It’s a pretty good state of affairs when the biggest frustration with a product is its name. I don’t entirely understand why the nomenclature of this accessory is quite so…fraught, so I’m simply going to call it the Apple Pencil Magnetic Sleeve and leave it at that.
A couple weeks back, when I first wrote about the Apple Pencil, one of my big complaints was that there’s no built-in way to store it on the iPad—something that still seems like an oversight to me. So I ponied up the $13 for the aforementioned Magnetic Sleeve and have been using it for the last week and a half or so.
It’s not a complicated device: as the name suggests, it’s a soft silicone sleeve that slides onto the Pencil. One side is flattened because it contains a magnet, which can be used to stick to any metal or magnetic surface.1 It’s available in four colors—Ice Sea Blue, Lavender, Red, and Midnight Blue; I opted for the last because it more or less matches my new Smart Cover. The package also comes with a few adhesive metal plates that you can attach to something that’s not magnetic. That’s it.
I find the feel of the sleeve to be pretty comfortable—it reminds me of the silicone grips on many pens, or those rubber things you slid onto your pencils in grade school to make gripping them easier and more comfortable. It doesn’t particularly affect my use of the Pencil and, in fact, probably makes it more comfortable to hold over time.
As for the magnetic aspect, it’s pretty solid. I can attach the Pencil to either my iPad’s Smart Cover or even to the iPad itself. The latter is not as secure: if you start shaking your iPad around, the Pencil’s going to fall off. Attaching it to the Smart Cover (specifically to the edges where the magnets are) is far more robust. Even then, it’s not a crazy strong magnet. If you’re looking for something that you can, say, throw into a bag and have the Pencil stay in place, you might want to look for something that attaches more firmly to the iPad and provides a pocket for the Pencil.
All in all, I think it’s worth the price I paid for it, and the Amazon reviews largely seem to agree. It doesn’t completely solve my storage problems: if I’m putting the iPad in my backpack or another bag, I’m still more likely to put my Pencil in a separate pocket just so it doesn’t get lost or banged around. But for just carrying around the iPad in your hand, the Apple Pencil Magnetic Sleeve at least lets you keep it all together.
Added benefit: that also means the Pencil can’t roll off your desk anymore. ↩
Apple talked about many things at its Worldwide Developers Conference earlier this month, but one that got relatively short shrift was the Apple Watch. Now more than two years in, the Watch has undergone a major transition from the product that was first announced, focusing in on specific uses like notifications, health, and fitness.
But some, myself included, had expected to see a bigger push on the health front in watchOS 4. A new marquee feature like sleep tracking, perhaps. Or a glucose monitor. (Apple mentioned that watchOS 4 will now work with external glucose monitors, but if it’s working on such tech itself, it’s not ready for prime time yet.)
While these types of health tracking features are all well and good, it would be far more interesting to see Apple leveraging its technological innovation to push health tech forward into an even more critical category: prevention. Or, to paraphrase the old saying, “Everybody talks about their health, but nobody ever does anything about it.”
I suggest that the problem at Uber goes beyond a culture created by toxic leadership. The company’s cultural dysfunction, it seems to me, stems from the very nature of the company’s competitive advantage: Uber’s business model is predicated on lawbreaking. And having grown through intentional illegality, Uber can’t easily pivot toward following the rules.
If there’s a defining quality to the iPad Pro, it’s that the device seeks to go beyond the traditional touch interface of iOS to seek out additional ways of getting work done. For people who are comfortable with pencil, pen, and paper, the Apple Pencil brings a new dimension to using an iPad. And for those of us who are most comfortable with a keyboard beneath our fingers, the iPad Pro—with its Smart Keyboard, the first Apple keyboard designed for iOS—was a sign that Apple realizes that sometimes, even an iPad needs to behave a bit more like a laptop.
There are probably innumerable reasons why Apple decided to expand the size of the second-generation iPad Pro, replacing the old 9.7-inch model with a new 10.5 one. But one benefit of the slight expansion—the 10.5-inch iPad Pro is 10.6 millimeters wider than the old model—is more room for typing, whether it’s physical keys on the Smart Keyboard or the virtual keys of the built-in software keyboard.
Unfortunately, the confidential information leaked on this podcast was coming from INSIDE THE PODCAST. We discuss other ways to store your Apple Pencil, scratch our heads over weird external keyboards and cases, and Dan makes a (perhaps unwise?) wager about the HomePod. Plus, John steals something precious from Dan.
