six colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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Linked by Dan Moren

Apple revamps AirPods

Hey, look, new AirPods! Apple’s update to its wireless headphones includes 50 percent more talk-time, the “Hey Siri” feature and wireless charging option that we’ve been expecting, and a twist: the W1 chip in the original has been replaced by a new Apple-designed H1 chip. 1

That H1 chip apparently features better audio and synchronization, allowing for faster switching between multiple devices, as well as more energy-efficiency for talk time.

By default, the AirPods cost $159, the same price as the original, or $199 if you opt for the new wireless charging case, that’s totally compatible with a hypothetical wireless charging pad.

Personally, I’m still holding out hope Apple will make wireless over-the-ear headphones with its own custom chips in them. 2 A man can dream, right?


  1. If you had W2 chip in the betting pool, I’m so sorry.  ↩

  2. Please don’t say Beats. ↩


By Jason Snell

The iMac and spinning-disk disappointment

Tuesday’s announcement of new iMacs is exciting for those who have been waiting for an update before buying, but a bit disappointing for those who were hoping for a more comprehensive iMac redesign. I have to admit that I’d been hoping for a new exterior iMac redesign—the current enclosure design’s almost seven years old. But the biggest disappointment of the announcement might have been Apple’s choices when it comes to storage.

Not to belabor the point, but the iMac is the only remaining new Apple product that features a spinning hard drive. It’s also the only Mac in a couple of years to receive an update and not include an Apple-designed ARM processor for security and other features. (The two are probably related—so far as I can tell, Apple has designed the T2 to only use flash storage.)

Spinning disks had a good run, but they’re old tech. They’re far less reliable than flash storage drives, and are also generally much slower. The $1299 base-model 4K iMac ships with a slow 5400 rpm spinning disk. It’s almost unforgiveable.

Apple pushes Fusion Drive as a cost-effective alternative to the much more expensive flash storage—Fusion Drive pairs a small bit of flash storage with a spinning disk drive to create a virtual disk that mixes the speed of flash storage with the much more affordable large capacities of traditional hard drives. And I will accept that Apple is reluctant to ship very small-capacity flash storage drives on iMacs, Macs that traditionally get loaded down with big photo libraries and other large collections of files. (As flash-storage prices continue to drop, the argument gets tougher to make, though.)

I will guarantee you that the single greatest bottleneck in terms of speed on the base 4K iMac is that slow spinning disk drive. People who spend $1299 for a 4K iMac in 2019 deserve not to see a spinning beach ball—but they probably will. This is one case where Apple should either take the hit on profit margin or just raise the price if it has to.

In the wake of Tuesday’s announcement, I’ve heard from a bunch of people who are equally frustrated that Apple hasn’t converted the entire iMac line to flash storage. I get the argument, but Apple knows very well who is buying iMacs, and I am guessing that these decisions are very much made with that knowledge in mind. Many iMac buyers are quite price sensitive, which is why the base models are configured as cheaply as possible. It’s not like you can’t configure an iMac with only flash storage—it just raises the price a lot, and you lose storage capacity in the meantime.

It’s clear where Apple’s going here, of course. I wouldn’t be surprised if the next iMac—the larger model, at least—update inherits some design elements of the iMac Pro, which removed support for spinning disks and used that space for a quieter and more powerful cooling system. And while we’re making wish lists, how about a new enclosure that reduces the size of the bezels and adds Face ID, too?

Alas, those are features that will have to wait for the iMac of the 2020s. The era of spinning hard drives at Apple will continue for a little while longer. I understand it, but I don’t have to like it.


By Jason Snell

Today is iMac day: Apple announces new models with faster processors and graphics

There was a time when the iMac was Apple’s flagship product. But in an era where there are iPhones and iPads and Apple Watches, it’s easy for a Mac—and a non-laptop, at that—to get lost in the crowd. And yet for all of that, the iMac is a huge product, generating billions of dollars for Apple and filling important ecological niches.

