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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Dan Moren for Macworld

Apple is running out of time to deliver on its 2021 promises

Apple’s approach to major software updates has changed a bit over the past couple of years. Once upon a time, the company would roll out one big update then do smaller point releases over the next year or two to fix bugs and occasionally add minor features, followed by a long life of security updates. Over the last decade, those major releases have become yearly, but they still tended to deliver most of the promised features in one go.

Nowadays, with several major software platforms to keep up to date, the company has gradually shifted to a strategy of major software releases which include most of the features the company announces at its annual Worldwide Developers Conference. But invariably, a handful of those headline features don’t make it into the initial version and instead trickle out in a variety of updates over the subsequent months.

So it’s been with iOS 15, iPadOS 15, and macOS Monterey. Several of the most ambitious features have still yet to be released, and with the clock ticking down on 2021, it’s left more than a few users wondering if we’ll even see these features this year.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

December 3, 2021

Home automation, speakers, Shortcuts, and bagels.

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By Jason Snell

Quick Tip: Cat-proof those HomePods

YouTuber and podcaster Quinn Nelson has a cat problem:

This is a tricky one, because Apple doesn’t let you entirely disable the touch surface on the HomePod. But there are a few possible workarounds that might prevent Quinn’s fluffy white agent of chaos from waking him and his wife up in the middle of the night.

Home touch accessibility

First, as recommended by several Twitter users, is to use an accessibility feature that adjusts how long you must press the Homepod’s touch-sensitive area before it registers. To do this, open the Home app, long-press or right-click on a HomePod, select Settings, then choose Touch Accommodations from the Accessibility menu. Among the options here is a Hold Duration, which you can set to a ridiculously high number of seconds. (Cats are rarely that patient.)

But a more clever suggestion Quinn received from Zachary Livingood was to use a home automation to set the volume of the HomePod to zero at some point in the late evening.

To do this, go to the Automation portion of the Home app, make a new timed automation, select the HomePod as the device to be automated, and use the Media option to Adjust Volume Only, with a Custom Volume of zero. (You could also make a corresponding automation to set the volume of the HomePod to a more reasonable level in the morning.)

That said, the cat could still just push the HomePod off the table and onto the floor, waking everyone up in the process. Cats will do what they want.

Car thieves are using AirTags too

We’ve seen stories of people triumphantly locating their lost belongings thanks to AirTags, but, as always, technology is a double-edged sword. It seems that some car thieves in Canada are using Apple’s tracking fobs to locate and steal vehicles:

Since September 2021, officers have investigated five incidents where suspects have placed small tracking devices on high-end vehicles so they can later locate and steal them. Brand name ‘air tags’ are placed in out-of-sight areas of the target vehicles when they are parked in public places like malls or parking lots. Thieves then track the targeted vehicles to the victim’s residence, where they are stolen from the driveway.

In theory, Apple has measures in place to alert people when an AirTag that doesn’t belong to them is found at their location, but even after the company revised how those alerts work it seems that they may not be enough. In June, the company also said that it would build an app for Android phones to detect AirTags and release it “later this year,” but that’s still in the offing.

It’s possible there’s also just not enough awareness of what exactly AirTags are, or what to do if you find one that doesn’t belong to you. (Additionally, depending on where they’re located in the car, it may be hard to find them too.) Regardless, it’s a good reminder that people’s usage of technology will—for good and ill—often quickly outpace the intentions of those who create it.

(via MacRumors)

—Linked by Dan Moren

By Jason Snell

How Kobo beats Kindle on library books

When I reviewed three recently-released e-readers last month, I received several complaints about this line in the story:

Kobos are much better citizens [than Kindles] when it comes to borrowing e-books from your local public library.

Wait a minute!, said the Kindle folks. My Kindle works great with Overdrive/Libby!

(For those who don’t know, Overdrive is the service used by most public libraries in the U.S. to provide e-books to patrons. Libby is the excellent iOS app that works as a front-end to Overdrive. I can’t recommend them both enough.)

But let me be clear: When I say Kobo e-readers are better at Overdrive than Kindles, I’m not saying Kindles don’t work. I’m saying that it’s not nearly as good as an experience as it is on a Kobo. (This is unsurprising, since the owners of Kobo also owned Overdrive for several years.)

Checking out an ebook with Libby for Kindle.

