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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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Linked by Jason Snell

The weird grammar of American newswriting

In quoting Mark Gurman’s piece about AirPods yesterday, I noticed (and actually removed) some of the cruft that clogs his work now that he’s at Bloomberg and working with Bloomberg’s copy desk. I didn’t mention it, but Charles Arthur did, and his take is delightful:

Note in passing all the fol-de-rol of formal American newswriting: the amazingly dull headline, the requirement to describe Apple as “the Cupertino-based technology giant”, in case you were trying to find them on a map; the inability to just say “my sources”; the strangulated “as soon as this year” instead of “perhaps this year”. It’s like a weird grammar of its own.

Gurman’s writing was far clearer when he was at 9to5 Mac. But at Bloomberg he’s subject to its stylebook. Apparently Bloomberg requires a boilerplate mention of a company’s hometown so you don’t confuse the world’s largest technology firm with a local apple-picking farm. The Bloomberg style quirk that always gets me is the construction “the people,” which is how Bloomberg likes to refer to anonymous sources (“people familiar with the matter”) after they’ve been introduced. To quote the AirPods story:

The Cupertino, California-based technology giant is working on a new version for release as soon as this year with an upgraded wireless chip, the people said.

Style guides get infested with bizarre quirks not because a sadistic copy editor likes messing with writers and readers alike, but because providing clarity and consistency across a large news organization is a good idea. But over time, the original reasons some rules were created will vanish over the horizon, leaving nothing but a rule to be followed because Rules Are Made To Be Followed. Even if the result is, as Arthur says, “fol-de-rol.”

Anyway, Mark Gurman’s an excellent reporter. No matter what “the people” said.


Dan Moren for Macworld

HomePod: Apple’s smart speaker has plenty of room to grow ↦

With the addition of the HomePod to my arsenal of smart speakers, we’ve reached a dangerous tipping point in my household: there are roughly double the number of smart speakers as people.

The past couple weeks of living with the HomePod has given me a bit of time not only to see what the device has to offer right now, but has also helped me sketch out some ideas about where the future might be able to take it.

In many ways, the HomePod reminds me a lot of the Apple Watch. But whereas the chief criticism of the latter upon its release was that it tried to do too much, the HomePod follows more of a tried-and-true Apple pattern: it starts small.

But perhaps it starts too small.

As the Apple Watch evolved, it benefited from slimming down its portfolio to focus on a few key areas, but the HomePod instead has a lot of room to improve by deepening its focus on the areas that it’s already in.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Linked by Jason Snell

‘Defending your app’

Here’s some sage advice from Marco Arment to app developers who are worried about being ripped off in the app store, but it can be applied more broadly than that:

Nobody else will care as much as you do. Nobody cares who was first, and nobody cares who copied who. The public won’t defend you… This feels unfair when it happens to you, but it’s just how it goes, and the entire ecosystem benefits. Every app — even yours — includes countless “standard” and “obvious” features and designs that, at one time, weren’t. Everything is a remix.

There are out-and-out rip-offs that are worth taking on—a couple of times I’ve found that some other podcast is using the art I commissioned for The Incomparable—but beyond the most obvious and egregious, it’s not worth the effort. Part of the cost of doing business on the Internet is that people—some shady, some just tough competitors—will try to take the thing you create and use it for their own ends.

It’s not fair, but that’s life. You can rage about it and waste time and energy and money on it, but in most cases it’s better to just put your energy toward something positive.


Linked by Jason Snell

Gurman: AirPods updates in the works

Mark Gurman of Bloomberg is reporting on the future of development for Apple’s AirPods:

[Apple] is working on a new version for release as soon as this year with an upgraded wireless chip, the people said. A subsequent model for as early as next year is planned to be water resistant, they added, asking not to be identified discussing private product plans…. The model coming as early as this year will let people summon Apple’s Siri digital assistant without physically tapping the headphones by saying “Hey Siri.”

Being able to activate Siri via voice makes sense. Given the AirPods’ nature (for now?) as an extension to another device, I’d imagine that all the upgrade would need to do is provide a low-power way to constantly be monitoring for the trigger phrase, at which point your iPhone or Apple Watch would be passed the actual contents of the Siri request for processing. Currently you have to trigger Siri by double-tapping on an earbud, but with support for “Hey Siri” you could control without touching the earbuds at all. (Upgraded water resistance makes sense, too, given that people sweat and run in all sorts of weather.)

I never expected to love AirPods, but I do. They’ve replaced wired in-ear monitors for just about everything for me except podcasting and locations where I need noise isolation (like on airplanes or when I’m mowing the lawn).


By Dan Moren

Why can’t Siri answer flight status questions?

Siri is a thread that runs through all of Apple’s platforms now, and it has subtly different features on most of them. At best, this means adapting to the particular vagaries of each device—for example, Siri on the Mac can look for files, while Siri on the Apple TV can understand jumping to particular timestamps or turning on captions.