Despite rising Mac sales, Apple’s financial situation remained dire. The company needed more income. After being informed of IBM’s hundreds of millions in yearly patent revenue, CEO Steve Jobs authorized a change in FireWire’s licensing policy. Apple would now charge a fee of $1 per port. (So if a device has two ports, that’s $2 per unit.)
The consumer electronics industry was outraged. They saw it as untenable and unjustified. Intel sent its CTO to talk to Jobs about the change, but the meeting went badly. Intel decided to withdraw its support for FireWire—to pull the plug on efforts to build FireWire into its chipsets—and instead throw its weight behind USB 2.0, which would have a maximum speed of 480 megabits a second (more like 280, or 30 to 40 MB/s, in practice).
I remember how mind-blowing FireWire was back in my Blue & White PowerMac G3, back in 1999—not that I had much use for it at first. But I also remember the sharp divisions between Apple and Sony’s implementations making it confusing and frustrating, especially when trying to explain the virtues to others. But I still have fond memories of trying to find an enclosure for a portable hard drive that used the Oxford 911 chipset, which resulted in a really sweet little drive that I carried around for many years.
Apple has, of course, moved on to the much more versatile Thunderbolt protocol for high speed transfer and I’m looking forward to my new iMac’s use of the ports. (Even though I had to buy a Thunderbolt 3/USB-C to Thunderbolt 2 adapter).
Standing in Glowforge’s offices, I dragged an image file I’d exported from Illustrator into Glowforge’s cloud-based Web app. A camera inside the cutter let me visualize exactly where the type would be cut out of 1/8th-inch maple plywood in the device’s bed.
A few minutes later, I had the numbers in my hand. They were carved with digital perfection, as neatly as if they’d been printed onto paper. The next step is to mount them on about 0.8” of plywood to bring them to the height required by a letterpress.
Yep, 3D printers and laser cutters are being used to create type for use in printing presses. Glenn gave me a tour of the School of Visual Concepts when I was in Seattle last month, and I was struck by how beautiful the printing machinery was—and how well it’s cared for. It’s all a pretty amazing mixture of old tech and modern ingenuity.
This week on our 30-minute tech roundtable, we discuss the watchOS 4 features that we’d hoped would be announced (and weren’t), Lenovo’s push to turn PCs into a service, improvements to Live Photos, and Apple’s attempt to stops those darned leakers. With special guests Lisa Schmeiser and James Thomson.
I’m flying to Phoenix on Friday. The forecast high that day is 112°F (44C), which is a cooling trend. The last couple of days it’s been nearly 120°F (49C) in Phoenix.
So, funny story: Airplanes are really bad at taking off when it’s really hot. Rhett Allain explains at Wired why hotter air means lower air density, which means less lift, which means that smaller jets can’t take off when it gets to 120°F. I do like a good science story.
Good news, though: The day I’m scheduled to come back home from Phoenix, it’s only going to get up to 110°F. My Southwest Airlines Boeing 737 will probably not have any trouble.
Turns out that among my readership are airline pilots and consultants! I will keep their comments anonymous, but to summarize:
Jet manufacturers certify their aircraft to a given maximum operating temperature as part of the standard delivery package for their aircraft. Airlines cannot operate those aircraft above that limiting temperature. If an airline wants to spend some extra money to get a jet off the ground on a very hot day, they can buy additional performance data and use it to approve take-offs. If you don’t have the data, the FAA doesn’t allow you to take off.
Smaller regional jets don’t necessarily have access to the data for their planes, which is why some stories refer to Boeing and Airbus jets taking off when smaller jets are grounded. Then again, cancelling a small jet with 50 passengers costs a lot less money than cancelling a large jet with nearly 200.
William Turton of The Outline has, ironically, a leak from inside Apple about Apple’s war on leakers, namely a recording of an Apple employee session about fighting disclosures of future product information. It’s an interesting read, showing how Apple views its supply-chain leaks and the leaks from Cupertino itself. Also, this bit made me laugh:
Later, during the employee Q&A, Rice gleefully recounts a blog post written by longtime Apple watcher John Gruber, in which Gruber criticized Apple scoop machine Mark Gurman, who now works at Bloomberg, for not having juicy details on Apple’s new HomePod speaker before it was released. “Even [Gruber] was like ‘Yeah, you got nothing.’ So he was actually throwing some shade out, which, like, ‘all riiight,’” Rice says, to the laughter of employees.