Here’s how you check out a book if you’re a Kindle user. You open Libby, select your book, and tap Read With Kindle (left, above). The Libby app then opens a webview at (center). You select where you want the book sent, tap Get Library Book, and a new page opens telling you that you’ve succeeded (right). The book will automatically download on your Kindle device the next time it syncs.

Ready to sync!

Not bad, right? Certainly this is more streamlined when Amazon began supporting library books a few years back. You can even return a book to the library right from the Kindle, which was not previously possible. It’s pretty good.

But here’s where Kobo beats the competition: all of Overdrive is available, right on device. Right down at the bottom of the Kobo Home screen are links to the Overdrive catalog and your personal list of holds:

Tap on the left option, and you’ll get a browsable catalog of books that are available from your library (below left). Tap on the right, and you’ll see the same list you’d see in Libby—all the books you’ve held, along with an estimated wait time (below right).

It gets better. Like Kindle, Kobo offers its own online bookstore. Unlike Kindle, you can search the Overdrive catalog as well as the store.

And if you are searching for a book in the Kobo Store, you can always tap the ellipsis button to see if it’s available at your local library—and place a hold on it right from there.

In short, while the Kindle’s integration with Libby is just fine, it does rely on a second device for all management of the experience. Kobo, on the other hand, will let you drive the entire experience from the device that’s already in your hands.

Batch converting shortcuts for use throughout Monterey

John Voorhees at MacStories has come up with a clever way to generate a bunch of AppleScript files that just run Shortcuts as a way to open up Shortcuts to apps that support running scripts, but not Shortcuts. Fittingly enough, he uses Shortcuts itself to do the job:

The advantage of using a .scpt file is it can be used by multiple apps. You can drag the file into an ‘Open’ action in the Stream Deck app and run it with the press of a button. Then, you can point Keyboard Maestro at the same file and trigger your shortcut from that app too. It’s a more flexible solution than locking the script in a plug-in.

However, it didn’t take long before building one-off scripts felt like a chore, which is why I created Script Builder. Now, as I go through my library of shortcuts and think about how I can use them on the Mac, I can batch process them into .scpt files.

Should everyone support Shortcuts? Sure. Should Apple make this easier? Probably!

In any event, this is an elegant approach. It occurred to me that a brute-force version of this same approach might also be helpful—basically, a script that could run every few minutes or hours, filling a directory full of AppleScript scripts that simply run whatever shortcuts you’ve got on your Mac, ready to be indexed by LaunchBar and referenced by Keyboard Maestro and Stream Deck and anything else.

Turns out, you can do this as a one-line Terminal command. Here it is:

shortcuts list | xargs -I % sh -c "echo 'tell application \"Shortcuts Events\" to run the shortcut named \"%\"' > '/Users/username/Shortcuts/%.scpt'"

It works—mostly. Shortcuts with a slash character in their name fail, because they’re interpreted as paths. Oh well! There’s always room for tinkering, but I wanted to keep this to a single line. And yes, you need to edit the path to set the output folder correctly, and create that Shortcuts folder.

(Thanks to Greg Knauss for pointing me to the xargs command that turned this into a one-liner.)

—Linked by Jason Snell

It’s the season of American consumerism, so here’s the technology we bought.

Diving into Netflix’s brand new global and regional top 10 lists, and all the things they tell us about the global streaming giant. Also, ViacomCBS corrects its Star Trek mistake, and why Netflix is bad at movies.

The older tech that we can’t justify replacing, what we’d change about Twitter in the wake of Jack Dorsey’s exit, the health tech we’d like to see next, and which retro video games we’d remake.

By Jason Snell

Run shortcuts from the Mac command line

I was reminded by Simon Støvring, maker of the excellent Mac and iOS utility Data Jar (which is a persistent data store that’s accessible via Shortcuts), that people may not be aware of just how well integrated Shortcuts is into macOS.

For example, if you’re someone who works in the Terminal a lot, you may not realize that you can integrate Shortcuts (including accessing data from apps like Data Jar) directly into your shell scripts and commands via the shortcuts command-line app.

I created a small example shortcut called songtitle that outputs the title of the currently playing song.

two-step shortcut to get a track title

Now from Terminal, I can use that output in any way you would normally process data. If I want to open the result in BBEdit, for example, I’d type:

shortcuts run songtitle | bbedit

If I wanted to output the result to a file, I can use the -o flag to direct the output:

shortcuts run songtitle -o ~/songtitle.txt

And if I just want to see the output, I can pipe the result to cat:

shortcuts run songtitle | cat

By the way, shortcuts will also provide command-line access to the names of all your available shortcuts by typing shortcuts list.

