six colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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Jason Snell for Six Colors

macOS High Sierra: Photos ↦

One of the major areas of improvement in macOS High Sierra is to the Photos app, which is only a couple of years old and has plenty of room to grow. I literally wrote the book on Photos, so it’s been interesting to watch Apple’s replacement for iPhoto as it has grown and changed. Here’s a look at the changes and new features in Photos for Mac on macOS High Sierra.

(This story has been updated for the final version of High Sierra in place here at Six Colors.)

Continue reading on Six Colors ↦


Podcast

Upgrade #160: A Helipad on Your Table

Upgrade

This week on Upgrade, Jason and Myke discuss the new iPhone 8 and 8 Plus and the Apple Watch Series 3 with cellular, plus there’s a little bit about macOS High Sierra. And then Myke at the Movies is back with “Terminator 2: Judgment Day.”


By Jason Snell

macOS High Sierra: A mostly under-the-hood update

If you were a Mac user eight years ago you may remember Snow Leopard. It was the follow-up release to Mac OS X Leopard, and as Apple explained at the time, the focus was on under-the-hood improvements that would lead to a better, brighter future for the Mac, but be largely invisible to the upgrading user.

In the end, Snow Leopard did offer a bunch of user-interface changes (if you knew where to look), but it was definitely more about laying a new foundation. Apple has tried this same technique with other half-step updates in the past few years—Mountain Lion followed Lion and El Capitan followed Yosemite. But today’s release of macOS 10.13 High Sierra is the most Snow Leopardy of any macOS release in the last eight years. (Snow Leopards do not actually live in the high Sierras, for the record.)

High Sierra is truly a follow-on release to Sierra that offers a bunch of under-the-hood changes that will impact the Mac experience for developers today and for users in a while. But in terms of major new features that will transform your everyday Mac experience, there just isn’t much.

In fact, the biggest user change in High Sierra is probably Photos, which gets some major interface changes and file-compatibility features. By default, Apple’s most recent iOS devices begin taking pictures and videos in entirely new file formats when they’re updated to iOS 11—and if you want full compatibility with Photos and iCloud Photo Library, you’ll either need to update your Mac to High Sierra or change a setting on all your iOS 11 devices in order to force the devices to revert to the old file formats.

A new filesystem for some

The single biggest change in High Sierra is implementation of the new Apple File System (APFS). With this release, all Macs with flash-only internal storage will have those drives upgraded to Apple’s new filesystem format. (Users of spinning discs and Fusion Drives will remain on HFS+.)

In the long run APFS has huge potential to make the Mac better. Partition management is much easier in APFS, and disk partitions can share space, so you don’t have to lock your partitions into specific sizes. Snapshot and revision features have the potential to make Time Machine (and other backup software) far more efficient someday. APFS makes duplicating files in the Finder nearly instantaneous… by pointing at the existing copy of the file data on disk until you modify it, at which point the new file is written to disk.

Most important, perhaps, is that APFS is a filesystem written for an era of flash-storage devices, rather than spinning disks. APFS is much smarter (and faster) at flash storage than HFS+ could be.

But changing the filesystem has ramifications for compatibility. If you make a backup utility you may find that APFS is undocumented and choose to tread lightly and with great care.

If you have a flash-only Mac, upgrading to High Sierra means you’ll get APFS. It’s a big leap. I have a hard time believing Apple would make the leap if it weren’t confident about its implementation—and APFS has been powering iOS devices for many months now—but if you rely on disk-cloning utilities or do other funny things with your disk, maybe it’s worth letting others dip their toes in first.

Other changes under the hood

High Sierra features Metal 2, which is the latest version of Apple’s graphics framework. Apple says that this will lead the Mac to be that much more of a graphics powerhouse for games and other purposes, which is great. This feels more relevant for the next generation of Mac hardware, or perhaps for this year’s crop, than for older systems.

Similarly, High Sierra adds support for VR headsets and development tools. The Mac has been behind in this area for quite a while, and it’s good to see that Apple’s finally trying to lay a foundation for VR development on the Mac. Again, though, this will require the latest and greatest hardware—the most recent iMacs, and the forthcoming iMac Pro and Mac Pro.