The story mentions a couple of Apple people being fired, presumably for leaking, and I’ve heard similar stories. I’ve even heard of people being very visibly dismissed, rather than the usual invisible corporate disappearing act, in order to make everyone else understand the penalties for leaking. I’ve also heard, separately, that Apple’s been working hard to clean up some of its digital paths for leakage, including company communication tools that were sending too much information to too many people who didn’t need to know.
I doubt Apple’s going to ever stop the flow of leaked information, but it’s certainly done a much better job lately in reducing it to more of a trickle.
Many years ago, when I worked at Macworld, I was contacted by an Apple recruiter about a job as an editor for the Mac App Store. Apple, recruiting editorial talent for the App Store? That seemed unusual.
The fact is, while the App Store has indeed had an editorial team for quite a while, Apple’s approach to App Store editorial has been nearly invisible. Editors select apps to highlight and might write short bits of text for use in collections, but for the most part the job has seemed to be more about curation than words1.
This is not meant to disparage curation—it’s an important job and one of the ways the App Store can highlight the hard work of app developers who are making polished, impressive products.
With iOS 11, though, Apple’s really showing that it has redefined what the App Store editorial team is for. In the redesigned App Store app in iOS 11, app highlights go way beyond buttons that would present an app’s App Store page when you tapped. The new Today tab is populated with full-fledged feature articles, with screen shots, videos, animations, pull quotes, and real writing. There are app spotlights, curated best-in-category collections2, and even how-to articles.
No, this isn’t independent journalism—it’s curation and marketing. But it’s a sign that Apple sees the value in telling the stories of the apps it’s seen fit to highlight.
When I read the sample content that Apple posted in the App Store as a part of the developer release of iOS 11, I was impressed with the level of detail. These aren’t a few sentences of dashed-off app hype; the Monument Valley piece in the App Store is a full-on feature story, well written and complete with quotes from the developers themselves.
It’s a smart approach, though it will be interesting to see how it works once iOS 11 arrives and the App Store team3 is forced to roll out new highlights and features on an ongoing basis. That’s the thing about editorial work, whether you’re writing for a newspaper, magazine, website, or even the App Store—it never stops. Time just keeps rolling on, and your audience is always hungry for new stuff.
Fortunately, given the experience of the last nine years of the App Store, there will probably always be great new apps to highlight—and great stories to tell. As someone who has made his living writing stories about software for a very long time now, I’m a believer in the format. Done well, this will make the App Store better—for both users and developers.
As a person with a high profile editorial background and strengths in writing and editing, I was exactly the wrong person for an invisible curation job. ↩
We did curated app lists at Macworld for a few years. It’s hard to do well, and a huge time investment. ↩
Someone asked me if I thought the App Store might just ask developers to write their own articles and send them in. In a word: No. ↩
The new iPad Pros have arrived, and Jason and Myke have spent the last week with both the 12.9- and 10.5-inch models. This week on Upgrade we give our reactions to the new displays, detail what’s new with previous versions, get excited about one day using iOS 11, and offer advice about which iPad Pro model is the right one to buy. In other news, we also ponder a grim future where an Amazon robot allows you to squeeze Whole Foods produce in virtual reality.
Today, all of the logistics that go into a Whole Foods store are for the purpose of stocking physical shelves: the entire operation is integrated. What I expect Amazon to do over the next few years is transform the Whole Foods supply chain into a service architecture based on primitives: meat, fruit, vegetables, baked goods, non-perishables (Whole Foods’ outsized reliance on store brands is something that I’m sure was very attractive to Amazon). What will make this massive investment worth it, though, is that there will be a guaranteed customer: Whole Foods Markets.
When I was a kid, poring over tech books like The Macintosh Bible, I always found myself glossing over the sections about Mail Merge, which I—rightfully, I maintain—dismissed as something boring that only adults had to worry about.
So naturally here I am, twenty-five years later, in a situation where Mail Merge is actually quite useful: I’ve recently been sending out quite a bit of snail mail1, and I discovered that my printer could print envelopes (albeit one at a time, which is kind of a bummer). But rather than typing or copying-and-pasting addresses into the envelope template I set up in Pages, it seemed like it would save time to automate that process. Which is exactly what Mail Merge is supposed to do.
