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By Jason Snell
September 17, 2018 12:56 PM PT
My podcast player of choice, Marco Arment’s Overcast, was updated Monday to version 5.0 in conjunction with the releases of iOS 12 and watchOS 5. It’s a huge update that unlocks a bunch of new features that I have been anxiously awaiting, in one case for years.
Most noticeable is the redesigned Now Playing screen, which now features show art at a slightly reduced size so that two areas can appear on either side of the art, indicating that there’s more interface to be discovered by swiping left or right. To the right is information about the episode, including show notes and chapter markers. To the left are playback controls, including Smart Speed and Voice Boost. There’s nothing dramatically new here in terms of features—it’s just a redesign that attempts to make show notes and playback controls more discoverable.
At the bottom of the Now Playing display are icons that give you direct access to a sleep timer, sound output controls, and (for podcasts with some sort of support system) a direct link to support the podcast you’re listening to. (Tapping on the link brings up a web link that’s set by the podcast.)
For me, the best new feature of Overcast is the return of Apple Watch playback. The app previously made an attempt at supporting Apple Watch, but watchOS just wasn’t advanced enough to reliably transfer and keep playing audio. Now it is. I’ve done several runs this summer with the beta version of Overcast running on my Apple Watch, playing to a pair of AirPods (with no iPhone in sight), and it has worked flawlessly.
Overcast looks at your podcasts and playlists and makes some decisions about what episodes it thinks you’ll want to listen to, and transfers specially encoded versions (with Smart Speed and Voice Boost baked in) to your Apple Watch at appropriate moments—generally overnight, when your Apple Watch is plugged in. You can also force the app to send a podcast episode to the watch, using the same interface as you’d use to add a podcast to a playlist.
The Overcast watch app now lets you remote control your iPhone playback (including volume!), or—by tapping on an icon—control playback directly from the device. I’m able to leave my house with only my Apple Watch and a pair of AirPods and run with podcasts filling my ears the entire time.
Overcast also now supports Siri Shortcuts. You can’t arbitrarily name a podcast via Siri and expect it to play in Overcast, but you can choose to enable Shortcut phrases for specific playlists or podcasts, as well as to resume playback and navigate through podcasts. (There are lots and lots of shortcuts available, including toggling Smart Speed and Voice Boost on and off, moving in chapters, and even adjusting playback speed.)
I set up shortcuts for the two playlists I use the most, as well as for resuming playback, and I can basically control Overcast handsfree now when I’m driving. It’s fantastic.
One other major feature that’s been added to this version: search. You can now search the metadata (titles and show notes) for downloaded podcast episodes, or drill down into a specific show and search its entire feed for keywords. As someone who listens to numerous podcasts with enormous back catalogs, this is a great addition.
September 17, 2018 12:04 PM PT
What a time! iOS 12 has arrived and we’re waiting for delivery of new Apple products. This week Jason and Myke discuss their favorite features of the new update, which new devices they’ve bought, why phone carriers ruin everything, and the fallout from Apple’s decision to focus on larger and more expensive phones this time around.
By Jason Snell
September 17, 2018 11:43 AM PT
In iOS 12, searching in the Photos takes a big step forward—while leaving macOS Mojave trailing, alas. Search results in Photos on iOS are incredibly rich. When you search for something, you won’t just find the photos that match, but you’ll also see all the Moments and Albums that contain matching photos.
The real power, though—and the place where iOS 12 really has it over macOS—is the ability to combine search terms.
If you want to search for a dog, you can type in
dog and tap on the Dog category (this is important—you must tokenize each query, as Photos is not smart enough to figure out what you mean otherwise), and you’ll see all the photos that Apple’s machine-learning technology has identified as containing dogs. On that search-results screen you’ll also see a bunch of suggestions for related items that are often found with dogs—people, locations, even years or seasons.
If you tap on one of these items, they’ll be added to your search query, so now you’ll see all instances of, for example, a particular person and a dog.
When I searched my photo library for dog, I found 729 items. Adding the category snow dropped the total number of items to just three—and all them were my dog in the snow.
This is incredibly powerful. If you want to find photos with specific combinations of people, places, or actions, you can do it in seconds. I searched for my son by name and then added the second search term swimming and instantly found 57 photos. Ten years of pool parties, found in just moments.
It’s a pretty big upgrade, especially if you have a large library. And it makes Apple’s automatically generated machine-learning categories much more useful by letting you connect them to people, places, or other categories.