High Sierra rolls in support for Swift 4, the latest version of Apple’s new programming language and compiler. It’s a good sign that Swift development is progressing, but this is similarly not a feature that most users will notice or care about—though they may reap the results of more apps written in Swift, eventually.

Changes to Safari

High Sierra includes Safari 11, the latest version of Apple’s built-in web browser. As is standard, the latest Safari is also available for the two previous versions of macOS, El Capitan and Sierra. So while this is a feature that rolls out with High Sierra, it also doesn’t require the upgrade to the new version.

Safari 11 features more tracking protections, in order to thwart trackers that try to build a personal profile of you and then follow you around the web. Pages that automatically play video are now prevented from doing that by default; if there’s a site you’d like to autoplay video from, you can add it in Safari’s Settings. And if you’re a fan of Safari Reader, which simplifies webpages to their base text to make them more readable, you can set Reader to turn on automatically on all stories, or on stories for specific websites.

There are a bunch of changes to WebKit, the open-source web platform that powers Safari, as well. A lot of these changes will improve Safari compatibility with complex web apps, but for you to see the benefits, the developers of those web apps will need time to check the new Safari out and support it.

Among the new features in WebKit is support for the multimedia features known as WebRTC, which have been supported by Firefox and Chrome for some time now. These features can let browsers act as full real-time multimedia communicators (think Skype and Google Hangouts) without any plug-ins.

Unfortunately, what I’ve heard from some developers is that the shipping version of WebRTC on macOS High Sierra and iOS 11 is buggy, which means that they can’t yet support Safari in their apps. There are specifically issues with managing and maintaining consistent audio inputs. Also, despite mentioning the Opus audio codec early on, Apple’s support may be missing—one developers I talked to suggested that he can’t find any support for the Opus codec for playback, which would be a dealbreaker.

Other visible improvements

Beyond the changes in Safari and Photos, you’ll find a few other apps with refreshed features in High Sierra. Mail search has been improved, and Mail now uses a compressed format for storing messages, which results in a disk-space savings.

Siri’s been updated with new Apple Music integration called Personal DJ, which lets you issue commands like “play some Alternative next.” Unfortunately, there’s still no sign that Siri on the Mac will ever be able to connect to anything on the Mac beyond the basics introduced last year. There’s no integration with Automator or scripting of any kind. It’s a missed opportunity.

Spotlight gets a new flight-status feature, so you can type an airline flight code and get a flight tracker right within the Siri window. Notes has been updated for iOS 11 compatibility, so you can see handwritten and scanned items, as well as support for tables.

In many ways, the most important macOS feature these days is compatibility with the latest iOS release. Macs running High Sierra support new iCloud features, such as family iCloud space sharing and the ability to share files saved on iCloud Drive with others.

There are also a few minor updates to the Touch Bar in High Sierra, including an easier way to adjust brightness and volume with a single gesture from Control Strip. But it’s a bit disappointing that there aren’t more changes to the Touch Bar, which has been out for a year now. Third-party utilities still have no access to Control Strip, which would have the potential to make the Touch Bar more useful across apps.

So should you update?

As impressed as I was with all the updates in iOS 11, I’m lukewarm about High Sierra. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s definitely in the spirit of Snow Leopard. The update is something Apple needs to do in order to lay technical groundwork for the future, but technical groundwork is not a motivator for users to update their systems and risk incompatibilities.

Let’s be realistic: In the end, you will need to update to High Sierra, because it will provide you with the latest security updates and features that your apps will demand. But in the short term, until developers better come to grips with the new filesystem and we’ve waited to see if there are bugs or security flaws that could bite this release, I think it’s wise for most users to keep their finger off the upgrade button for High Sierra.

The time will come when you need to ascend to High Sierra. But you may want to wait at the base camp for a few weeks or months until hardier souls tell you it’s okay to make the journey.


By Jason Snell

ARKit goes to the ballpark with MLB At Bat

Apple showed Major League Baseball Advanced Media’s take on augmented reality on stage at its media event earlier this month, but AR is always better in person, when you can see the reality that’s been augmented. That’s why last week MLBAM and Apple invited me (and a bunch of other tech and sports journalists) to the ballpark to check out the future of augmented reality at sporting events.

The technology is still in the early days—MLB says that it won’t reach the hands of consumers until a new version of the MLB At Bat app reaches devices for the beginning of the 2018 season. But it’s definitely on the way, powered by iOS 11’s ARKit technologies and MLB’s rich trove of Statcast data.