Except Pages doesn’t have a Mail Merge feature.
A little bit of Googling later and I turned up a solution from, of course, from my old Macworld colleague Chris Breen. Chris’s article in turn pointed me towards AppleScript guru Sal Soghoian’s Mac OS X Automation sites. Among the wondrous resources you can find there is a little helper application called Pages Data Merge, which did pretty much exactly what I was looking for.
Long story short, there’s a feature in Pages that lets you tag parts of documents as placeholder text. Those placeholders can then be addressed by scripts, and Pages Data Merge can import rows of data from Numbers (or other sources like a CSV file) and generate separate Pages files (or PDFs, ePubs, DOCs, and more) with the spreadsheet data plugged in to the template.
I used it to grab names and addresses that I’d entered in Numbers, plug them into the envelope template, and then generate individual Pages files for each personalized envelope—and it worked a treat. The one downside is that every time I want to do a new batch I have to remind Pages Data Merge which Numbers columns go to which Pages placeholders, but honestly, that doesn’t take more than 30 seconds or so.
Maybe this isn’t exactly the kind of low-hanging fruit that Apple’s looking to add to Pages, but it’s definitely a bit of a hole in functionality right now. It’s great that Apple’s robust automation (and Sal’s wizardry) means that you can make this work even without Apple building it in, but I would love to see a more robust solution.
In the meantime, if you’ve been looking for a way to personalize this kind of content—and I should note that Pages Data Merge even lets you automatically attach the created files to individualized email messages—then this might work as well for you as it has for me.
Keyboards come and go. I’ve been through more than a few on my iPad. For a while I used my Apple Wireless Keyboard in an Origami case. Then a Logitech K811 also shoved into the same Origami case. When I got my iPad Air 2, I found a pretty good deal on a Logitech Type+ and used that for a while. But recently I noticed that I’d stopped taking the iPad places because the Logitech case simply made it too bulky. So when I came across a deal on the iClever Bluetooth Keyboard, its compact nature and split design intrigued me, and I started carrying it around when I didn’t need the full keyboard-case experience. Now that I’ve made the jump to a 10.5-inch iPad, the Type+ case no longer even fits, so I’ve ditched it for the iClever full time.
Recently, I posted a couple pictures of my iPad work setup, and was inundated with questions about the keyboard. Inquiring minds, it seems, want to know. So here’s the rundown on what I like about this keyboard, and what could use some work.
Size: The compact design of this keyboard frankly can’t be beat. Folded in half, it’s only very slightly thicker than the 10.5-inch iPad with a Smart Cover. It’s also small enough that you could, if you really wanted to, probably slip it in the back pocket of a pair of men’s jeans. The weight of it is almost negligible—I don’t have a scale handy, but iClever says it’s just 6.2 ounces; it’s certainly a lot lighter than my previous keyboard case. I particularly appreciate the embedded magnetic fastener, which makes it snap pleasantly together when you fold it up, and doubles as an on/off switch to boot.
Battery life: Honestly, I’ve yet to have to recharge the iClever. That’s not too surprising: keyboards are hardly high-power devices. In the eventuality it does need to be plugged in, it takes a standard micro-USB cable. There’s also a battery indicator, which I appreciate, even if it is a bit minimal. (Press the Function key and the R key, which has a battery icon on it, and a light will blink multiple times, each indicating a quarter of battery power left: four times, 100 percent; three times, 75 percent; and so on.) iClever says the keyboard will last for 40 hours of typing and up to 30 days of standby. Seeing as how I left it sitting around for several weeks without using it and I still have at least a three-quarter charge, that would seem to bear out.
Keys: Okay, they’re not the best keys in the world, but they look cheaper than they feel. They are a bit smaller than full size, but not so tiny that I have trouble touch-typing. Obviously they’re not mechanical switches, so if that’s a non-starter for you, look somewhere else. But they do have more key travel than recent Apple laptop keyboards, so that’s a win. There are, however, some downsides to the layout and tradeoffs with the size, but we’ll get back to that in a moment.
Split layout: This one is obviously a bit of a subjective preference, but I’d wager also the reason behind most of the curiosity about this keyboard. Back in the day, I used to use a Microsoft Natural Keyboard after I’d had some problems with RSI; these days I’ve switched back to standard keyboards, but the split ergonomic design still appeals to me. I find the iClever’s split layout pretty comfortable to type on, though it definitely took some getting used to.
