Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

Support this Site

Become a Six Colors member to read exclusive posts, get our weekly podcast, join our community, and more!

WWDC waiting, fresh apps, and sound

We’re barreling toward June 6 like a runaway train, but the rumors are thin. Dan ponders fresh Apple apps. Jason automates his headphones.

Become a member (members, sign in) to listen to this podcast and get more benefits.

By Jason Snell for Macworld

I’m excited about Apple and E Ink

What’s this? Supply-chain analyst extraordinaire Ming-Chi Kuo has suggested that Apple’s investigating E Ink displays for future foldable iPhones. Now, Apple surely investigates lots of things-and most of them never make it across the finish line to become real products.

But as a long-time admirer of E Ink as a technology, I’m excited about the possibility that Apple might use it in future devices. E Ink is a niche technology with some very real limitations, but it’s also got some huge advantages.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

By Shelly Brisbin

Apple’s Accessibility feature preview gets #GAAD going

For the second year running, Apple has offered a preview of updated accessibility features coming to its platforms later this year. The announcements come just ahead of Thursday’s Global Accessibility Awareness Day, which goes by #GAAD online.

The preview is notable for spotlighting features that most people won’t use, but that matter a lot to those with disabilities. It’s also notable because it’s a departure from the company’s typical close-to-the-vest approach to what’s coming on the roadmap.

Here’s a look at what Apple announced, and why it matters:

Door Detection. LIDAR-equipped iPhones and iPads have had a feature called People Detection since iOS 13. Using the Magnifier app and the VoiceOver screen reader, a blind user can learn whether the device camera sees a person, and where that person is in relation to the device. That was handy for social distancing. Door Detection will use the same mechanism to alert you when the device identifies the presence of a door. That’s a more practical use of LIDAR for many blind and low-vision users than even People Detection, both indoors and out. Door Detection can tell you about the door’s attributes, including whether it’s open or closed and if there’s a doorknob. Apple says you’ll also be able to read signage, like a room number or a notice on the door. I presume that’s just an application of Live Text, but it’s a great companion for Door Detection.

The use of LIDAR in accessibility has always felt like a bit of a preview of what we might see in future Apple glasses or headset, and it’s encouraging for users of accessibility features that the company is potentially taking their needs into account as it develops future wearables. My hope is that LIDAR sensors, only available in the highest-end phones and iPads, will come to more of the iOS product line. For a blind user who doesn’t buy a phone based on high-end camera features, doing so just to get access to LIDAR-based accessibility features is a tough sell.

Live Captions. Apple joins Google, Microsoft and Zoom, among others, in offering live captions, but they’re global on iOS and macOS, so you can use them in any app with audio output. That’s the superpower here. Just pick up your device and enable captions, whatever you’re doing. Deaf and hard-of-hearing people often bemoan the state of auto-generated captions, so some testing will be warranted.

Watch accessibility improvements. Last year’s May accessibility preview, which I covered on my podcast, Parallel, brought AssistiveTouch the the Apple Watch. It’s a longstanding iOS feature that provides a simplified way to perform gestures for those with motor disabilities. This year, there are more watch gestures, called Quick Actions, and a new feature called Apple Watch Mirroring.

If you have a motor disability, Quick Actions gives you the choice to make hand gestures instead of manipulating the watch screen. An all-purpose “double-pinch” gesture will answer a call, control media playback, or take a photo. Mirroring is like AirPlay for the Apple Watch, sending the watch screen to your phone. That’s also useful for people with motor disabilities who can more easily use the phone screen that the smaller, more inconveniently-located watch face.

I’m intrigued by the possibilities for low-vision users, too, because the phone screen is sometimes far easier to use at close range and in zoomed mode than the watch. And you can use AssistiveTouch or Switch Control, if that’s how you interact with your phone.

Buddy Controller. Turn two game controllers into one, so two people can play a game together, with one able to assist someone with a physical disability who has difficulty manipulating some or all of the controller’s features.

Siri Pause Time adjustment. If your speech is slow or impaired, having a little extra time to complete your thought before Siri tries to act on it could make it a more useful tool.