After nearly two years of waiting, iMac fans can rejoice at the arrival of an update. Today is iMac day. Apple on Tuesday announced a new generation of 4K and 5K iMacs with big internal upgrades. The old iMacs had seventh-generation Intel processors, but these models have eighth-generation processors—and in a couple of cases, the very latest ninth-generation processors. Apple has upgraded processor cores across the board, so that most models have six cores and there’s even an option for eight. And both sizes of iMac now have optional access to the more powerful Radeon Pro Vega graphics processor.

(Check out my podcast interview with iMac Product Manager Colleen Novielli on this week’s Upgrade podcast.)

The $1099 base model non-Retina iMac remains unchanged, the desktop equivalent of the $999 MacBook Air—an old model anchored to a low price. But beyond that, things get more interesting.

The $1299 21.5-inch 4K iMac is a 3.6GHz quad-core Core i3, and the $1499 model brings six-core power to the smaller iMac with a 3.0Ghz Core i5. The 4K iMac’s top-of-the-line processor configuration is a 3.2GHz six-core Core i7. While standard graphics configurations on these models are the Radeon Pro 555X and 560X, the high-end model can be configured with a Radeon Pro Vega 20.

On the 27-inch 5K iMac, six-core processors have replaced four-core models as the default. (You couldn’t even upgrade to a six-core processor on an iMac before!) Base processors for these are a 3.0 GHz six-core eighth-generation i5 ($1799 model), 3.16GHz six-core eighth-generation i5 ($1999 model), and 3.7Ghz six-core ninth-generation i5 ($2299 model). The 5K iMac can also be configured with a 3.6Ghz eight-core ninth-generation Core i9 processor.

According to Apple, those latter two processors are the two available ninth-generation Intel chips that are currently available and fit the iMac’s design. They’re hot off the presses, so to speak, and Apple has pressed them into service.

Graphics on the 27-inch models are, by default, Radeon Pro 500 series (570X, 575X, and 580X respectively), but again, Apple’s offering a configurable option with the Radeon Pro Vega—it’s the Pro Vega 48 for the 5K model.

What this means is that these new iMacs have closed a bit of the gap between the highest-end iMac and the lowest-end iMac Pro. You’ll need to pay extra in configurable options, but the highest-end eight-core iMac should creep close to iMac Pro territory in terms of processor and graphics performance.

Of course, all that performance comes in a familar shell—it’s the same iMac cooling system as before, which means if you stress out the iMac you will hear the fans. My friend Stephen Hackett ended up switching from a high-end 5K iMac to an iMac Pro in order to get a computer that was silent under heavy load, thanks to the iMac Pro’s superior (and quiet) cooling system. It’s another data point to keep in mind if you’re considering whether to buy an iMac or an iMac Pro.

Adding processor cores to many standard configurations (at the same prices as the old models) should be a big step forward for iMac performance, as is the addition of a few configurations from Intel’s latest processor generation. Throw in the optional Vega graphics and it’s clear that Apple has raised the headroom of the iMac—even the little 4K iMac, because sometimes you want speed but don’t need size!—quite a lot.

Apple says the iMac is popular with families, businesses, and other users who don’t necessarily need the most power possible, but appreciate that the iMac can handle the required job and do it with its trademark sleek aluminum all-in-one style. But of course, it’s also popular with pro users who don’t need all the workstation power of the much pricier iMac Pro. Those users will be the most excited about the processor and graphics improvements in these models.

It might not steal the spotlight from an iPhone or even next week’s services-themed media event, but the iMac still matters. And as of today, it’s refreshed with more power than ever before.


Podcast

Upgrade

Upgrade #237: New iMacs, iPads, and the 2019 March Event Draft

After nearly two years, Apple has released new iMacs, and Jason has an exclusive interview with Apple’s iMac product manager, Colleen Novielli. We also discuss the surprising new iPad Air and iPad mini announcements, and then it’s time for another Upgrade draft, as we make our choices for what will be on stage at Apple’s services event next Monday!

Episode linkMP3 (2 hours, 10 minutes)


Linked by Jason Snell

They live! New iPad Air and iPad Mini announced

It’s a big day for the iPad line, which gets a new iPad Air and iPad mini replacing the old 10.5-inch iPad Pro and the very old iPad mini:

Apple today introduced the all-new iPad Air in an ultra-thin 10.5-inch design, offering the latest innovations including Apple Pencil1 support and high-end performance at a breakthrough price….