If you don’t know about Statcast, here’s the deal: Every major-league ballpark is equipped with imaging equipment that allows MLB to measure, at a rate of 60 frames per second, the position of every player on the field, as well as the location of the ball. It’s a technological revolution that is allowing teams and researchers alike to understand aspects of baseball that were previously thought to be unmeasurable, because they go beyond traditional stats that simply measure the outcomes of individual plays.

That data is available in real time—and it’s being tapped by the MLB At Bat app to power its augmented-reality view. Sitting at AT&T Park in San Francisco, we were able to look at an iPad pointed at the field and see floating icons with pictures of each player on the field—and the icons that moved as the players moved. Tapping on the shortstop’s icon added a colored shape indicating his fielding range, the area where he’d be expected to stop a ball and make an out. When a runner took a lead, the app could display the length of his lead.

Early in the game, Joe Panik of the Giants lined a triple to the wall in right-center field. After the play was over, the app drew the arc of the ball’s path on the screen, as well as the trajectory of the return throw by the outfielder. All the information was overlaid on the live camera view of AT&T Park thanks to Apple’s ARKit technology.

The truth is, Statcast is a fire hose. The challenge for the MLB At Bat app developers is to figure out what sorts of data are interesting and useful to someone at the ballpark—and how to deliver it to them in a way that’s easy to use and understand. Also, an alert when a foul ball is coming your direction so you can look up from your phone might be nice.

MLB’s other challenge will be making sure that its augmented-reality views will work in every conceivable section of every ballpark. It turns out that aligning the app to the field itself isn’t that hard — baseball diamonds are blessedly symmetrical, even if stadiums aren’t. The challenge is that different seats can have very different points of view. If you’re behind home plate, you’ll get a very different view than if you’re sitting atop the Green Monster at Fenway Park. So far they’ve tested the app in Oakland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, but it’ll need to be checked out at every location.

I have to wonder if perhaps there are some augmented-reality applications for this technology that go beyond people at the ballpark. Imagine erecting a virtual ballpark on your dining-room table and being able to play back game events. All the technology to do that exists today, too—it’s just a matter of figuring out the right way to build it. But there’s no doubt that, once again, MLB’s apps will be pushing these new technologies to the limit.


Jason Snell for TechRepublic

How Star Trek serves as inspiration for AI, mobile tech, and healthcare innovations ↦

From the moment it came on the air in 1966, Star Trek was influential. Children of the Space Age watched in awe at the optimistic vision of a future where humans are the masters of space and science and technology. With Star Trek: Discovery set to premiere on Sunday and perhaps influence a new generation, it’s worth considering this franchise’s outsized impact on our real and imagined technological futures.

Continue reading on TechRepublic ↦


Linked by Jason Snell

Dropbox app updated for iOS 11… and Files

Dragging and dropping an image from Mail (left) directly into a shared folder in my Dropbox (right).

App updates aren’t always big news, but today’s Dropbox for iOS update is. That’s because the app has been updated to fully support Files, the new file-management app that’s a core part of iOS 11.

Dropbox was never an enthusiastic supporter of previous iOS filing features, but the appearance of the Dropbox logo on slides at WWDC in June gave me hope that the relationship had completely turned the corner. And here’s the result: Dropbox appears to have entirely implemented support for Files, so I can drag files into and out of Dropbox natively, just as easily as I can from iCloud Drive. (I even dragged a few files out of iCloud Drive and into Dropbox, for fun. The files weren’t properly syncing with my iCloud Drive on my Mac, but guess what? When I moved them to Dropbox they synced instantly.)

For those of us who rely on Dropbox and use our iPads for work, this makes good on the promise of the Files app. I can’t wait to use it.


Linked by Jason Snell

iTunes rentals extend to 48 hours

At last—at long, long, long last—Apple’s U.S. iTunes movie rental window has expanded from 24 to 48 hours in length, a feature offered by many of its competitors but, frustratingly, not Apple:

You have 30 days to start watching a movie after you rent it. After you start watching the movie, you have 48 hours to finish it. You can watch the movie as often as you like until it expires.