But sometimes there seems to be a divided even on a single device.

Here’s a little experiment for you. Bring up the search field on your iPhone and type in a flight number—for example, WW126. Near the top of the results will be an option to bring up flight status. Tap that and you’ll get a nice little map of the flight as well some other info, like destination, duration, and so on.

Now, try asking Siri for the status of the same flight. I’ll wait.

Right. You’ll notice that Siri doesn’t seem to know anything about flight status, and instead goes straight to a web search.

flight-info
iOS gives flight info via Siri (left) and search (right).
How bizarre is that? The information is there, and Siri can clearly correctly parse the query; it just either doesn’t know how to hand it off or there’s some other weird reason it can’t.1


  1. My default assumption there are byzantine rights issues involved in cases like this. Or, in short, the reason is “lawyers.” Technically both the voice assistant in iOS and its search are powered by Siri’s intelligence, so it’s odd that the features don’t line up. I’m sure there are other examples of situations like this—let me know if you’ve found some.  ↩

[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]


Linked by Dan Moren

Hide macOS’s Install Update notification

The Verge’s Creighton DeSimone:

Today, I found myself in the good old Mac App Store after trying to dismiss another notification and came face to face with the High Sierra banner, imploring me to upgrade. Trying to deal with this annoyance, I right clicked on the banner. To my surprise, I was given a prompt to “Hide Update”!

I generally wait to do a big system update on my Mac mini, since it’s the house file server and I don’t want to mess with it, but I hate dealing with this stupid Kobayashi Maru notification. If this works, it’ll make me a very happy camper indeed.


Podcast

The Rebound 175: The Case of the Missing AirPods

The Rebound

We kick it all off with recommendations for wireless headphones that might surprise you, then it’s on to discussion of Alto’s Odyssey, our TV show recommendations, and some brief discussion of the other technologically pressing issues of our day. We wrap it all up with some music to play us off…


Podcast

Clockwise #229: Nine Different News Apps

Clockwise

This week, on the only tech show that talks (and ticks?), Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Christa Mrgan and Anže Tomić to discuss our reading habits, how we use tech to consume news, our thoughts on the demise of Twitter for Mac, and whether we think facial recognition truly has superseded fingerprints as a way of accessing our phones.


Linked by Jason Snell

‘Life on an iPad’

Veteran journalist Charles Arthur’s MacBook Pro broke, so he started doing his job on an iPad Pro:

A few years ago, this would probably have been impossible. I wouldn’t have contemplated it. Now? Getting along fine. In a number of ways, the iPad is preferable - particularly weight and connectivity. In only a couple of ways is it worse (the most notable being “lappability”).

The ability to use a tablet and attached keyboard comfortably in your lap (and not on a table) is definitely an issue; these days I travel with the Brydge Keyboard, which lets me use my iPad in a laptop configuration when I want to.

In any event, Arthur’s piece is a great overview of the pros and cons of working on an iPad, including using cloud syncing and tools such as Workflow and Pythonista to automate building his newsletter.


Podcast

Upgrade #181: Banana Slug Bookshelf

Upgrade

This week on Upgrade: What does the death of Twitter for Mac say about the future of Mac software? Is Apple making big changes to how it releases software, and how will it impact the quality of the Apple product experience? We ponder these questions, note some surprising additions to Apple’s video programming, and briefly discuss how Jason permanently scarred his bookshelf.


Podcast

The Rebound 174: I Have Many Many Enemies

The Rebound

With Dan’s triumphant return from Iceland—no blizzard can stop him!—the team reunites just in time to discuss a veritable onslaught of HomePod controversies. How is the sound? What’s with the white rings? Does Dan have way too many smart speakers? Why is John talking about Zip Drives? Will Lex ever stop making groan-worthy puns? Why are there so many questions this week?! The answer to at least a couple of those awaits.


Dan Moren for Macworld

3 ways tech can improve travel ↦

Traveling is a great chance to put technology through the wringer. It’s a time when you have to be economical about the gear you carry, when your environments challenge you, and when you start seeing places where your devices could go further and do more than they already do.

Last week, my girlfriend and I spent nine days in Iceland (it was supposed to be seven, but a blizzard stranded us for an extra forty-eight hours). During that time we covered roughly half the country, from snowy lava fields in the west to black sand beaches—also with their share of snow—in the south. We carried more than a few pieces of tech with us, which gave us ample time to see what worked well and where we could use some improvement over the status quo.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Linked by Dan Moren

Daniel Jalkut on the HomePod

MarsEdit developer and good friend Daniel Jalkut on his experiences with HomePod:

Any attempt to “Hey Siri” another device is met by a loud interruption by Siri either of the music, or of the silence of the room. It’s bad enough that it assumes all requests are being made to it, but it’s even worse that it insists on chiming in even when it isn’t capable of serving the request. Just to remind everybody that it’s not configured for personal requests.