Apple today also introduced the new 7.9-inch iPad mini, a major upgrade for iPad mini fans who love a compact, ultra-portable design packed with the latest technology… The advanced Retina display with True Tone technology and wide color support is 25 percent brighter and has the highest pixel density of any iPad, delivering an immersive visual experience in any setting. And with Apple Pencil support, the new iPad mini is the perfect take-anywhere notepad for sketching and jotting down thoughts on the go. The new iPads are available to order starting today and in stores next week.

The new iPad Air starts at $499 and the iPad mini at $399, joining the $329 iPad at the lower end of Apple’s increasingly differentiated iPad product line. Obviously they’re using Touch ID rather than Face ID and have larger bezels than the iPad Pro, but they’re also a fraction of the price. (Like that $329 sixth-generation iPad, both models support the first-generation Apple Pencil and the Logitech Crayon. The iPad Air is also the first non-Pro iPad to support Apple’s Smart Keyboard. I suspect it’ll fit many other 10.5-inch iPad Pro accessories, and am looking forward to trying it out with Brydge’s 10.5-inch keyboard.)

This is essentially Apple’s answer to the complaint that the iPad Pro is too expensive: There are other, very capable iPads in the product line that cost a lot less than the iPad Pro. Potential iPad buyers are free to choose accordingly.


Linked by Dan Moren

Apple responds to Spotify

In an unsigned statement, Apple has rebutted Spotify’s claims of unfair treatment by suggesting that it’s the music service that wants to avoid the rules that everybody else plays by. The company also took aim at Spotify’s treatment of artists, though it claimed that the company is “suing music creators” when the truth is, of course, a little more complex.

While Apple’s arguments are largely compelling, especially in terms of Spotify essentially wanting all the benefits of the App Store platform without having to pay anything, this issue still isn’t a black-and-white case of one side right, the other side wrong. Apple isn’t an altruistic company anymore than Spotify is, and even if Spotify is in the wrong here, it still may be time for Apple to rethink its 30 percent rate.


Dan Moren for Macworld

Apple WWDC19: What’s in store for iOS macOS, watchOS, and tvOS ↦

We’re teetering on the edge of an embarrassment of Apple riches. The company’s March event is just over a week away, but with this week’s official announcement of the 2019 Worldwide Developers Conference, many eyes are already fixed on that point, three months from now.

Whatever comes our way in March, it will almost certainly pale in comparison to WWDC, which is probably the most significant event in Apple’s calendar. Yes, the September launch of new iPhones and attendant devices may get more attention, but WWDC is where the company sets its agenda for the year—or years—to come.

Though it’s still a few months away, it’s never too early to start thinking about where Apple may be looking to focus the priorities of its many and varied platforms.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Linked by Jason Snell

Apple sets WWDC for June 3-7

Apple’s just inviting everyone to everything now. On Thursday Apple unveiled its Worldwide Developers Conference site, with the dates we all suspected—June 3-7 in San Jose. So get ready for an interesting keynote on the morning of Monday, June 3!


Jason Snell for Tom's Guide

Apple vs. Spotify: who’s really right? ↦

Spotify’s dispute with Apple over how iOS users access the music service boiled over this week, as Spotify filed an antitrust complaint and launched a special marketing site to put pressure on Apple to change its business practices — or have them be changed by government regulators.

In many ways, this is an old story. For several years, Apple and Spotify have been jousting over Apple’s App store rules. Apple claims that Spotify doesn’t want to follow the rules that Apple has instituted to protect its users, while Spotify says that Apple is just trying to prop up its own second-rate services rather than straight-up competing.

Who’s right? The truth, it will not surprise you, is somewhere in the middle.

Continue reading on Tom's Guide ↦


Linked by Dan Moren

The next version of Coda won’t be Coda

Panic, maker of fine software like Transmit and Coda, is preparing a major update to its soup-to-nuts web development app, Coda. But there’s a catch:

Yes, the next Coda is so different it won’t even be called Coda.

Frankly, we were worried that developers may have tried Coda in the past, decided it wasn’t for them, and written the app off forever. This new version is so new, it deserves a fresh start.

