Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

Support this Site

Become a Six Colors member and get access to an exclusive weekly podcast, community, newsletter and more.

Why the M1 is so fast

Here’s a detailed post by Erik Engheim that breaks down how Apple’s M1 chip is structured and compares it with other PC chips:

In Unified memory the GPU cores and CPU cores can access memory at the same time. Thus in this case there is no overhead in sharing memory. In addition the CPU and GPU can tell each other about where some memory is located. Previously the CPU would have to copy data from its area of the main memory to the area used by the GPU. With unified memory, it is more like saying “Hey Mr. GPU, I got 30 MB of polygon data starting at memory location 2430.” The GPU can then start using that memory without doing any copying.

That means you can significant performance gains by the fact that all the various special co-processors on the M1 can rapidly exchange information with each other by using the same memory pool.

Processors are complicated. I found this article to strike a good balance between technical and understandable.

AWS offers Mac mini hosting

In a surprise move, Amazon has jumped into the hosted Mac world, adding Mac minis to its EC2 service. As TechCrunch reports:

The target audience here — and the only one AWS is targeting for now — is developers who want cloud-based build and testing environments for their Mac and iOS apps. But it’s worth noting that with remote access, you get a fully-featured Mac mini in the cloud, and I’m sure developers will find all kinds of other use cases for this as well.

Amazon has a lot of advantages over smaller hosting companies, but of course, the smaller hosts who have specialized in Mac hosting for a while have advantages of their own. It’s still remarkable to see Amazon actually sticking Mac hardware in racks and renting it out to customers.

The current offering is i7 based 2018 vintage Mac minis. Amazon says M1 models will be available next year.

This week Jason embraces the iPhone 12 mini and then reboots his complaints about Apple’s focus on Mac security leading to bad user-experience issues. Then we consider the future, as we interpret early reports about new Apple Watch, iPad, and MacBook Pro models for 2021.

Photos by Stephen Hackett.

By Jason Snell

20 Macs for 2020: #5 – Titanium PowerBook G4

Imagine a slideshow of images of every portable Mac Apple has made, displayed in chronological order. It starts with the Macintosh Portable and ends with two M1 MacBooks.

For a while, the slides are of chunky plastic laptops in light gray, dark gray, and black. The G3 iBook appears briefly to provide some needed color.

And then, 12 years into Apple’s portable Mac journey, you see it. You might want to pause the slides for a moment, because the computer on the screen is undeniably a modern Apple laptop. It’s thin (at least for the time) and boxy and sheathed in silvery metal instead of plastic.

When you resume the slide show, silver metallic laptops will alternate with cheaper plastic models for a little while, but during the final decade of slides, they’ll all settle on this one basic design.

It all started with the Titanium PowerBook G4. But Apple still had a lot to learn.

Continue reading “20 Macs for 2020: #5 – Titanium PowerBook G4″…

By Dan Moren

The Back Page: Everything Apple Didn’t Announce This Fall

With an unprecedented three events this fall, Apple has revamped the vast majority of its key products. We’ve seen new iPhones, a new iPad Air, new Apple silicon Macs, and even a new HomePod model and an Apple services bundle.

But even that embarrassment of riches might not be enough to satisfy the most die-hard of Apple fans. After all, what about all the products that Apple didn’t announce this year? You know what I’m talking about—they’re the ones you wanted the most. And yet Apple, in its capricious whims, decided not to release new models.

Probably just to aggrieve you personally.

So, with the end of the year on the way, it seems as safe a time as ever to run down the full, comprehensive list of everything Apple didn’t announce this fall. And I do mean everything. Stand back: the first few rows might get wet.…

This is a post limited to Six Colors members.

By Dan Moren

Automate This: Conversation mode for the AirPods Pro

One of my only opportunities for solace these days is taking walks. I try to get outside every day, not just to close the rings on my Apple Watch, but also because I need a break from staring at screens. My AirPods Pro have become my constant companion on these perambulations, and I really appreciate not only how they let me block out the noise around me, but also that I can use the Hey Siri feature to easily respond to text messages or control music playback.

That said, one thing I get annoyed by using my AirPods Pro is when I need to, say, step into the convenience store to buy something. I’ve gotten accustomed to using Siri to tell my AirPods Pro to pause the audio I’m listening to and then to switch them into Transparency Mode so I can have a conversation without having to pull out the earbuds every time.1

Seems like it should be easier to do this, doesn’t it? Well, thanks to the power of Shortcuts, it can be! I’ve created two simple shortcuts: the first I call Conversation Mode, which both pauses the currently playing audio on my iPhone and switches my AirPods Pro to transparency mode. The second is Back to Audio, which does the reverse: turns on noise cancellation and then resumes audio. (You can download the shortcuts at the links above, though they are easy enough to re-create on one’s own.)

I debated creating a single shortcut to toggle between the two modes, but it proved a little trickier than anticipated to detect the current headphones audio mode, so to keep thing simple, I stuck with the two shortcut method.