Now if only it also worked on the Mac….
[Don't miss all our iOS 12 coverage.]
[Don't miss all our Photos app coverage.]
Jason Snell for Tom's Guide
September 17, 2018 8:19 AM PT
The iPhone XS Max is the most expensive iPhone ever made. Its 6.5-inch display is the biggest on an iPhone ever. And its name is certainly the most ridiculous. This is, to be sure, a phone of extremes. And yet many of my friends say they’ll be getting an iPhone XS Max the first day it’s available. I guess another superlative we need to apply to the iPhone XS Max may be in its appeal to a certain type of customer.
Let’s break down what makes the iPhone XS Max such an interesting product.
September 15, 2018 8:18 PM PT
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Dan Moren for Macworld
September 14, 2018 11:58 AM PT
In a financial conference call during the last year, Apple CEO Tim Cook described the iPhone X as setting up the next ten years of smartphones. It’s easy to see now what Cook meant by that: this week, the company updated all of its new iPhones to follow the design example set by the iPhone X.
But even as it unveiled the iPhone Xs Max and the iPhone XR, the company ran into a struggle when it came to the iPhone X’s successor, the iPhone Xs. How do you take what was formerly your most advanced iPhone and distinguish it from the rest of your now equally advanced line-up?
That’s one reason why during Apple’s event, about halfway through Apple’s description of the iPhone Xs, I started to get a bit antsy and, much as I hate to admit it, a little bored. The more the company leaned on the impressive specs in the iPhone Xs’s A12 Bionic chip, the more I started to suspect that it was because the bulk of the improvements in this new phone were in the kind of speed and capacity increases that aren’t necessarily obvious to most users.
By Jason Snell
September 14, 2018 10:21 AM PT
Here I am, emptying out the rest of my notebook from Wednesday’s Apple event at the Steve Jobs Theater. First up was my stuff about the Apple Watch Series 4; now it’s time for the main event, the iPhone itself.
For smart shoppers who love big phones
Statistic of the day: The iPhone XR costs $350 less than the iPhone XS Max to start. That is a wide gulf, and I think it’s purposeful on Apple’s part. The gap between those prices allows the iPhone XS Max to be very clearly defined as a high-end device; in a sense, the $1099 (and up!) price tag is a label of quality and distinction.
But for smart shoppers who love large phones, it’s hard to imagine that the iPhone XR won’t be a success. In fact, it may be just as well that the iPhone XR isn’t ready for sale just yet—because I suspect the people who order iPhones the moment they become available are far more likely to be buying the iPhone XS Max.
For a less casual iPhone user? The kind who wanders into an Apple Store in early December and looks at all the iPhones, only to realize they can buy into the iPhone X line and get a big phone, all for $250 less than the smaller iPhone XS? That’s an iPhone XR sale.
Colors are fun, not the kiss of death
For years I’ve been begging Apple to bring fun colors to the iPhone, and here they are. They are gorgeous. The yellow pops, the blue is attractive, and the coral kind of blew my mind.
Now, colorful iPhones don’t have a fantastic history. The iPhone 5c crashed and burned. But I don’t think the iPhone XR will be another iPhone 5c. The 5c was recycled old tech, last year’s model with a new name and a plastic back. The iPhone XR has this year’s A12 processor, the same front sensors as the iPhone XS, and a glass back that doesn’t feel cheap at all.
My only aesthetic complaint is that I don’t love the lack of color matching between some of the models—the yellow model is bright yellow on its glass back, but the anodized aluminum frame seemed almost gold to me. Then again, color’s not really my thing—and I’d almost certainly buy the blue one if I had to choose.
Are there differences between the XR and the XS Max? Sure, a few. The LCD screen isn’t nearly as high density as the XS Max’s, nor can it manage the high dynamic range that the Max’s OLED screen can. It only has one camera on the back, so it can’t do an optical zoom, and its portrait mode will probably be a little bit less authentic feeling because it can’t use parallax between two cameras to build a depth map.
All true, and yet: $350. For a lot of people that will be the end of it. And they won’t be wrong. It’s a great value compared to the XS Max.
Boiling the frog
In that previous paragraph, I was about to write that the iPhone XR is “a great value,” full stop. Tricky Apple—this is how they get you. The fact is, the iPhone XR costs what iPhone Plus models cost until last year. It’s cheaper only in comparison to the iPhone X and XS.