Customization for Sound Recognition. Introduced in iOS 13, Sound Recognition allows your device to listen for sounds in your environment, like water running, a baby crying or a siren, and then notify you with a visual alert. It’s a useful tool for getting the attention of someone who’s deaf or hard of hearing. But you’re currently limited to one of 15 sounds. It’s a good list, but what if a sound you needed to know about isn’t on the list? Apple says that later this year, you’ll be able to record and save sounds you’d like to use with Sound Recognition. (Perhaps you have a unique doorbell or an appliance with a special trill?) Customization probably should have been part of Sound Recognition to begin with, but it’s common for Apple to roll out a totally new accessibility feature, then build its capabilities over time.

Apple detailed a few other new features on Tuesday, including 20 more languages for the VoiceOver screen reader and Voice Control Spotlight mode, which you can use to dictate custom word spellings.

Big Deal or No Big Deal?

This is a nice grab bag of features, with Door Detection and the Apple Watch updates offering the most intriguing possibilities. It’s also possible there are more where these came from, as occasionally happens when the late betas start to become available.

[Shelly Brisbin is a radio producer, host of the Parallel podcast, and author of the book iOS Access for All. She's the host of Lions, Towers & Shields, a podcast about classic movies, on The Incomparable network.]

Have we all cut the cord? Plus, tech items we can’t justify purchasing, Apple’s new accessibility features, and how we wrangle SIMs and eSIMs when traveling.

By Jason Snell

SoundSource 5.5 adds Shortcuts support for full Mac audio automation

On Monday Rogue Amoeba released SoundSource 5.5, the latest version of its handy Mac sound-routing utility that—let’s be honest—is doing all the heavy lifting for a feature that should probably be a core part of macOS. (Apple doesn’t seem to really care about Mac audio, and that’s good for Rogue Amoeba’s array of products.)

The big feature of SoundSource 5.5 is support for Shortcuts. While Rogue Amoeba’s utility Audio Hijack decided to primarily support automation via JavaScript with some basic Shortcuts hooks, SoundSource is all in on Shortcuts. The app provides 17 different actions, and they affect not just SoundSource’s individual control over apps and audio inputs, but the system’s as well. So with SoundSource, you can now automate many of your Mac’s default audio settings, setting a new default input and output, for example.

As you might expect, I immediately dove into SoundSource’s new automation tools. Most of the time, I listen to music on AirPlay speakers and most system audio goes through my Apple Studio Display’s speakers. But when I’m writing, I often prefer to pop in my headphones and get focused.

That process takes several steps. I have to click on the AirPlay icon in the Music app, so that the audio stops using AirPlay. Once the audio is coming out of the Studio Display, I need to use the Sound preference pane to redirect the audio to my Mac Studio’s headphone jack—or use SoundSource to intercept Music and send it to the headphone jack.

But thanks to SoundSource 5.5, I’ve created a shortcut that automatically toggles between those two states, and assigned it to a Stream Deck button. Here’s how it works:

part of a shortcut, accessible version in shared shortcut above

Using a new SoundSource action, I’m detecting where the app is currently routing audio for the Music app. I’m using this data point to determine whether I’m toggling my intense headphone-listening settings on or off. If the Music app is set to External Headphones, the shortcut knows I’m listening there, and so the shortcut will use an If block to set the audio input back to my AirPlay speakers.

The first two steps are straightforward: For customizability, I’ve added a text block with the name of the AirPlay speakers I’ll be using. Then the shortcut uses SoundSource’s Set Source Device block to set Music back to its default state (outputting through the default audio device), and then—mostly to prevent some blaring audio artifacts during the switchover—waits for a second before executing an AppleScript script.

That script is hairy, because getting Music to change AirPlay sources via scripting is hairy. (Note to Rogue Amoeba: If Apple won’t make this more easily automated, maybe you could?) I found a solution to the problem in this Mac OS X Hints Entry from 2013 by iTunes/Music scripter extraordinaire Doug Adams, and adapted it to my needs. (Doug’s script asks you to pick an AirPlay source, so I omitted that portion.)

part of a shortcut, accessible version in shared shortcut

The Otherwise portion of the shortcut basically does the reverse action in the toggle—it uses another copy of that AppleScript script to set the AirPlay target to my computer, then uses SoundSource’s Set Source Volume and Set Source Device to get Music playing in my headphones at an appropriate volume.

Pretty easy, other than having to dig up a good way to change the AirPlay targets in Music. (Thanks, Doug.) And now I’ve got a button to press to do a bunch of dumb tasks that I used to have to do myself. This was the biggest itch I wanted to scratch with this SoundSource 5.5, but I’m sure plenty more will present themselves. Now that I can automate all my Macs inputs, outputs, and individual app audio routing, the power’s in my hands—and my shortcuts.