And yes, if you’re writing AppleScript scripts, you can use the do shell script command to gain access to shortcuts, though the proper way to do this1 is to instead use the new Shortcuts Events helper app:

tell application "Shortcuts Events"
    set theResult to run shortcut "songtitle"
end tell

  1. In the current macOS Monterey 12.1 beta, no result is returned! Betas. 

Now Playing in hardware form

Jason Tate:

A few weeks ago I started working on a new weekend project. I wanted to build a mini-computer that could sit on my desk and display what I was currently listening to. A simple idea. After completing it, I figured I should write up the entire process, because if I don’t blog about it … did it really happen?

Now Playing: the device. This is adorable.

—Linked by Jason Snell

By Jason Snell for Macworld

Why Monterey’s best feature still hasn’t arrived

In about three weeks it’ll be winter in Cupertino, and while the turn of seasons in the Bay Area usually doesn’t amount to much beyond wearing a slightly heavier hoodie, the turning of the seasons also represents an expiration date for one of Apple’s most springtime promises.

Several features of iOS 15 and macOS Monterey announced way back in June didn’t arrive at launch. We got SharePlay in iOS 15.1, iCloud+ features are still in beta, and ID cards have been delayed till 2022. But Apple still claims that Universal Control is shipping “later this fall,” which means we’ve got less than a month before Apple’s promise to ship perhaps the best feature in Monterey, is in arrears.

Sure, three weeks is a long time… until you consider that Apple has yet to even ship a beta version of macOS and iOS that supports this new feature. If the feature isn’t even ready to be previewed by brave souls, how will it be ready for us all by mid-December? It’s tricky.

Nobody likes waiting until Christmas morning to unwrap the presents under the tree, especially the one that’s literally shaped like the outline of a new bike. But we don’t get to choose. Apple’s gifts, Apple’s rules.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦

By Dan Moren

The Back Page: Tim Cook’s Wishlist

The holiday season is upon us, and what do you get for the man who has literally everything?1

Tim Cook has got to be a hard man to shop for. From outward appearances, all he seems to do is work and work (out). Truly, he seems to be a man of few luxuries, excusing the occasional hobnobbing with celebrities and expensive home purchase. But with his zip-up sweaters and sensible slacks, his lifestyle doesn’t exactly scream creature comforts.

So, in order to help all those people with Not So Tiny Tim on their holiday list—especially those who are doing a little last-minute shopping2—we’ve compiled this helpful resource of a few things that the CEO of one of the world’s most valuable companies might be excited to unwrap.

A stay of execution. Court orders aren’t anybody’s best friend, but with the clock still ticking down on Apple dealing with its one loss in the trial versus Epic, Tim (Cook, that is, not the other one) would certainly breathe easier knowing that the App Store wouldn’t undergo any upheavals—no matter how minor they might end up being—during the holiday season.…

This is a post limited to Six Colors members.

Myke checks in from mid-vacation to discuss his visit with Jason, and shares some observations from his first extended travel in a couple of years. Then Jason takes a deep dive into his adventures Shortcuts on the Mac. And there’s still time to discuss Mac AirPlay quirks and Apple lawsuits!

How we charge our devices, the travel tech we’re taking with us this year, our thoughts on Apple’s plans for digital IDs, and an examination of Apple’s newly announced Self Repair Program.

By Jason Snell

Display network quality in your menu bar

Network quality

Last week Dan wrote about macOS Monterey’s new Network Quality Tool, which lets you quickly get a sense of your local network speed from the command line.

If you’re a user of ambient Mac menu bar utilities like SwiftBar or xBar, you might be wondering if there’s an easy way to display this information in your menu bar.

I certainly was wondering that, so I’ve written a small SwiftBar plugin (requires python3) to run networkQuality and report the results in the menu bar every 20 minutes. You can download it here if you’re interested.

By Jason Snell

A Thanksgiving spread

An Apple Pencil, a Kobo Libra 2, and some creamed corn.

This time of year leads to a few inevitable kinds of stories. Giving thanks, and… deals? Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays, and Black Friday one of my least favorite “holidays”, and yet they’re placed back to back on the (U.S.) calendar.

