.
This is not meant to disparage curation—it’s an important job and one of the ways the App Store can highlight the hard work of app developers who are making polished, impressive products.
With iOS 11, though, Apple’s really showing that it has redefined what the App Store editorial team is for. In the redesigned App Store app in iOS 11, app highlights go way beyond buttons that would present an app’s App Store page when you tapped. The new Today tab is populated with full-fledged feature articles, with screen shots, videos, animations, pull quotes, and real writing. There are app spotlights, curated best-in-category collections2, and even how-to articles.
No, this isn’t independent journalism—it’s curation and marketing. But it’s a sign that Apple sees the value in telling the stories of the apps it’s seen fit to highlight.
When I read the sample content that Apple posted in the App Store as a part of the developer release of iOS 11, I was impressed with the level of detail. These aren’t a few sentences of dashed-off app hype; the Monument Valley piece in the App Store is a full-on feature story, well written and complete with quotes from the developers themselves.
It’s a smart approach, though it will be interesting to see how it works once iOS 11 arrives and the App Store team3 is forced to roll out new highlights and features on an ongoing basis. That’s the thing about editorial work, whether you’re writing for a newspaper, magazine, website, or even the App Store—it never stops. Time just keeps rolling on, and your audience is always hungry for new stuff.
Fortunately, given the experience of the last nine years of the App Store, there will probably always be great new apps to highlight—and great stories to tell. As someone who has made his living writing stories about software for a very long time now, I’m a believer in the format. Done well, this will make the App Store better—for both users and developers.
As a person with a high profile editorial background and strengths in writing and editing, I was exactly the wrong person for an invisible curation job. ↩
We did curated app lists at Macworld for a few years. It’s hard to do well, and a huge time investment. ↩
Someone asked me if I thought the App Store might just ask developers to write their own articles and send them in. In a word: No. ↩
June 19, 2017 • 1 hour, 26 minutes
The new iPad Pros have arrived, and Jason and Myke have spent the last week with both the 12.9- and 10.5-inch models. This week on Upgrade we give our reactions to the new displays, detail what’s new with previous versions, get excited about one day using iOS 11, and offer advice about which iPad Pro model is the right one to buy. In other news, we also ponder a grim future where an Amazon robot allows you to squeeze Whole Foods produce in virtual reality.
By Dan Moren
June 19, 2017 12:19 PM PT
When I was a kid, poring over tech books like The Macintosh Bible, I always found myself glossing over the sections about Mail Merge, which I—rightfully, I maintain—dismissed as something boring that only adults had to worry about.
So naturally here I am, twenty-five years later, in a situation where Mail Merge is actually quite useful: I’ve recently been sending out quite a bit of snail mail1, and I discovered that my printer could print envelopes (albeit one at a time, which is kind of a bummer). But rather than typing or copying-and-pasting addresses into the envelope template I set up in Pages, it seemed like it would save time to automate that process. Which is exactly what Mail Merge is supposed to do.
Except Pages doesn’t have a Mail Merge feature.
A little bit of Googling later and I turned up a solution from, of course, from my old Macworld colleague Chris Breen. Chris’s article in turn pointed me towards AppleScript guru Sal Soghoian’s Mac OS X Automation sites. Among the wondrous resources you can find there is a little helper application called Pages Data Merge, which did pretty much exactly what I was looking for.
Long story short, there’s a feature in Pages that lets you tag parts of documents as placeholder text. Those placeholders can then be addressed by scripts, and Pages Data Merge can import rows of data from Numbers (or other sources like a CSV file) and generate separate Pages files (or PDFs, ePubs, DOCs, and more) with the spreadsheet data plugged in to the template.
I used it to grab names and addresses that I’d entered in Numbers, plug them into the envelope template, and then generate individual Pages files for each personalized envelope—and it worked a treat. The one downside is that every time I want to do a new batch I have to remind Pages Data Merge which Numbers columns go to which Pages placeholders, but honestly, that doesn’t take more than 30 seconds or so.