Now, whenever I’m stepping up to the counter to grab something I ordered or paying at a cashier, I can just say “Hey Siri, conversation mode.” And, when I’m done, I can tell Siri “Back to Audio” to pick up right where I left off.

It’d be nice if Apple made this an actual option for AirPods Pro, or let you use Shortcuts to automate these features—say, pausing audio when I switch into Transparency mode–but for the moment, these will have to suffice.

  1. And with my clumsy fingers, sometimes risk dropping an AirPod. 😬 

[Dan Moren is the official Dan 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.]

November 27, 2020

It was a quiet week, but we found time to ponder the future of the Mac and complain about the cable company.

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

Smart home automations, creativity in the time of pandemic, our Black Friday habits, and the impact of the latest improvements to Shortcuts.

By Jason Snell for Macworld

How to fix the M1 Macs’ most disappointing feature: iOS apps

If there’s a single disappointment in the release of Apple’s first wave of M1 Macs, it’s the lackluster launch of iOS apps running inside of macOS. What should be an amazing unification of Apple’s platforms and a massive expansion of the Mac software base is, instead… kind of a non-event.

Running iOS apps on the Mac can be a little weird, it’s true. But it can sometimes be good. Unfortunately, a lot of interesting iOS apps just aren’t available at all, because their developers have removed them from the Mac side of the iOS App Store.

It’s not a great situation. It needs to get better. Here are some ways that might happen.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

Rogue Amoeba’s apps updated for M1–with a catch

I love Rogue Amoeba’s audio apps and rely on them every day. Audio Hijack is the best. Loopback is a vital tool when I’m streaming video live.

This year, though, Apple made some major changes to how audio on macOS is handled, and that required major changes to ACE, the engine that enables most of Rogue Amoeba’s apps. The company managed to get versions supporting Big Sur out just before the official release of the operating system, and today it posted beta versions that work with M1 Macs.

There is one big caveat, however, and it’s all down to Apple’s increased focus on security. To install an app like ACE, which requires a system extension to function in Big Sur, you have to reboot. That’s not great—rebooting to install software feels very 1990s to me—but at least it’s palatable.

On M1 Macs, though, the situation intensifies. Before you can reboot to enable ACE, you first have to reboot into Recovery Mode in order to tell the system to allow extensions. Then you have to change a setting from “Full Security” to “Reduced Security,” and check a box allowing kernel extensions from identified developers. (ACE isn’t actually a kernel extension, but… the box must still be checked.)

The good news for Rogue Amoeba’s customers is that their stuff works, and once you do the reboot two-step, you shouldn’t need to do it again. It’s a multi-step process, but it’s over fast and then you can get on with your work.

But it really shouldn’t work this way, and that’s on Apple. One reboot is bad, but two is ridiculous. Surely there’s a way, at the very least, to pre-approve an extension before rebooting to adjust the security setting? I know that Apple is trying to protect users from bad actors, but when a list of instructions like these are required to install Mac software, something’s really gone wrong.

But at least Rogue Amoeba’s apps are now available. They’re indispensible. If I had to choose between upgrading my Mac or continuing to use Audio Hijack, I would choose Audio Hijack every time1.

  1. I’ve been using a Mac mini running macOS Mojave to record all my podcasts since I started using the Big Sur beta this summer. It’s uncomfortable to have a Mac without Audio Hijack installed. 

Myke and Jason have spent a week running Big Sur on M1 Macs and are here to report back on what the future feels like. Also, HBO Max gives up and plans a streaming release of “Wonder Woman 1984” so everyone but Myke can see it, and Apple pulls a PR move that gives a raise to small developers while enraging its loudest critics.

Comcast to enforce data caps across US, starting in early 2021

Ars Technica’s Jon Brodkin:

Comcast’s 1.2TB monthly data cap is coming to 12 more states and the District of Columbia starting January 2021. The unpopular policy was already enforced in most of Comcast’s 39-state US territory over the past few years, and the upcoming expansion will for the first time bring the cap to every market in Comcast’s territory.

As a Comcast subscriber in a state that hasn’t previously been subject to data caps, this is disappointing. I’ve ridden close to that 1.2TB limit a couple times in the last six months, though I haven’t surpassed it yet.

But there are several arguments against this move, as Brodkin points out. One, of course, being that we’re in the middle of a pandemic where people are increasingly relying on their home internet connections for tasks like video conferencing at work and with families, as well as just keeping themselves entertained in a time where options to do so are often limited.

Second is, as some smaller ISPs have discovered, a lack of data caps doesn’t actually adversely impact service:

One small ISP in Maryland, Antietam Broadband, decided to permanently remove data caps after finding that increased usage during the pandemic didn’t harm the network. Antietam also said that customers working at home switched to “broadband packages that more accurately reflected their broadband needs.” As Antietam’s experience shows, heavy Internet users often pay for faster speeds, ensuring that ISPs get more revenue from heavy users even when there’s no data cap.