I’ve written the occasional tech-I’m-thankful-for column over the years, and even drafted Thanksgiving dinner one year. And while I’ve witnessed many of my friends in the tech press being forced to spend their holiday week digging up Black Friday Deals, I’ve generally been able to stay out of it.

But in the spirit of the season, I thought I’d spread several familiar dishes across the table this week.

Tech-themed giving of thanks

On this week’s episode of Upgrade, a listener wrote in to ask about the second-generation Apple Pencil. I have to admit, I haven’t written much about the Apple Pencil since writing a love song to it back in 2018, though I did make a video that showed it off as part of my podcast-editing workflow.…

This is a post limited to Six Colors members.

Apple sues spyware maker NSO Group

Apple Newsroom:

Apple today filed a lawsuit against NSO Group and its parent company to hold it accountable for the surveillance and targeting of Apple users. The complaint provides new information on how NSO Group infected victims’ devices with its Pegasus spyware. To prevent further abuse and harm to its users, Apple is also seeking a permanent injunction to ban NSO Group from using any Apple software, services, or devices.

The complaint offers new information about a (since-patched) exploit called FORCEDENTRY that was used to install NSO’s Pegasus spyware on Apple devices. NSO, which has been accused of selling its spyware to many foreign governments, is now in a financial crisis after being blacklisted by the U.S. Commerce Department earlier this month.

Say what you will about Apple’s policies regarding bug bounties and other security issues—the company is capable of spending a nearly infinite amount of money on lawyers who will try to make NSO Group’s existence painful for a very long time.

—Linked by Jason Snell

Qualcomm has an exclusivity deal with Microsoft for Windows on ARM

Rich Woods reports about Windows on ARM and where it may be headed in the future:

Qualcomm actually has an exclusivity deal with Microsoft for Windows on ARM, and speaking with people familiar with it, we’ve learned that the deal is set to expire soon.

Other than the fact that Microsoft has publicly said that anyone who wants to can build a Windows on ARM chip, this really shouldn’t come as a surprise. Qualcomm didn’t just start building PC chips hoping that Microsoft would compile Windows to support it. No, these two companies worked together to make it happen. Because of that, Qualcomm gets to enjoy a bit of exclusivity… This is also presumably why Apple Silicon Macs aren’t officially supported for running Windows 11, so hopefully that will change as well.

When this exclusivity window expires, I would be shocked if there weren’t an official way to run Windows on Macs with Apple silicon soon thereafter.

—Linked by Jason Snell

By Jason Snell

Shortcuts makes my Mac user automations portable

Shortcuts mac sync

This week I’m traveling for Thanksgiving, and I’m using this MacBook Pro review unit before I have to send it back to Apple1.

One of the things I had forgotten in the years where I largely traveled only with an iPad is the frustration of having my home Mac and travel Mac out of sync. These days, it’s less of an issue thanks to syncing services—for instance, all my podcast templates are in Dropbox, and all my BBEdit preferences are in iCloud.

But as I’ve written about here repeatedly, I also rely on a bunch of Automator workflows, saved as Services, to get work done. And those don’t sync, so every time I opened my MacBook Air or this MacBook Pro, I’d find myself running into some Service or other that I didn’t have access to. I could do the work manually, or see if I had archived a copy on a cloud service, or if I was really desperate I could dig into my Time Machine backups on my server at home and see if I could pull the files out.

But on this trip, I realized that there’s another solution. I recently built a bunch of cross-platform shortcuts and a new Shortcuts version of an old AppleScript tool of mine. And Shortcuts syncs its automations via iCloud, automatically.

So when I went to look for my classic Template Gun applet on this Mac and discovered that I never copied it over, I didn’t despair. Instead, I clicked on the Shortcuts menu bar item—and there it was. Since Template Gun uses source files that I store in Dropbox, those files were also already on this Mac. It worked like a charm.

Similarly, I wanted to select some text in Safari and use it to write a post on Six Colors—and when I selected the text and control-clicked to bring up the Service I built to do just that… there it was!2

Yes, Apple could have added iCloud syncing for things like Services years ago, but with the future of Mac automation up in the air for so many years, it wasn’t a priority. Now thanks to Shortcuts, my Mac (and iOS) automations travel with me. It’s just another reason to keep working on getting all my Automator workflows converted to Shortcuts format.

  1. Repeat to myself: I will not buy one, I will not buy one, I will not buy one… 
  2. Unfortunately, it relied on a third-party app I didn’t have installed, so I had to download and install that, at which point it worked. 

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