When my kids were of a certain age, my wife and I had maybe 90 minutes per night to watch TV together before we had to go to bed ourselves. There were almost no movies we could finish in that period. (And the ones that are that short are generally kids’ movies!) While watching a movie in two sittings is not ideal, it’s certainly better than never seeing any movies ever.

What I’m saying is, a 48-hour rental window is good and I don’t know why it took this long but I’m glad it’s finally here.


Linked by Dan Moren

iFixit tears down the iPhone 8

It’s not an Apple product launch until iFixit has done its requisite teardown. Interesting tidbits: the iPhone 8’s glass back apparently makes it even tougher to access, Philips screws have made a comeback, and the Qi wireless charging coil looks pretty cool.


Dan Moren for Macworld

The iPhone’s Home button is gone: What’s next to go? ↦

Apple’s never been a company to dwell on the past. In the last year alone, it’s killed off the ability to sync apps to your iOS device via iTunes, the headphone jack on the iPhone 7, and the Home button on the iPhone X. Even the venerable iPod line has (mostly) been put out to pasture.

These all come from a place of ambition: the company isn’t shy about kicking convention to the curb if it thinks it can replace the old with something new and better. (Admittedly, not everyone always agrees that what’s new is better, but Apple doesn’t spend a lot of time soliciting opinions.)

So in the spirit of Apple’s merciless machete, I started thinking: what other long-running conventions of the company’s mobile platform might be due for an overhaul? Nothing lasts forever, after all. So here are a couple areas of iOS that seem like they’re ripe for a rethink.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Podcast

The Rebound 154: I Would Take That Bullet For You Guys

The Rebound

RELEASE ALL THE APPLE THINGS! Dan, John, and Lex discuss their favorite features of the newly released iOS 11 and watchOS 4, as well as what needs some work. In a surprise twist, Lex makes a confession about Twitter, and John reveals his surprising past as a dairy farmer. Somehow, this is not actually a joke.


Linked by Dan Moren

The Verge’s Apple TV 4K review is a mixed bag

Nilay Patel’s Apple TV 4K review at The Verge is pretty nerdy and gets at some hard truths:

For Apple to justify the Apple TV 4K’s $179 price tag against the apps already built into your TV and those very popular cheap streaming sticks, it needs to offer a perfect utopia of the best technical capabilities, a complete content catalog, and a simplified interface. I know a lot of video nerds, and all of them were hoping the Apple TV 4K would be the One True Box. That’s what Apple does: it rolls in and confidently fixes complicated tech problems with elegant solutions.

The Apple TV 4K does not do that. Worse, its attempts to solve the thorny technical problems of home theaters are less flexible and sometimes not as good as other, cheaper boxes. If you buy one of the most expensive TV products on the market, you shouldn’t have to think about whether you’re getting access to a complete content library, the best audio and video quality possible, and YouTube in 4K. You should get it all, and never think about it again. It should light up all of the lights.

Apple’s charging a premium price here—and that’s fine, if it’s also delivering a premium product. But from Patel’s review it’s clear that Apple has made some very Apple-like choices that are more about where Apple wishes the state of the art was rather than where it is. This isn’t skating to where the puck will be so much as it is whiffing on the puck altogether.

It’s not altogether Apple’s fault: Disney still hasn’t signed on to provide 4K HDR videos through iTunes and YouTube, for example, uses Google’s 4K codec, which the Apple TV doesn’t support. But as soon as you have to use the word “codec”, people’s eyes are probably glazing over. Most folks expect that buying a 4K device means they get 4K. Period.

The main selling point of the Apple TV 4K over the fourth-generation Apple TV is the support 4K and HDR, which are still kind of high-end features right now, and if it’s not appealing to the high-end portion of the market that is investing in them, well, who exactly is this product for?


Jason Snell for Macworld

iOS 11: HEVC, HEIF, and what you need to know about these new video and photo formats ↦

Up until now, iOS devices have captured video in the MPEG-4/H.264 format, and still photos in JPEG. But with iOS 11 (on recent hardware), Apple is breaking with tradition and switching to a new set of formats that promise dramatic decreases in file size—albeit at the cost of some added complexity in terms of file compatibility.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Jason Snell for Macworld

OS 11: How the one-handed and QuickType keyboards work ↦

What defines iOS more than its software keyboard? It’s the thing that made the original iPhone different from all the other phones with their keyboards of plastic buttons. When we enter text into our iPhones (and our iPads), it’s generally via the standard iOS keyboard. And in iOS 11, there are a few notable improvements to that keyboard.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Jason Snell for Macworld

iOS 11: How the new Maps app and Do Not Disturb While Driving work ↦

The smartphone has changed the world in a lot of ways, but it’s eradicated the paper map. Our phones are our maps, so much so that it’s hard to imagine life without them. In iOS 11, Apple upgraded the Maps app in a bunch of ways that improve the overall experience, and once you’ve got access to them, you won’t want to go back to the way it was before.