Maybe this isn’t exactly the kind of low-hanging fruit that Apple’s looking to add to Pages, but it’s definitely a bit of a hole in functionality right now. It’s great that Apple’s robust automation (and Sal’s wizardry) means that you can make this work even without Apple building it in, but I would love to see a more robust solution.
In the meantime, if you’ve been looking for a way to personalize this kind of content—and I should note that Pages Data Merge even lets you automatically attach the created files to individualized email messages—then this might work as well for you as it has for me.
Specifically, I’ve been mailing personalized signed bookplates for readers of my book. In case you’re interested. ↩
By Dan Moren
June 19, 2017 7:07 AM PT
Keyboards come and go. I’ve been through more than a few on my iPad. For a while I used my Apple Wireless Keyboard in an Origami case. Then a Logitech K811 also shoved into the same Origami case. When I got my iPad Air 2, I found a pretty good deal on a Logitech Type+ and used that for a while. But recently I noticed that I’d stopped taking the iPad places because the Logitech case simply made it too bulky. So when I came across a deal on the iClever Bluetooth Keyboard, its compact nature and split design intrigued me, and I started carrying it around when I didn’t need the full keyboard-case experience. Now that I’ve made the jump to a 10.5-inch iPad, the Type+ case no longer even fits, so I’ve ditched it for the iClever full time.
Recently, I posted a couple pictures of my iPad work setup, and was inundated with questions about the keyboard. Inquiring minds, it seems, want to know. So here’s the rundown on what I like about this keyboard, and what could use some work.
Size: The compact design of this keyboard frankly can’t be beat. Folded in half, it’s only very slightly thicker than the 10.5-inch iPad with a Smart Cover. It’s also small enough that you could, if you really wanted to, probably slip it in the back pocket of a pair of men’s jeans. The weight of it is almost negligible—I don’t have a scale handy, but iClever says it’s just 6.2 ounces; it’s certainly a lot lighter than my previous keyboard case. I particularly appreciate the embedded magnetic fastener, which makes it snap pleasantly together when you fold it up, and doubles as an on/off switch to boot.
Battery life: Honestly, I’ve yet to have to recharge the iClever. That’s not too surprising: keyboards are hardly high-power devices. In the eventuality it does need to be plugged in, it takes a standard micro-USB cable. There’s also a battery indicator, which I appreciate, even if it is a bit minimal. (Press the Function key and the R key, which has a battery icon on it, and a light will blink multiple times, each indicating a quarter of battery power left: four times, 100 percent; three times, 75 percent; and so on.) iClever says the keyboard will last for 40 hours of typing and up to 30 days of standby. Seeing as how I left it sitting around for several weeks without using it and I still have at least a three-quarter charge, that would seem to bear out.
Keys: Okay, they’re not the best keys in the world, but they look cheaper than they feel. They are a bit smaller than full size, but not so tiny that I have trouble touch-typing. Obviously they’re not mechanical switches, so if that’s a non-starter for you, look somewhere else. But they do have more key travel than recent Apple laptop keyboards, so that’s a win. There are, however, some downsides to the layout and tradeoffs with the size, but we’ll get back to that in a moment.
Split layout: This one is obviously a bit of a subjective preference, but I’d wager also the reason behind most of the curiosity about this keyboard. Back in the day, I used to use a Microsoft Natural Keyboard after I’d had some problems with RSI; these days I’ve switched back to standard keyboards, but the split ergonomic design still appeals to me. I find the iClever’s split layout pretty comfortable to type on, though it definitely took some getting used to.
The price: At just over $30, the iClever is definitely on the affordable side. You can probably find cheaper, but for me it seems to strike a pretty decent balance for the cost. At that price, it was worth it for me to buy one to test out, even if I didn’t end up using it regularly. As it stands, I’d say that I’ve easily gotten my money’s worth from it, even if it does have some caveats…
Split layout: As I said above, the layout has taken some getting used to. In particular, the “B” key is just on the wrong side for me: I’m used to hitting it with my right hand, and I’ve had to retrain my muscle memory to look for it on the left side. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s definitely an annoyance.