The long and short of is that data caps are about enforcing artificial scarcity. Data, unlike, say, natural gas or electricity, does not actually carry costs that scale along with quantity. Which Comcast itself has admitted:

When Comcast was enforcing a 300GB monthly cap in 2015, a Comcast engineering executive said imposing the monthly data limit was a business decision, not one driven by technical necessity.

Thirdly, Comcast’s own tools for measuring data usage are imprecise at times, leading to unfair charges.

Add this all up and it sure looks like profiteering, especially during the era of COVID-19.

If there is a bright side to all of this, however, it’s that the incoming administration is far more likely to take a hard look at these practices, and to actually take action against them via regulatory agencies like the FCC. But such a process will probably be slow and carries no guarantees.

Frankly, this wouldn’t be such a bad situation if the ISP market was actually competitive, but in many—if not most—markets around the country, options are pretty limited. My city actually has two competing cable companies, but many of the cities and towns surrounding us only have a single option for fast internet.1 Virtual monopolies have been propped up by governments around the company, and as long as the government is looking into big tech, it should probably be leveling some scrutiny on big ISPs like Comcast too.

  1. And no, I’m not counting DSL. 

By Dan Moren for Macworld

Imagining the possibilities with Apple silicon

The M1 Macs have arrived. The benchmarks are in. And what we’ve seen is nothing less than mind-blowing performance from Apple’s own silicon, compared to the Intel chips that came before. But this, as we know, is just the beginning. The M1 is only the first in a whole family of chips that will be powering Macs from now on.

As impressive as these new processors—and the improvements they bring in speed and battery life—are, some have felt underwhelmed by the new Macs, given that they look pretty much identical to the models they’re replacing. This was by design, of course, to impart a feeling of continuity from Apple’s existing models, assuring customers that fundamentally nothing has changed.

But as we look forward to the next generation of Macs that are no doubt working their way down the pipe even as we speak, it’s time to start thinking about what other features Apple’s unprecedented control over the hardware and software might enable the company to bring to its most venerable product line.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

Joz, Federighi, and Srouji talk M1

Samuel Axon has a really nice interview with three Apple execs about the M1 processor. Here’s Craig Federighi:

The M1 is essentially a superset, if you want to think of it relative to A14. Because as we set out to build a Mac chip, there were many differences from what we otherwise would have had in a corresponding, say, A14X or something.

Worth reading.

By Dan Moren

HomePod mini review: Lots of bang, not a lot of bucks

HomePod mini

Calling Apple’s history with speaker accessories “mixed” is probably being kind. In 2006, the company made its first foray with the iPod Hi-Fi, a technically impressive but expensive and ultimately doomed speaker dock for the company’s iconic music player.1 It was discontinued a year and a half later after disappointing sales.

You could be excused for thinking that the original HomePod was the iPod Hi-Fi Reborn. As a speaker, most reviewers agreed it was impressive, but it was very expensive and not terribly capable at anything else. At a time when the market was pushing smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home (now the Google Nest Audio, what a mouthful), the HomePod’s use of Siri was underpowered, lacking features as basic as being able to set multiple named timers. Despite the tried-and-true Apple strategy of not being first to market, but rather being the best, the company didn’t just walk in and take over.

Unlike the iPod Hi-Fi, however, Apple didn’t cut its losses. Instead, three years after it announced the HomePod, it’s back with another swing: the HomePod mini. Everything about this product seems, well, kind of un-Apple-like. It’s far cheaper than the original HomePod ($99 vs. the $349-eventually-lowered-to-$299 price tag) and features a number of trade-offs from its big sibling, most prominently a scaled down ambition of the sound—arguably the best part of the original HomePod.

For all of that, I’m here to tell you that the HomePod mini is great, and in many ways, better than the full-size HomePod. This is a case where I’d argue that Apple has made the right trade-offs—at least, if it’s goal is to make the HomePod popular.

Continue reading “HomePod mini review: Lots of bang, not a lot of bucks”…

November 20, 2020

Don’t listen to them, they’re evil! Also, this is a M1 MacBook Air enthusiast podcast now.

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

What’s the best Mac of all time? It’s an impossible question to answer. Yet three well-known Mac commentators all have the same answer.

By Jason Snell

The joy(?) of moving to a new Mac

Migration Assistant, and cat.

One of my favorite episodes of Upgrade is from early in the show’s run, when we spent time critiquing the experience of buying and setting up a new iPhone. I keep coming back to something we said in that episode: Buying a new Apple product should be a day of joy and excitement. (Apple might even call it a “magical experience,” though I wouldn’t.) If you’re paying hundreds of dollars for a new gadget, one you might only buy every two or three years, you really should end the day feeling like a kid on Christmas morning—not someone waiting at the dentist’s office.

To Apple’s credit, the iPhone upgrade experience has improved a whole lot in the last five years. I’ve transferred data to all four of my review iPhone models in the last few weeks and it was smooth sailing. I know that people like to talk about doing a “clean install” and leaving the past behind, as if it was some sort of juice cleanse, but I’m not sure that ever made sense and I really don’t think it makes sense now.…

This is a post limited to Six Colors members.

Search Six Colors