By Jason Snell

Macros to make dumb typing smarter

I made a mistake today. I posted today’s episode of Downstream with the feed pointed at the previous episode of Downstream. There are various workflow reasons why this happened, but the bottom line is: I pasted last week’s download URL in and then didn’t change it, resulting in everyone getting the wrong episode. Oops.

So, in the aftermath of fixing that error, I tried to figure out a way to prevent it from ever happening again. I took inspiration from a different system I use to post a different podcast to do it. Both approaches have one utility in common: Keyboard Maestro. (You could easily use another macro utility such as TextExpander if you wanted.)

I use the original macro to post The Incomparable. In that case, I am provided a unique ID string from my host, ART19. ART19 generally prefers to host podcast RSS itself, but I didn’t want to do that, and the ART19 download URL can be derived from the unique ID that displays on the webpage used to post a new episode.

I could type that URL by hand and then paste in the unique ID, but the chances for error in doing that are extremely high. If I mistype a character, or copy a previous episode’s ID and forget to change it, I’m in trouble!

So I created a Keyboard Maestro that fires when I type the string ;art19 and replaces that text with ``. Now all I have to do is copy the unique ID and type that special string in The Incomparable’s CMS, and there’s no chance I will mistype something and mess it up.

For Downstream it’s a little more complicated. Every file is named the same, with only the episode number changed. Rather than copy and paste it from the previous episode and increment by one, I decided to steal some code from my Template Gun AppleScript app and check Downstream’s RSS feed to determine what the current episode number is:

set theFeed to (do shell script "curl")
set theFeed to (characters 1 thru 2500 of theFeed) as string
return characters ((offset of "<itunes:episode>" in theFeed) + 16) thru ((offset of "</itunes:episode>" in theFeed) - 1) of theFeed as string

Keyboard Maestro places the result of that script in a variable I called epnum, and then when I type ;downstreammp3 it replaces what I typed with

(Update: Sure, you can do this in Shortcuts. Here’s a link to the same process as a six-action Shortcut.)

That’s it. Now I’ve transformed two instances of perilous typing in my life that require me to know a specific URL pattern to simple auto-expanding macros.

After years watching the old Netflix cruise along as the top streamer, things are getting interesting as it shifts gears and engages the realities of today’s streaming scene. We discuss Netflix changes and Julia reviews Disney’s financial results.

Apple details Live Captions, other accessibility features coming later this year

Apple Newsroom:

Using advancements across hardware, software, and machine learning, people who are blind or low vision can use their iPhone and iPad to navigate the last few feet to their destination with Door Detection; users with physical and motor disabilities who may rely on assistive features like Voice Control and Switch Control can fully control Apple Watch from their iPhone with Apple Watch Mirroring; and the Deaf and hard of hearing community can follow Live Captions on iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Apple is also expanding support for its industry-leading screen reader VoiceOver with over 20 new languages and locales. These features will be available later this year with software updates across Apple platforms.

The announcement is in honor of Global Accessibility Day—last year, the company made a similar announcement, previewing forthcoming features like Assistive Touch feature for Apple Watch and Background Sounds for iOS 15.

These new features really open up a lot of possibilities, but the one I’m most excited about is Live Captions. Apple’s had a version of this technology in its Clips app for some years (and clearly makes use of similar functionality with Siri’s language processing and dictation). But on Apple’s platform you previously needed to turn to a third-party app for something like captioning a FaceTime call for deaf or hard of hearing users.

As someone who has two parents who both have difficulty hearing, this stands to be a big help. I am curious to see how well the feature actually works, and how it handles a big FaceTime call with a lot of participants; Apple says it will attribute dialog to specific speakers. Live Captions is also supposedly available to any audio content, which means other video conferencing apps may be able to take advantage of it as well—though it’s unclear whether that means through an opt-in API or just by default.

In addition to these major feature announcements, Apple’s press release mentions a number of other improvements, such as new Apple Books themes to make it easier to read text, Siri Pause Time to allow users to specify how long Siri will wait before responding to a request, and an improvement to Sound Recognition that lets you train it to listen for a specific version of a sound (i.e. your particular doorbell), and more.

—Linked by Dan Moren

Is Apple ready to embrace USB-C across its entire product line? Jason loves his Playdate, but is frustrated by Apple Music playing songs he dislikes. And the music may go on, but the iPod won’t be coming along for the ride.