Apple continues to boil the frog in terms of iPhone prices. This year there’s no new iPhone at the $699 price of the iPhone 8—which was already $50 more than the starting price of the iPhone 7.
iPhone unit sales are flat, but revenues are up, because the average selling price of an iPhone keeps going up. The iPhone XR is the cheapest new iPhone, but even in the context of last year’s increased prices, it’s not cheap.
When is a Plus a Max?
Why the iPhone XS Max name? Maybe Apple just got tired of the Plus name. But it’s also possible that Apple felt that Plus implied a level of stepped-up functionality that the Max just doesn’t offer. The iPhone X grabbed the two-camera setup previously limited to Plus models, so now the XS Max is only really different from its little buddy in terms of screen size and battery life.
Those are big differentiators, for sure, but it’s not a better phone in any real way. Just bigger. To the max, I guess.
A12 Bionic is the “S” feature
Truth be told, the iPhone XS is not a huge step forward from the iPhone X in terms of features. That’s not terrible, since most people upgrading to a new iPhone this year will be coming from phones they bought two or more years ago—and the iPhone X was that huge step forward.
Still, on these “S” years Apple tries to find little ways to differentiate this year’s model from last year’s. The big phones are obviously different because they’re big. But beyond those variations, what’s new?
What I found interesting is that Apple embedded the A12 processor, and specifically its expanded-core Neural Engine, into most of its descriptions of how this model year was better than last year. It’s all about machine learning, signal processing, the ability for CoreML to run nine times faster than on the iPhone X—and how that feeds improved camera features, better Animoji, improved AR performance, and the like.
It’s a little esoteric, but you have to work with what you’ve got. And if I’m being honest, it’s possible that the Smart HDR feature in the Camera app (powered by that Neural Engine, of course!) will be worth the upgrade on its own.
Apple talks computational photography
The laws of physics make it awfully hard to build a better iPhone camera. Sure, the advances Apple is making in terms of sensors and lenses will make a huge difference—but it’s still a thin phone that can only gather so much light.
So is it any wonder that Apple has decided to lean into computational photography? Not that it hasn’t been using custom hardware and software to improve photos for ages now, but this year it became an even bigger piece of the marketing equation.
The reason for this is that Apple feels it has an advantage it can press—namely, its chipmaking prowess. That improved Neural Engine, connected to the iPhone’s image signal processor, gives Apple a lot of hardware power to play with, on which it’s built custom software to make your photos look better.
This is a hot area right now, and Google is investing massively in photography technology of its own. Some might argue that taking pictures really is the killer app of the smartphone, or at least a huge part of any phone buying decision. Apple can’t be left behind here.
While Apple prides itself on creating “magic” technology that “just works”, at an event like this, the company needs to point out that there are actually a trillion operations going on behind the scenes to create great photos on the iPhone XS. Me, I loved it. The idea that every time you take a picture on your iPhone, you’re actually taking many different pictures that are all processed and merged together using machine-learning algorithms? That’s cool. And it’s worth the reminder, on stage.
Apple knows the market
I’ve heard a lot of people complaining about how Apple has killed the iPhone SE and failed to update the classic iPhone 6/7/8 design, meaning that the iPhone X is the smallest new iPhone. Why does Apple hate people with small hands and pockets?
Apple doesn’t hate you. It hates small markets, though, and prefers to make products that serve large markets. None of us have to like it, but the smartphone market has spoken—and Apple’s surely been listening. Worldwide, so many people prefer big phone screens. Apple was late to the game with the iPhone 6 Plus, and it reaped a huge reward in pent-up demand from people who were just waiting for a bigger iPhone. Now Apple makes two big iPhones.
Will Apple ever make a smaller iPhone again? I suspect that it will, and that the iPhone SE might even return. Or maybe it’ll be called the iPhone 9. Regardless, I doubt it will be in the form of an iPhone 5. More likely the “small” iPhone will be the size of the iPhone 6/7/8. It’s not just the price tag of the iPhone that keeps getting larger, it’s the phone itself.
Jony Ive, voiceover artist
My last observation isn’t directly about the iPhone, but about how Apple used Jonathan Ive as the narrator for two videos during the presentation. Traditionally Ive has narrated videos that put the newly announced product into context in terms of why it was designed the way it was. Accompanied by loving close-ups of product contours, of course.
Now maybe my memory’s cheating, but it struck me during Wednesday’s event that these videos have evolved over time to the point that they’re just product videos, with very little to do with specific design choices.