The price: At just over $30, the iClever is definitely on the affordable side. You can probably find cheaper, but for me it seems to strike a pretty decent balance for the cost. At that price, it was worth it for me to buy one to test out, even if I didn’t end up using it regularly. As it stands, I’d say that I’ve easily gotten my money’s worth from it, even if it does have some caveats…
Split layout: As I said above, the layout has taken some getting used to. In particular, the “B” key is just on the wrong side for me: I’m used to hitting it with my right hand, and I’ve had to retrain my muscle memory to look for it on the left side. It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s definitely an annoyance.
Flaky keys: I’ve remarked on this elsewhere, and I remain unsure if it’s just this unit, Bluetooth connectivity, or what, but some of the keys don’t always register on the first try. Specifically, I find that the ‘V’ key often seems to require a second press—or a firmer, more intentional press—to show up. Many’s the time that I have typed a word with a ‘V’ in it, not realized that it didn’t show up, and then had iOS’s autocorrect gleefully change it to a word that makes no sense whatsoever.1 Other keys occasionally seem to have a similar issue, but with nowhere near as much frequency. Again, I don’t know if this is a flaw that’s endemic to the keyboard or simply this particular unit, but it’s worth noting.
iOS-ish keyboard layout: This is probably my biggest irritation with this keyboard. While it does let you toggle between Android, Windows, and iOS/Mac keyboard layouts, the iClever’s iOS layout isn’t quite right. Specifically, it maps the Windows key to Command and the Alt key to option, which puts them in the opposite places from where they should be. That’s not unique to this keyboard, but at least when you run into it on a Mac you can remap them. No such luck on iOS. I’ve gotten to the point where I at least don’t have to stare down at the keys to remember which is where, but it definitely took some time.
Miscellaneous layout issues: Depending again on your personal preferences, some of the rest of the iClever layout may prove less than ideal. The arrow keys have the full-size left/right and half-size up/down of recent Apple keyboards, which not everybody is a fan of. (I prefer the inverted-T layout personally.) The number keys—which double as function keys—are half-height, which makes them more annoying to hit at times, while some of the symbol keys on the right-hand side, like the brackets, colon, and quotes are half-width, which can be a bit maddening as well. The Delete key is a little too far to the right to hit comfortably. The Caps Lock key doesn’t have a light on it to tell you whether it’s on or off, but, frankly, my fingers are usually obscuring it anyway, so that’s kind of a six-of-one-half-dozen-of-another. In other words, like any keyboard, it has its quirks: how much they bother you is going to vary from person to person.
Is this the keyboard that will make you settle down and stop looking at iPad keyboards? If you’re a keyboard connoisseur, then no, probably not. The non-iOS layout and the flaky keys are probably going to turn you off. But if you’re just looking for a super compact, long-lasting wireless keyboard to get stuff done? This might very well fit the bill. The split ergonomic layout is the big wildcard, and from what I can tell, it certainly seems like that might be the big draw for some folks.
At the end of the day, for the $33 price tag on Amazon, it’s a pretty solid little keyboard that you can throw in a bag and use when the onscreen keyboard just isn’t cutting it. I might not want to write my next novel on it, but I’ve just written this entire 1300-word review on it with few problems, so consider that at least a modest seal of approval.
It turns out that if you type “very” and the “v” doesn’t show up, iOS is pretty happy to change it to “dry.” Also “I’ve” with no “v” becomes, through some bizarre black magic, “I’be”. Go home, autocorrect: you’re drunk. ↩
My thanks to Couchbase for sponsoring Six Colors this week.
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Every week I do a TV podcast with Tim Goodman, the chief TV critic at The Hollywood Reporter. This week, Tim turned the tables and asked me a bunch of questions about Apple’s hiring of two Sony TV executives to run its original-video efforts. If you want to hear me talk about Apple’s future as an original-content player, this week’s TV Talk Machine is the place.
This week on Download, it’s E3 week! Microsoft unveiled its 4K console (we’re calling it ‘Xb1x’) while Nintendo stocked up on Switch games and Sony promised a bunch of new stuff for the PS4. Plus, our panel of games experts shares their favorite news items to come out of the week.