And then, incredibly, a new Coda arrived on the scene — a reimagined document at coda.io — and we reached an agreement to let them have the name. They’re Coda now. And we’re free to look to the future.

So the next Coda won’t be “Coda”. So what will it be?

The end of an era, but also the beginning of an era! Panic’s software is always excellent, and I expect that this new Coda, by any other name, will smell as sweet. 1


  1. Don’t smell your software. ↩


Podcast

Clockwise

Clockwise #285: Hey, It’s Capitalism!

This week, on the 30-minute show that’s springing forward, Dan and Mikah are joined by special guests and superstar Panic designers Christa Mrgan and Neven Mrgan to discuss subscription service fatigue, fragmentation in the Internet of Things, Spotify’s allegations against Apple, and whether we’ve lost our sense of wonder when it comes to tech. Plus a transportation-themed bonus topic.

Episode linkMP3 (29 minutes)


Jason Snell for Macworld

The web at 30: Apple’s place in history ↦

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the web, or at least the date that Tim Berners-Lee made a proposal at the Swiss particle physics lab CERN involving the creation of a hypertextual system that would end up becoming the web as we know it today.

The history of web browsers on Apple devices takes a lot of twists and turns. Fortunately, I’ve been around for most of them—in fact, my first magazine cover story ever was in July 1996 about the first big browser war. You might be surprised just how much impact Apple has had on the development of the web itself.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


Podcast

The Rebound

The Rebound 229: Go Back to Making Dinosaur Movies

This week, on the irreverent tech show where someone apparently talks about their Mac mini too much, we run down a variety of topics, including expectations for Apple’s upcoming “It’s show time!” event, Spielberg’s weird comments about Netflix, the rumors around Apple’s streaming service, Elizabeth Warren’s call to break up tech giants, and, most importantly, Mophie’s battery pack for the new Palm phone.

Episode linkMP3 (39 minutes)


Linked by Jason Snell

Ben Thompson on Elizabeth Warren’s tech breakup proposal

Today Ben Thompson takes apart presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to break up big tech companies, and then starts to put it back together. It’s a great, in-depth piece and I recommend that you read the whole thing, but I want to call out a little bit about Apple:

…do consumers not matter at all here? Is Senator Warren seriously proposing that smartphone be sold with no apps at all? Was Apple breaking the law when they shipped the first iPhone with only first-party apps? At what point did delivering an acceptable consumer experience out-of-the-box cross the line into abusing a dominant position? This argument may make sense in theory but it makes zero sense in reality.

What is even more striking, though, is that the App Store does have a massive antitrust problem: it is not Apple unfairly competing with app developers, it is Apple unfairly imposing massive complexity and extracting 30% of revenue with its contractual requirement, enforced by App Review, that developers use Apple’s payment mechanism…

The important takeaway for this article, though, is the degree to which Senator Warren missed the point: there is significant consumer benefit both to having preinstalled apps and also to Apple controlling the installation of apps. There is a big benefit to suppliers (app developers) as well: the app market on PCs died in large part due to security concerns, which Apple obviated with the App Store to the tremendous benefit of every participant in the ecosystem. Senator Warren’s proposal would make the App Store worse for everyone.

When I saw Nilay Patel’s brief interview with Warren I had the same reaction—she seems to be suggesting “solutions” to things that aren’t problems, all in the name of sticking it to the big guys. As Thompson writes, “Tech is a means, not an end, but Senator Warren’s approach presumes the latter. That is why she proposes the same set of rules for the sale of toasters and the sale of apps, and everything in between.”

Read through Thompson’s piece and you’ll see him identify numerous areas where giant tech companies could be restrained, including their voracious acquisitions of any company that might possibly threaten them in the future. This is the trick with stuff like this—a lot of people can agree that the tech industry is out of control, but when it comes to legislation, it’s all about the details. Thompson makes a forceful argument that Warren has many of the details wrong.


Linked by Jason Snell

Apple Event confirmed for March 25

Get ready… in two weeks’ time Apple will be having an event in Cupertino at the Steve Jobs Theater that will presumably feature new subscription services, including an introduction of its new video service.

Set your calendars: March 25, 10 am PDT.