I don’t mind Ive just being a voiceover artist. He’s pretty good at it. But he’s no longer playing the role of Apple Design Explainer so much as Apple Narrator.
By Jason Snell
September 13, 2018 4:29 PM PT
The two most important hours in the Apple year are the two hours that make up the annual iPhone event. They happened on Wednesday, and in the intervening day I’ve written a bunch of freelance articles, read a load of hot takes, and recorded some podcasts. And yet… there’s still a little bit more. Here are the observations that I’ve left rattling around in my notebook ever since I walked down the winding path (lined with smiling Apple employees) that took me away from the Steve Jobs Theater and back into reality.
First up, the Apple Watch. (Next, the iPhone.)
A defined focus
Four years ago Apple unveiled the Apple Watch, in a presentation that was the very definition of tossing spaghetti against a wall to see what sticks. The what-can’t-it-do approach of 2014 has become a disciplined, carefully constructed list of priorities in 2018. As Jeff Williams said on stage, the Apple Watch is “the ultimate guardian for your health, the best fitness companion, and the most convenient way to stay connected.” Health, Fitness, and Connections.
Better focus means better products. It also helps that Apple has four years of watch-building and technological development under its belt…
Shedding some baggage
The Apple Watch Series 4 is so much more capable than the original model was that it isn’t funny. Expanding the screen gives apps more room, but it also enables more and larger complications. After some false starts, Apple seems to have realized that the Apple Watch interface is about watch faces and the complications that live on them, just as the Mac is about Finder windows full of files and folders, and the iPhone is about a springboard window full of app icons.
Operating systems aren’t built in a day. They evolve slowly—sometimes more slowly than the hardware they’re running on. It’s taken watchOS a few years to find its footing and also progress from some of the choices that were made for the original model. For example, Apple has embraced washes of color on its new element-themed watch faces. The original Apple Watch design seemed terrified of displaying too much on its OLED screen for fear of depleting its battery, and of course any full-screen wash of color would also reveal the bezels on the display, which are also gone with the Series 4.
Complications for some, empty faces for others
The new Infograph and Infograph Modular watch faces are packed with information, for those who want that out of their watch. The larger screen means that app developers have room to spread out, creating new complications that span the width of the Infograph Modular face with items like a heart rate chart or a baseball linescore. And of course, if you tap on a complication, the corresponding app opens—which strikes me as the right approach to apps on the Apple Watch.
I have to admit that I rolled my eyes a little bit when I saw people decrying the information density of the two Infograph faces. Nobody’s forcing people to use these new faces. Apple has, in fact, provided a whole bunch of new pretty faces that contain nothing but some hands and a wash of color or an animated effect. Personally, I want an information-dense watch face… but if you don’t, Apple’s not going to force you to use one.
One feature can make a difference
After the event, I saw numerous people comment that they were seriously considering an Apple Watch purchase, all because a single feature had struck them as being worth it. The specific feature varied, of course.
Most common, I think, was the idea of a device that can detect your fall and call for help if you’re immobile for a minute. That’s great if you’re worried about falling as a runner or crashing as a cyclist, but it’s also a concern for people who are aging, infirm, and isolated.
But I also noticed a lot of people who were intrigued by the Series 4’s enhanced heart-health functionality. Heart problems are often silent killers, so the prospect of wearing a watch that can warn you if your heart rate dips, and allows you to perform an at-home EKG, is intriguing, too.
Extrapolating forward a few years, I can see how the Apple Watch (and devices like it) may end up becoming devices we just can’t live without, because of their connectivity and their increasingly sophisticated sensors.
Apple Watch joins Apple’s general price creep
Did you notice that, like last year’s iPhones, this year’s Apple Watches come with a bit of a price increase? This year’s Apple Watches start at $399 and $499; last year’s models started at $329 and $399. If you want to buy a Series 4 cellular watch, you’ll spend $100 more than a year ago.
Even at the low end, the entry price has risen by $30. The now-discounted Series 3 is $279. Last year, the Series 1 was $249.
Look, nobody has ever said being a user of Apple products was going to be cheap.
September 13, 2018 2:15 PM PT
This week, on the irreverent tech show that’s still sort of about the Apple Watch, we dissect the announcements from Apple’s latest event. Dan’s getting a Watch and a phone, Lex is on the fence about a phone, and John’s buying absolutely nothing. We also address the hard-hitting questions like “What does the ‘R’ in ‘iPhone XR’ stand for?” and “Will Apple ever make another iPhone SE?” and “Was this event kind of a snooze?”