Flaky keys: I’ve remarked on this elsewhere, and I remain unsure if it’s just this unit, Bluetooth connectivity, or what, but some of the keys don’t always register on the first try. Specifically, I find that the ‘V’ key often seems to require a second press—or a firmer, more intentional press—to show up. Many’s the time that I have typed a word with a ‘V’ in it, not realized that it didn’t show up, and then had iOS’s autocorrect gleefully change it to a word that makes no sense whatsoever.1 Other keys occasionally seem to have a similar issue, but with nowhere near as much frequency. Again, I don’t know if this is a flaw that’s endemic to the keyboard or simply this particular unit, but it’s worth noting.
iOS-ish keyboard layout: This is probably my biggest irritation with this keyboard. While it does let you toggle between Android, Windows, and iOS/Mac keyboard layouts, the iClever’s iOS layout isn’t quite right. Specifically, it maps the Windows key to Command and the Alt key to option, which puts them in the opposite places from where they should be. That’s not unique to this keyboard, but at least when you run into it on a Mac you can remap them. No such luck on iOS. I’ve gotten to the point where I at least don’t have to stare down at the keys to remember which is where, but it definitely took some time.
Miscellaneous layout issues: Depending again on your personal preferences, some of the rest of the iClever layout may prove less than ideal. The arrow keys have the full-size left/right and half-size up/down of recent Apple keyboards, which not everybody is a fan of. (I prefer the inverted-T layout personally.) The number keys—which double as function keys—are half-height, which makes them more annoying to hit at times, while some of the symbol keys on the right-hand side, like the brackets, colon, and quotes are half-width, which can be a bit maddening as well. The Delete key is a little too far to the right to hit comfortably. The Caps Lock key doesn’t have a light on it to tell you whether it’s on or off, but, frankly, my fingers are usually obscuring it anyway, so that’s kind of a six-of-one-half-dozen-of-another. In other words, like any keyboard, it has its quirks: how much they bother you is going to vary from person to person.
Is this the keyboard that will make you settle down and stop looking at iPad keyboards? If you’re a keyboard connoisseur, then no, probably not. The non-iOS layout and the flaky keys are probably going to turn you off. But if you’re just looking for a super compact, long-lasting wireless keyboard to get stuff done? This might very well fit the bill. The split ergonomic layout is the big wildcard, and from what I can tell, it certainly seems like that might be the big draw for some folks.
At the end of the day, for the $33 price tag on Amazon, it’s a pretty solid little keyboard that you can throw in a bag and use when the onscreen keyboard just isn’t cutting it. I might not want to write my next novel on it, but I’ve just written this entire 1300-word review on it with few problems, so consider that at least a modest seal of approval.
It turns out that if you type “very” and the “v” doesn’t show up, iOS is pretty happy to change it to “dry.” Also “I’ve” with no “v” becomes, through some bizarre black magic, “I’be”. Go home, autocorrect: you’re drunk. ↩
June 17, 2017 2:31 PM PT
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June 17, 2017 • 1 hour, 2 minutes
This week on Download, it’s E3 week! Microsoft unveiled its 4K console (we’re calling it ‘Xb1x’) while Nintendo stocked up on Switch games and Sony promised a bunch of new stuff for the PS4. Plus, our panel of games experts shares their favorite news items to come out of the week.
By Dan Moren
June 16, 2017 11:01 AM PT
These days I replace my iPhone pretty much every year, thanks to Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program. But my iPad gets swapped out much less frequently—perhaps every couple years. A major reason for that is that over the past few years, it’s seemed like the pace of iPad improvement had slowed a bit, along with the sales. But when the company unveiled the 10.5-inch model at this year’s WWDC, I found myself once again subject to the upgrade siren song.
My previous model was a refurbished iPad Air 2, and it remains a very capable machine. There’s not a lot that you can throw at the Air 2 that it won’t handle, and the initial improvements in the Pro line—the Smart Connector, the display colors, the louder speakers—hadn’t been enough to persuade me to upgrade. But add in the larger screen in the 10.5-inch model, ProMotion, better support for Apple Pencil, processor improvements, well, yeah, you had a machine that was a substantial bump over what I was using.
So after a few days using the 10.5-inch, where am I at?