Funny enough, just a few moments before I read Daniel’s post I had my first experience of the iPhone fielding a “Hey Siri” request instead of the HomePod, even though both were only a foot or so away from me on my desk.

But Daniel’s experiences overall mesh with some of my first observations. In particular the “Siri is Siri” point: I like Apple’s virtual assistant well enough, but some of the holes in its functionality are baffling. Daniel calls out not being able to set separate timers, which is definitely annoying—to that I’ll add that Siri on the HomePod can’t tell me anything about my calendar, which is kind of puzzling.

Seeing what decisions Apple makes about the future of the HomePod seems like it might be the most interesting part of the device’s story. In particular, I’m hoping this drives significant attention to Siri—the company can get by without making too many changes to it when it’s just an ancillary interface, as it is on all of Apple’s other devices, but when it’s as central as it with the HomePod, well, that’s a different story.


Jason Snell for Macworld

How to control HomePod from Mac or iOS ↦

The HomePod doesn’t behave like most other Apple devices. Unlike the Apple Watch, there’s no dedicated app. It supports AirPlay, so it shows up in the list of audio sources—but it’s also remote-controllable like an Apple TV. And to configure it, you don’t visit the Settings app, but the Home app. Here’s a quick guide to where and how you can control the HomePod from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


By Dan Moren

Wish List: Multiple audio outputs on iOS

When traveling, I generally pack a headphone adapter—this five-port Belkin model, even though it’s kind of overkill—so that my girlfriend and I can watch videos together on the plane.1 It’s a perfectly fine solution, and generally one without problems, given how low-tech it is.

But on our most recent flight back from vacation, we were in the midst of our ascent and were about to watch a video when my girlfriend realized that she’d pulled out her Lightning earbuds instead of the standard minijack pair. Not a problem once we could get up and get to her bag in the overhead, but a minor inconvenience in the meantime.

Given the opportunity, however, I decided to do a little experimentation. After all, I had my Bose QC-35s, which work over either Bluetooth or via a standard minijack. It occurred to me that we could plug in her Lightning headphones and connect the QC-35s to the iPad at the same time.

Unfortunately, this is where we ran up against an iOS limitation. Currently, there’s no way for it to pipe audio to multiple outputs, even if we’re talking about two headphones that are physically connected to separate ports.

Now, this probably isn’t an issue that people run into on a daily basis. Even on the Mac, you still need to resort to a tool like Audio MIDI Setup in order to push the same audio to multiple outputs.

Audio MIDI Setup
However, I’d also imagine I’m not the only person who’s frustrated by having to carry around an extra dongle, so it’d be awfully nice if there were an option to let you connect multiple audio outputs and play the same audio to all of them.

What makes this interesting is that the upcoming AirPlay 2 will allow iOS devices to output audio to multiple AirPlay devices at the same time. The screenshots floating around of the iOS 11.3 beta, which includes this, feature show the ability to send audio to, for example, several Apple TVs. This has also been one promised feature for the HomePod, even though it didn’t coincide with the device’s arrival.

So, as long as we’re sending audio to multiple outputs, why not the ability to, say, connect two pairs of Bluetooth headphones to a single iOS device? The Mac can accomplish this via the Audio MIDI Setup app, so it seems like it ought to be feasible to do the same thing on an iOS device. Or, for that matter, to a set of Lightning earbuds and minijack headphones. Or a set of minijack headphones and Bluetooth headphones.

As of iOS 11.3, the interface for sending audio to multiple AirPlay speakers will already be there, so it’s more a matter of supporting Bluetooth or physical audio connections. Then again, Apple may simply have no interest in spending the time and resources to support those options and instead push users towards AirPlay-compatible devices.

Of course, this isn’t the first time that we’ve hoped for bolstered audio capabilities in iOS, though we’ve previously focused on letting more than one app use an audio input to facilitate podcast recording. So here’s hoping that a future version of iOS features more robust audio support across the board.


  1. Thanks to the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, when we’re in a hotel or Airbnb, I’ve mainly just resorted to using the built-in speakers, which are plenty good enough.  ↩

[Dan Moren is a tech writer, novelist, podcaster, and the Official Dan of Six Colors. You can email him at dan@sixcolors.com or find him on Twitter at @dmoren.]


Podcast

Clockwise #228: Wrong Robot Name

Clockwise

This week, on the 30-minute tech podcast that’s chock full of romance, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests Casey Liss and Aleen Simms to discuss our most essential travel tech, our most romantic uses of technology, our biggest tech disappointments, and our thoughts on the first few days with HomePod.


Linked by Jason Snell

Emoji defragmentation

New and old Samsung pistol emojis, courtesy Emojipedia.