September 13, 2018 10:32 AM PT
This week, on the 30-minute tech show that occasionally celebrates Norse gods, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Lisa Schmeiser and Jeremy Burge to discuss Apple adding Dual SIM capability to the new iPhones, how to punish companies that expose our private information, why only the iPhone XR gets colors, and the end of small iPhones. Plus, in our bonus topic, learn why you should never play Uno with Mikah.
Jason Snell for Macworld
September 12, 2018 5:20 PM PT
Sure, there’s ample underground parking and free food, but the biggest attraction at any Apple media event is the chance to get your hands on new Apple products more than a week before they go on sale to the general public. I was there at Apple Park on Wednesday to see (and use) Apple’s latest iPhones and Apple Watch. Here’s what I learned.
September 12, 2018 5:15 PM PT
Jason’s back from Apple Park, where he watched Apple unveil a new Apple Watch and three new iPhone models. We break down the naming choices and new features, the surprises and reveals, and (perhaps most importantly) the results of the 2018 Apple iPhone Event Draft.
By Jason Snell
September 11, 2018 9:22 AM PT
So here we are. A day away from the big Apple event, the second public media event at the Steve Jobs Theater in Cupertino. And while last month’s inadvertent image leak was a huge spoiler, there’s always room for last-minute rumors and leaks.
Just outside the 24-hour window is MacRumors, who reported new tidbits from well-connected Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, most notably the idea that the iPad Pro might be going to USB-C, and that the new low-cost Apple laptop might be replacing the 12-inch MacBook, and might include Touch ID. Both of these reports are a bit sketchy, but it’s Kuo, so they need to be taken seriously.
In the last week there’s also been a back and forth about possible product names, in the wake of Guilherme Rambo’s clever image sleuthing. Yesterday Mark Gurman reported that the “likely” names for the top-of-the-line products are, as Rambo reported, iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max. Gurman also says that Apple at one point considered calling the new lower-cost 6.1-inch LCD device “iPhone Xr.”
I don’t know. Those names seem weird, though I can see how Apple could easily spin it as the flowering of the iPhone X product line. The “Max” addition seems particularly inelegant and a little bit tasteless, though in the phone business I suppose not spelling it “Maxx” actually indicates restraint. (Maybe Max Headroom will make a cameo appearance?)
At this point I’ve written many articles about what will probably happen tomorrow, but there are always surprises. News reports can spoil the sweeping, big-picture items, but the details can still delight.
What differentiates the iPhone XS from its predecessor? Will there be new features, perhaps involving more image processing using the depth information from the front and back cameras? Will Face ID get improved? Are there some nice iOS 12 tidbits that have been withheld from the summer betas in order to “save” them for the iPhone XS?
That 6.1-inch iPhone remains a bit of a mystery, too. Yes, we know of its existence, but its price and the way it’s marketed are going to tell the tale. Even the name is still not entirely confirmed. How cheap is a “cheaper iPhone”? Is it $799? I’d guess so, but it could easily be $749 or even $699. (Still: nobody ever got rich betting the under on Apple pricing.)
The edge-to-edge display of the new Apple Watch was a nice catch by 9to5Mac, but there are so many questions still to be answered. Are there new sensors? How do all those new complications work, and do they work on a single watch face or across numerous faces?
Then there are the other products. Will AirPower finally get a ship date? Will we see a second generation of AirPods? These seem likely. Less likely are the dispositions of the other products rumored to be in progress for a release this fall: new iPad Pros, iMacs, and consumer Mac laptops. The lack of any explosive iPad Pro leaks this close to the event makes me feel that their appearance is not guaranteed, but I’m still going with my gut feeling that Apple doesn’t want to do two separate fall events, and so they’ll announce the iPad Pros on Wednesday… but hold the Macs for an announcement similar to this summer’s MacBook Pro roll-out, via press release and embargoed news and reviews from a small group of tech journalists.
Anyway, my point is: Apple’s going to roll out a whole lot of stuff tomorrow. We may know some of the big-picture stuff, but if you’re a regular reader of sites like this one, you know that the delight is in the details. How Apple pitches a new product is, at least to me, more interesting than the bare product specs themselves. And there are always, always surprises.
I’ll report in from Cupertino tomorrow!