I love it. Unqualifiedly. Let’s break down a few of the reasons why:
The form factor Rumor had it that Apple would try to fit the 10.5-inch display in the 9.7-inch iPad’s chassis. That’s not what ended up happening here: the 10.5-inch model is taller and wider than its predecessor, though, in truest of Apple fashions, no thicker. It’s also a little bit heavier as well—to the tune of 0.07lbs—and it remains not the most comfortable iPad to hold in one hand for long periods of time. (The mini still holds that crown, undisputed.)
The thinner side bezels look great and if it’s not as big a difference as between the original iPad’s form factor (last seen in the fourth-generation iPad) and the iPad Air, it’s still a nice improvement. There is an unsightly camera bump on the back now, but it’s a fair trade off for a much better camera and I’ve gotten plenty used to it on the iPhone.
The display As Jason said elsewhere, the new ProMotion feature, which brings a 120Hz refresh rate to the display, isn’t a jump on the order of Retina displays, but combined with TrueTone, wide color gamut, and the larger display? Yeah, this is a huge jump. For the first time in years, I had to change up my wallpaper because the old one—a picture shot with a digital camera back in 2005—just didn’t do it justice.
I’m not a particularly color sensitive person, but the new display definitely pops when it comes to colors; I don’t know how else to describe it. The fact there’s more of it, even if it’s not a huge jump from 9.7-inch iPad, certainly doesn’t hurt.
There’s been a lot of discussion of ProMotion, and there’s no question that it takes some getting used to. But after a couple days, my overriding impression is that this is the way iOS is meant to be seen. Animations and scrolling are smooth and zippy and they look and feel natural—it doesn’t even feel like you’re using a device.
Overall, when it comes to a bigger screen on an iOS device, that’s not only important because it’s more room to display content. Unlike on a Mac, the iOS display is also the control surface, which means more room for user interfaces. With multitouch (and especially multi-hand) being something that Apple stressed in iOS 11, a larger screen is certainly a benefit. Add in more real estate for using the Apple Pencil, and there’s little argument that the bigger screen is all upside.
Better speakers One of those things that I probably wouldn’t have put on a wishlist for my iPad, so used am I to listening on my headphones or a Bluetooth speaker, but the Pro’s speakers are impressively loud—almost too much so at max volume. I feel like I’d have little problem doing a Netflix binge without connecting my speakers. (It’s not about to become my go-to device for listening to music, though.)1
Better cameras I haven’t had much of an opportunity to play around with the cameras yet—I don’t take a lot of pictures with my iPad—but even at a glance it’s clear how much sharper and less grainy the Pro’s new camera is. No surprise, given that it’s the exact same camera in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus (without the Plus’s second lens), complete with flash and support for Live Photos. Same goes for the FaceTime HD Camera. No longer do I have to switch over to my iPhone to get the best picture.
Faster Touch ID sensor One of the upgrades of the last few iPhone models that sometimes goes overlooked is the new Touch ID sensor. It’s marvelously fast and accurate, and it’s a great addition to the iPad as well. It seems to fail for me way less than the original Touch ID sensor.
I’m sure there’s much more to love in the new iPad, but a lot of the test will be when iOS 11 comes down the pike later this year, bringing new multitasking features and more. I have full faith that the iPad Pro will prove to be more than up to the task, and I look forward to waiting a few more years before my next new iPad.
And hey, there’s still a headphone jack! ↩
Dan Moren for Macworld
June 16, 2017 7:20 AM PT
Over the past few years, rumors of a self-driving car have swirled around Apple with more intensity than almost any putative product since the iPhone. It remains unclear whether or not the company will build an entire car, but the fact that the company is interested in technologies that support a self-driving car is no longer under dispute.
In a Bloomberg TV interview posted this week, Apple CEO Tim Cook confirmed that the company views autonomous systems as a major area of interest, describing it as a “core technology.”
If in fact any such product does surface, it will likely be more than a few years from now. But looking at the announcements out of last week’s Worldwide Developers Conference, it’s not hard to point to a few seeds that might eventually blossom into such a project.