Podcast

Upgrade

Upgrade #236: Whatever Keyboard Pleases Me

Disney opens the vault for its streaming service, we rank our own MacBook Hierarchy of Needs, and Jason goes against Myke’s advice and records some podcasts using only an iPad.

Episode linkMP3 (1 hour, 23 minutes)



Dan Moren for Macworld

Three improvements Apple should make to its Mail app on iOS and macOS ↦

When people roll out wish lists of things they wish Apple would do to its products, they’re often focused on brand new features. We all like new features, sure, but part of me worries that while the focus is on the shiny, the basics—the software that we’re all using everyday—gets ignored. In particular, I’m really ready for Apple to tackle that old standby: Mail.

I know: email’s dead, supplanted by a myriad of other means of digital communication. Except, for many of us, email is still something that we’re unavoidably attached to when it comes to corresponding with people, signing up for accounts, and archiving or doing a to-do list.

Apple expended a lot of effort developing tools in iOS 12 that let us spend less time on our devices by preventing us from using them at certain times. But what about all that time where we are using our smartphones, tablets, and computers? Maybe there are features that can help us be more efficient, and treat our time with the respect it deserves.

Continue reading on Macworld ↦


By Jason Snell

Encyclopedia Netflixia: Translating Warner Media’s Robert Greenblatt

So the other day Robert Greenblatt, the new chairman of Entertainment at Warner Media, where he’s in charge of HBO, TNT, TBS, truTV, and the forthcoming Warner Media streaming service, said something to NBC’s Dylan Byers about Netflix that got people tittering:  “Netflix doesn’t have a brand,” he said. “It’s just a place you go to get anything — it’s like Encyclopedia Britannica. That’s a great business model when you’re trying to reach as many people on the planet as you can.”

In the aftermath I’ve seen lots of folks stepping up to defend Encyclopedia Britannica(!) and Netflix. Maybe Greenblatt’s statement isn’t the most artfully worded. If you want to point and laugh, Nelson style, you can. Netflix is wildly successful… it’s not just a brand, it’s a powerful cultural force, the kind that can fill thrift stores after the launch of a show about de-cluttering, when it’s not winning multiple Academy Awards.

But I think I understand what Greenblatt is getting at. In fact, I wrote something similar earlier this week at Macworld:

Apple’s not Netflix and it isn’t going to be. There’s nothing wrong with Apple’s executives having a clear vision about what the vibe of their content should be. For Apple’s video service to be successful, it should be a set of programs that fit a particular worldview. The best networks have an identity and their programmers know exactly what it is.

Netflix tries to be everything to everybody, and spends tens of billions of dollars to do that. So far, as I can tell, Apple’s not going that direction. It needs to choose. Apple’s video service will benefit from a clear brand identity, and if that brand identity is bright, optimistic, and broadly appealing, with standards more like broadcast TV than premium cable, that won’t preclude it from finding an audience.

In other words, unless you spend tens of billions of dollars on original content over the course of a decade—and other than Netflix, the only other player even close to that level right now is Amazon—you can’t be Netflix. Netflix’s target audience is everyone. It casts the widest possible net. It is launching every kind of show and movie, by the dozen, every single week of the year.

Smaller players just entering the streaming market are not going to be capable of out-Netflixing Netflix for years, if ever. Instead, they all need to pick their spots carefully, and spend their money wisely. New streaming services must define who they are, what kind of content they’re going to offer, and market themselves to a specific potential audience.

Greenblatt doesn’t seem to be insulting Netflix to me. He’s praising, or at least acknowledging, that Netflix is playing a different game—and he’s planting seeds now to fend off any comparisons between his streaming service and Netflix later. Nobody’s going to be matching Netflix—not Warner Media, not Apple, not even Disney—for years to come. They will all lose a comparison to Netflix. The only winning move is not to play.


Podcast

Download

Download #94: From Switzerland to You

Fitbit unveils new low-cost fitness trackers, Apple goes hiring in Qualcomm’s backyard, Zuck has a vision for private conversations, and Stephen Hackett and I bring in our Special Automotive Correspondent Casey Liss to discuss electric car announcements from the auto show in Geneva.

Episode linkMP3 (1 hour, 1 minute)