By Dan Moren for Macworld

Three features Apple should borrow from Google

The larger technology companies get, the more and more commonalities there seem to be between their products. That’s probably not surprising: after all, if only a couple of huge companies are developing smartphone operating systems, chances are they’ll get closer and closer over time as companies borrow from each other, playing leapfrog as they continually innovate.

Like any giant company, Apple’s no stranger to having features similar to those in its products rolled out by competitors. But it’s also hardly one to ignore a good idea, even when it’s created by a rival (for example, the graphical user interface on desktop computers).

This past week, Google held its annual I/O developers conference, at which it showed off a ton of new devices and features for its products. And, as always, there were those who noted that many looked like they’d been pulled directly from Apple products. So, turnabout being fair play, here are a few places where Apple might be able to take a cue from one of its biggest competitors.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

By Dan Moren

Bring on the USB-C future

USB-C ports

Up until recently, USB-C was more of a fluke in my household—a strange visitor from a possible future, in which we all used small, reversible plugs. Sure, my iMac had a couple of Thunderbolt ports that use the USB-C ports and every once in a while a random cable might have a plug on it, but by and large we remained a good old USB-A household.

Even by late 2020, when I bought a new M1 MacBook Air that had only USB-C ports, the connector was still more of a curiosity than something in daily use. Truth be told, I didn’t plug many things into my laptop, so I wasn’t even really living the Dongletown lifestyle. I did have to buy a USB-C-to-USA-mini cables in order to use my ATR-2100 travel mic while I was on the road, but as the Air arrived during the pandemic, I wasn’t even really traveling.…

This is a post limited to Six Colors members.

Broken watches, 5G vampires, and iPod memories

Dan’s back from Seattle, Jason’s back from Phoenix, the music never left, and the iPod touch remains available while supplies last.

Become a member (members, sign in) to listen to this podcast and get more benefits.

By Dan Moren

Watch and learn: The Apple Watch needs a better upgrade experience

Apple Watch Series 7

Though I greatly enjoyed my vacation last week, it ended with a bit of a mishap. On Sunday morning, the last full day of my travels, I knocked my beloved Series 4 Apple Watch off the nightstand where it had been charging and it tumbled three feet to land—screen down, naturally—on a tile floor.

What at first I thought was merely a chipped edge revealed itself upon closer inspection to also encompass cracks along the edge and across the watch’s face. Alas, my Apple Watch had passed on. It had shuffled off this mortal coil. It was no more. It was…an ex-watch.

So I did what any self-respecting Apple aficionado would do and took advantage of the fact that our flight home had been delayed to order a new Apple Watch for pick up at the nearest Apple Store.

Which is how I found myself sitting outside in the surprisingly pleasant Seattle weather in front of the University Village Apple Store, in possession of a brand new Series 7 Apple Watch.1

But my troubles had only begun. Because despite the fact that I had the previous evening unpaired my old Watch in preparation for migration, when I connected the brand new Apple Watch—after spending a half an hour charging its low battery, connected to my MacBook Air in my backpack—I found that the only backups it offered to restore from were several years old.

After a moment of stomach-churning worry, I also realized something else critical: all those backups were on very old versions of watchOS. Like watchOS 5 old. At which point it clicked: of course, I’d kept my Apple Watch up to date with the latest watchOS, and the new one I’d just picked up had been sitting on a shelf for probably at least a few weeks, if not longer, and was thus out of date.

Surely, I thought, there would be a way to easily update the watch as part of the migration process. After all, Apple has run into this problem with iPhones over the past few years, in cases when iOS updates were issued before brand new phones were shipped. As a result the company improved its migration feature to update software as part of a restore from iCloud Backup.

Unfortunately, it seems that no similar feature exists for the Apple Watch. Instead I had to go through the following process: unpair the new Apple Watch from my iPhone, re-pair and set it up as a new watch, download and install the watchOS update (which it will only do when the Watch is connected to a charger and your phone is on Wi-Fi), unpair the Watch, re-pair the Watch, and then finally restore from my most recent backup, which this time did show up.


All of this was complicated by the fact that I was without a stable Wi-Fi connection all day, meaning it took quite a while to get the update, and Apple Watches aren’t exactly fast at installing software even at the best of the times. Roughly ten hours after I picked up the new Apple Watch, as I was waiting for my plane at the airport gate, I finally had an up-and-running Apple Watch.