Back in 2015 I first started talking about emoji fragmentation, the concept that since there’s no single canonical source for emoji images, it’s possible for the same character to be interpreted entirely differently across platforms.1

In any event, let’s also consider that perhaps there is an opposing force—an understanding among the many platform owners who determine what emoji symbols their users see—that it’s not in anyone’s best interest to have symbols that are dramatically different than what people on other platforms or seeing.

As detailed by Burge at Emojipedia, Samsung this week upgraded its Pistol emoji to match Apple—namely, Apple’s semi-controversial decision to turn the depiction of a handgun into a green plastic water pistol.

This isn’t the first example. In 2016, Apple redesigned Beaming Face With Smiling Eyes to have a smile rather than a grimace on its mouth. The poo emoji has evolved similarly, with Apple’s smiling anthropomorphized soft-serve pile driving the alignment.

Or consider Woman Dancing, once a fragmented space offering a lady high-stepping in a red dress (Apple), Disco Stu and/or a seductive blob-man (Google), a funky fresh bathroom symbol (Microsoft), or a kid pretending to dance (Samsung). Over the past five years all the other players have followed Apple’s lead, so that all four platforms now feature a lady in a red dress, showing some leg, with one arm up and one arm down.

This is good news. While each platform owner has to commission its own emoji art and wants each image to be stylistically consistent, it’s better for users if there aren’t wide disparities in the content of the image being depicted by any given emoji. So perhaps, in the end, emoji fragmentation can simply be solved by time, as different emoji sets converge together.


  1. Jeremy Burge of Emojipedia thinks I may have coined the term, which is possible, but if so it’s only because I had been reading so much of his great coverage of the evolution of emoji as a form of communication. ↩


Linked by Jason Snell

Apple’s software “problem” and “fixing” it

A few weeks back on Upgrade, talking about the low scores for software quality in the 2017 Apple Report Card, I mentioned that while those of us on the outside could judge the outcome of Apple’s internal processes, it was harder for any of us to prescribe solutions, because there are very few people who have managed the development of software platforms used by millions of consumers. Maybe Scott Forstall (Apple) or Steven Sinofsky (Microsoft), some others, but it’s not a long list.

Well, after Mark Gurman’s Bloomberg report about changes to Apple’s software process, who spoke up about the topic but former Microsoft Windows head Steven Sinofsky! (It’s a long tweetstorm, but in Medium form it’s a short article.)

Here’s his summation/final tweet:

So to me on Apple, even as an outsider, I feel confident saying that this isn’t reactionary/crisis or a response to externalities. Importantly it isn’t a massive pivot/”student body left”. It’s a methodical and predictable evolution of an extremely robust and proven system.

The entire thing is worth a read. You can agree or disagree, but there’s no denying that Sinofsky has a unique perspective—he’s been in that seat, he’s had to deal with these kinds of processes, and he knows exactly what the big issues are.


Podcast

Upgrade #180: Too Much Speaker

Upgrade

This week on Upgrade: After a weekend with the HomePod, it’s time for Myke and Jason to discuss what they like and dislike about Apple’s new connected speaker. Is it so loud that Myke is angering his neighbors? Will Jason replace his Amazon Echo? How does the HomePod match up with other products in the category? Plus, Apple introduces its new battery interface and one of the company’s first big TV shows loses its creative team.


Linked by Jason Snell

iOS 9 boot source code leaks

In what one writer called “the biggest leak in history,” someone posted the source code for the part of iOS that is responsible for booting the system on GitHub, Motherboard reported Wednesday:

Having access to the source code of iBoot gives iOS security researchers a better chance to find vulnerabilities that could lead to compromising or jailbreaking the device….. That means hackers could have an easier time finding flaws and bugs that could allow them to crack or decrypt an iPhone. And, perhaps, this leak could eventually allow advanced programmers to emulate iOS on non Apple platforms.

On Thursday Apple responded with a statement confirming the news. (GitHub has removed the code after a takedown request by Apple.) Here’s Apple’s statement:

Old source code from three years ago appears to have been leaked, but by design the security of our products doesn’t depend on the secrecy of our source code. There are many layers of hardware and software protections built in to our products, and we always encourage customers to update to the newest software releases to benefit from the latest protections.

Security researcher Will Strafach told TechCrunch that while it gives hackers some hints about how iOS boots that might become useful vectors of attack, it probably doesn’t mean much to iPhone owners:

“In terms of end users, this doesn’t really mean anything positive or negative,” Strafach said in an email. “Apple does not use security through obscurity, so this does not contain anything risky, just an easier to read format for the boot loader code. It’s all cryptographically signed on end user devices, there is no way to really use any of the contents here maliciously or otherwise.”

Not great, Bob, but it sounds like this is more likely information that would be used to build a jailbreak than something that could fuel a zero-day attack on modern iPhones.