To be fair, a lot of the new Maps features are playing catch-up with Google Maps and Waze. But the fact is that Apple’s default apps have tremendous audiences—millions of people who would never think of looking for an alternative to the app that came with their phones.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Podcast

Clockwise #207: The ‘C’ Stands for Caveman

Clockwise

This week, on the 30-minute tech podcast that will never see 31, Dan and Mikah are joined by Megan Morrone and Anže Tomić to discuss our smartphone buying decisions, apps that rely on anonymity, our experiences with AR so far, and what big features our favorite products and platforms are missing.


Jason Snell for Macworld

iOS 11: How Control Center works ↦

Control Center in iOS 11 is different. Really different. And when you upgrade from iOS 10, it will take some getting used to. But as someone who has been using it for a few months now, let me declare: It’s better. The new Control Center is simultaneously simpler and more powerful. And best of all, you can customize it to do what you want—and hide most of what you don’t care about.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


By Jason Snell

It’s iOS 11 and watchOS 4 day!

Hello, readers. It’s that day. The day when you finally get your hands on iOS 11 after…

Let’s be real. You’re a Six Colors reader. You probably installed the first developer beta. Or the second. Or maybe you waited until the public beta. But you’ve probably been using iOS 11 all summer.

Even if you have, though, this is the day when our loved ones—the less technologically focused in our lives—will be getting the new operating system. So it still feels like a milestone, even if it’s hard for some of us to even remember what it was like to run iOS 10.

I wrote a review of iOS 11 for Macworld, which just posted this morning, that breaks down the highlights. If you want more, I’ll just wave the Italian flag and tell you to have at it.

The short version is: iPad users should update to iOS 11, because the multitasking changes and addition of drag-and-drop are awesome. iPhone users, well, there’s still great stuff there—Do Not Disturb When Driving is going to make the world safer—but it’s a bit less of a world-shaker. Still, Apple makes it awfully hard not to update your devices, and there are lots of good reasons—compatibility, security, and functionality—to make the move. If you pay for iCloud storage space, for example, you should get your family on iOS 11 so you can share that space and they can stop bugging you about why their iOS backups fail because they’ve run out of Apple’s laughably small 5GB of free iCloud space.

On the Apple Watch side, it’s watchOS 4 today. It’s a relatively subtle update, but there are still some nice features, as Serenity Caldwell details in her review at iMore. You probably haven’t installed this one yet, since Apple limits distribution of watchOS betas since there’s no way to reset the device at home if something goes horribly wrong. I installed the final version last week and while it took forever, it’s been running smoothly ever since.


Jason Snell for Macworld

iOS 11: How multitasking and the Dock work on the iPad ↦

With iOS 11, Apple is transforming how multitasking works on iPads. You’ll need to learn new gestures and change how you view the Dock, but overall the changes are a major step forward in making the iPad a more powerful productivity device.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Jason Snell for Macworld

iOS 11: How drag and drop works ↦

It took two years for the iPhone to get one of the most basic functions of modern productivity: copy and paste. The logical next step was drag and drop, but that’s taken considerably longer to implement. Still, the day is finally here: With iOS 11, Apple has added systemwide support for dragging and dropping data all around the system—with a few major caveats.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Jason Snell for Macworld

iOS 11 review: Apple’s most ambitious and impressive upgrade in years ↦

It seems like almost every year Apple crows that the latest iOS update is the greatest one yet. Yes, when you incrementally add features and fix bugs, every new version is fundamentally better than the previous one. But iOS 11 is more than that: This is a substantial upgrade that dramatically transforms iPad productivity while offering a host of new features that have the potential to make the world around us both safer and more entertaining than ever before.

The hype is justified. iOS 11 is Apple’s most ambitious iOS update in some time.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