This process should be a whole lot smoother. Even if Apple can’t find a way to update the software as part of the migration process—and come on, it should be able to do that—it should at the very least make it more transparent.

When the iPhone first showed me the available backups to restore from, it didn’t even show the backup I’d made the previous night. I totally get that Apple thinks it’s being helpful here: why show backups you can’t restore from? But, on the flip side, why not display all the backups and, say, gray out the ones that are currently ineligible, to at least avoid the concern that a backup has been lost? Heck, go a step further and put a little note that says you need to update the software before you can restore this backup, perhaps even with a link to explain the process. It seems like the very least that could be done.

Perhaps customers aren’t replacing their Apple Watches as regularly as their iPhones—certainly, there are fewer of them out there, so I can see why the company may not have invested as much time in streamlining the update process. But even I, a person who writes about Apple professionally, had to spend a while on Google to figure out what the best way to do this was. That hardly seems like a good experience for a company that prides itself on ease of use.

  1. 45mm in blue, my first non-space-gray Watch. (I just couldn’t bring myself to get the Midnight.) The blue is very sharp. 

[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Twitter at @dmoren or reach him by email at His latest novel, The Aleph Extraction, is out now and available in fine book stores everywhere, so be sure to pick up a copy.]

Dan’s got Apple Watch woes, the iPod is dead, and Twitter is increasingly dead to us.

Our computer mousing habits and devices, whether we signed up for the in-person portion of WWDC, our Apple Watch upgrade habits, and the iPods we’ve owned and count among our favorite models.

RIP the iPod

A surprisingly lengthy post on the Apple Newsroom which goes on for several paragraphs about the joy of consuming digital music eventually reaches its raison d’être in the final line:

Customers can purchase iPod touch through, Apple Store locations, and Apple Authorized Resellers while supplies last.

Yes, that’s right: the iPod touch, the last remaining survivor of that ancient product line (due to turn 21 this October), has reached the end of its life.

It shouldn’t be a real surprise: the iPod touch was last updated almost three years ago, though even then it was to bump the internals, not to make any significant design changes.

As useful as the iPod touch has been to provide an iOS device without the need for an iPhone’s cellular plan, the iPad seems to certainly have supplanted it in that department.

And that’s all she wrote for the venerable iPod, which is survived only by its distant relative, the HomePod mini. Well, at least until Apple decides to resurrect the name for some new product…

—Linked by Dan Moren

by Jason Snell

Podcast Details

This site was making the rounds in my circle of friends for obvious reasons. Created by Alex Barredo, Podcast Details visualizes the consistency (or inconsistency) of a podcast’s run time and release schedule.

I put the Six Colors podcast (just for members) to the test, and here was the result:

We’ve settled in to quite a pattern, but like most of the shows I checked out, it started a lot shakier and then got consistent over time. I think there’s something to this—it’s hard to get in a good rhythm with a regular podcast, but if you can find it, you can keep it going.

—Linked by Jason Snell

by Jason Snell

A sabbatical from a Weird Internet Career

Jason Kottke is taking some time off:

There’s no real roadmap for this, no blueprint for independent creators taking sabbaticals to recharge. The US doesn’t have the social safety net necessary to enable extended breaks from work (or much of anything else, including health care) for people with Weird Internet Careers. I support a lot of individual writers, artists, YouTubers, and bloggers through Substack, Patreon, and other channels, and over the years I’ve seen some of them produce content at a furious pace to keep up their momentum, only to burn out and quit doing the projects that I, and loads of other people, loved. With so many more people pursuing independent work funded directly by readers & viewers these days, this is something all of us, creators and supporters alike, are going to have to think about.

As someone who burned out from his corporate media job, I have tried to be careful with how I work as a “Weird Internet Career” person these past seven-plus years so I don’t do it to myself again. But Kottke is right, there’s really no road map out there for how this works and how people making stuff on the Internet can keep from burning themselves out.

I applaud him for taking a break to figure things out and to heal. Even a couple of days of focused time away from my routine were incredibly helpful for me. I hope when Kottke returns, he’ll have some lessons to teach the rest of us about how to stay fresh, avoid burnout, and keep navigating our careers.

—Linked by Jason Snell

An unlikely alliance of tech giants beckons us toward our passwordless future, but in the meantime there’s a new version of 1Password. We also discuss Apple Car rumors, hope for the future of AirPods Max, our disassembly of a Magic Keyboard, and more!

Search Six Colors